TBR News December 26, 2018

Dec 26 2018

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Isaiah 40:3-8 

Washington, D.C. December 26, 2018: “When an empire slips into decline, it does so in clearly identifiable stages. This is the case with the American empire at the present time.

Franklin Roosevelt pushed the US into what became the Second World War for personal reasons. (The Roosevelt family were Jewish on both sides and Hitler’s anti-Jewish policies enraged the president) and the result of this was that at its conclusion there were two dominant nations left in the rubble.

These were the United States and Russia and the struggle then began to see which would dominate.

Initially, the United States was successful, and through duplicity and threats, reduced Russia to a squabbling and disintegrating state.

But those in power in the United States also saw that Russia had enormous natural resources and so a frantic effort was made to not only subjugate Russia but also get physical control of her oil, gas and other assets.

America was initially a democracy, then a republic and finally, an oligarchy. The men who controlled the policies of this country are a handful of very rich and powerful people; bankers and the oil industry predominant.

And to secure America’s world leadership designs, small wars were fought to gain control of natural resources and establish American business interests and the American dollar as the world standards.

The British empire had achieved this goal at one point but lost everything through arrogance and carelessness and now the American empire finds itself in the same position as Britain did in 1914.

Like the British, America has fought a series of wars against small and relatively defenseless countries to gain control of their resources. As an example of this, America attacked Iraq, not because we disliked Saddam Hussein (whom we captured and subsequently executed) but to gain control of the enormous but untapped Iraqi oil reserves.

Iraq slipped through American control because of religious infighting and with that defeat, the next goal was Russia and her Arctic and Black Sea  oil reserves.

The CIA, attempting to get control of Crimean offshore oil and the strategic naval base at Sevastopol, fomented riots in Kiev, shot a few people from a rooftop perch and got control of the Ukraine.

But Putin stirred up so much rebellion in the predominantly Russian Donetz Basin heavy industrial area that no one could get their hands on it and by quite legal means, got Russian control back over the very strategic Crimea.

If the CIA were only successful once, they could justify their enormous budget.”



The Table of Contents

  • From ‘shithole countries’ to ‘a private agreement’ – Trump’s 2018 lowlights
  • This guy doesn’t know anything’: the inside story of Trump’s shambolic transition team
  • The CIA Confessions: The Crowley Conversations
  • Frozen Continent  Antarctica 


From ‘shithole countries’ to ‘a private agreement’ – Trump’s 2018 lowlights

Part one: Trump has a ‘much bigger’ button than Kim Jong-un, reportedly tried to fire Mueller, considered arming teachers, banned transgender troops in the military, and more …

December 26, 2018

by Tom McCarthy in New York

The Guardian


‘Much bigger’ button

Trump pioneers nuclear war trash-talk on Twitter, writing of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un:

‘Very stable genius’

Journalist Michael Wolff publishes Fire and Fury, an insider account of White House dysfunction and Trump’s unbalanced leadership. Trump calls the book “phony” and tweets: “Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart … I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius … and a very stable genius at that!”

‘Shithole countries’

Trump reportedly refers to Haiti and African countries as “shithole countries” in a meeting that included Senator Dick Durbin. Trump denies the report and says, “I am not a racist.”

London trip canned

Amid fears of mass protests, Trump cancels a planned visit to Britain to open a new US embassy. The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, said Trump had “got the message” that many Londoners staunchly opposed his policies and actions.

Hush payment to porn star

The Wall Street Journal reveals that Michael Cohen, Trump’s lawyer, made a $130,000 hush payment to porn star Stormy Daniels in October 2016, on the eve of the presidential election.

Tried to fire Mueller – report

The New York Times reports that Trump wanted to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 US election and links between Moscow and the Trump campaign, but reports that White House counsel Don McGahn stopped him.

Keeps Guantánamo open

In his first State of the Union address, Trump vows to keep the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, open. Republicans cheer.


Declassifies Nunes memo

Trump declassifies a tendentious memo written by the House intelligence committee chairman, Devin Nunes, depicting the investigation of Russian election tampering as politically motivated. “Extraordinarily reckless”, a justice department official says of the move.

Orders military parade

Trump orders the Pentagon to plan a military parade in Washington. “The marching orders were: I want a parade like the one in France,” an official told the Washington Post. “This is being worked at the highest levels of the military.”

Praises Porter

The White House staff secretary, Rob Porter, resigns following two public allegations of spousal abuse. “He did a very good job,” says Trump.

Downplays Mueller indictments

Mueller indicts 13 Russians and three Russian entities in an alleged conspiracy to defraud the United States. The indictment does not name any US citizens as alleged co-conspirators. “There was no Collusion with the Trump campaign,” Trump tweets.

Considers arming teachers

Trump says he would consider arming teachers after 17 students and staff members were killed in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida.


Announces steel tariffs

Trump announces new 25% steel and aluminum tariffs, with a temporary exemption for the EU, Canada and Mexico. His top economics adviser, Gary Cohn, quits.

Sued by Stormy Daniels

Porn star Stormy Daniels sues Trump and Cohen in an effort to be released from a hush agreement for which she was paid $130,000 but which Trump never signed.

Congratulates Putin

Trump calls the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, to congratulate him on his election victory, the Kremlin says. Putin won 77% of the vote, in a result that was never in question.

Tweets fake border wall picture

Trump tweets pictures of a barrier fence, hailing the “start of our Southern Border WALL!”, but the pictures in fact show unrelated work on a short stretch of wall, and Congress subsequently refused to fund Trump’s wall in a budget Trump then signed.

Bans transgender troops

A White House memo states that transgender personnel are “disqualified from military service except under limited circumstances”.

Fires Rex Tillerson

A year prior, Tillerson was reported to have called Trump a “fucking moron”, a report he did not deny. Later he will call Tillerson “dumb as a rock” and “lazy”.


Announces troops on southern border

“We’re going to be doing things militarily,” Trump said. “Until we can have a wall and proper security, we’re going to be guarding our border with the military.”

Cohen properties raided

FBI agents raid residences and an office used by Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal lawyer and fixer. Trump declares “an attack on our country in a true sense”. Later he will distance himself from Cohen.

Denies hush payment

Aboard Air Force One, Trump is asked whether he knew about a hush payment made by Michael Cohen to Stormy Daniels. “No,” he replies.

Pardons Libby

Trump pardons Scooter Libby, the former chief of staff for Vice-President Dick Cheney, for his perjury and obstruction of justice convictions. “I don’t know Mr Libby but for years I have heard that he has been treated unfairly,” Trump says.


Admits hush payment

Trump tweets that a hush payment to Stormy Daniels, “very common among celebrities and people of wealth”, “was a private agreement. Money from the campaign, or campaign contributions, played no roll [sic] in this transaction.”

Child separations policy

The Department of Homeland Security describes a new policy of child-parent separations at the southern border, which prompts widespread outrage.

Fake doctor note

Dr Harold Bornstein, Trump’s longtime doctor, says a 2015 note signed by him and describing Trump’s health as “astonishingly excellent” was dictated by Trump himself. “He dictated that whole letter. I didn’t write that letter,” Bornstein says.

Withdrawal from Iran deal

Trump announces that the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and reinstate sanctions. Democrats call it a “senseless, disturbing and dangerous” move.

Cancels North Korean summit

Trump cancels a meeting with the North Korean leader planned for June with a letter that reads in part, “You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used.”

Admits reimbursing Cohen

Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani reveals that Trump reimbursed his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, for the $130,000 he paid to Daniels. It will later emerge that Cohen submitted falsified invoices to the Trump Organization for reimbursement.


Child separations

The Department of Homeland Security reveals that 1,995 migrant children had been separated from their parents in the preceding six weeks. The Trump administration denies such a policy while Trump blames Democrats for “their forced family breakup at the Border”. Melania Trump visits a Texas shelter for unaccompanied children wearing a jacket with the slogan “I really don’t care. Do U?”

Retreats on child separations

Trump signs an executive order that will ostensibly end family separations at the border, although opponents criticise its vague language and warn that families can still be held in detention. The order makes no mention of whether families already separated would be reunited.

Trump ‘charity’ sued

The attorney general of New York state sues the Donald J Trump charitable foundation, President Trump and three of his children for violating state charity laws, alleging that the Trumps used charitable assets as “little more than a checkbook for payments to not-for-profits from Mr Trump” and his companies.

Meets Kim, and  declares end to nuclear threat

Donald J. Trump

✔  @realDonaldTrump

Just landed – a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea. Meeting with Kim Jong Un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future!

Manafort to jail

A judge orders former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort to jail following allegations by Mueller that Manafort was tampering with witnesses in his case. Manafort has been held in custody ever since.

Orders ‘space force’

Trump directs the Pentagon to create a “space force” as a new branch of the US military. “We are going to have the air force and we are going to have the space force – separate but equal,” Trump says. “It is going to be something so important.”


This guy doesn’t know anything’: the inside story of Trump’s shambolic transition team

Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball and The Big Short, reveals how Trump’s bungled presidential transition set the template for his time in the White House

The best of 2018: we’re resurfacing some of our top stories of the past year

December 20, 2018

The Guardian

Chris Christie noticed a piece in the New York Times – that’s how it all started. The New Jersey governor had dropped out of the presidential race in February 2016 and thrown what support he had behind Donald Trump. In late April, he saw the article. It described meetings between representatives of the remaining candidates still in the race – Trump, John Kasich, Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders – and the Obama White House. Anyone who still had any kind of shot at becoming president of the United States apparently needed to start preparing to run the federal government. The guy Trump sent to the meeting was, in Christie’s estimation, comically underqualified. Christie called up Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, to ask why this critical job had not been handed to someone who actually knew something about government. “We don’t have anyone,” said Lewandowski.

Christie volunteered himself for the job: head of the Donald Trump presidential transition team. “It’s the next best thing to being president,” he told friends. “You get to plan the presidency.” He went to see Trump about it. Trump said he didn’t want a presidential transition team. Why did anyone need to plan anything before he actually became president? It’s legally required, said Christie. Trump asked where the money was going to come from to pay for the transition team. Christie explained that Trump could either pay for it himself or take it out of campaign funds. Trump didn’t want to pay for it himself. He didn’t want to take it out of campaign funds, either, but he agreed, grudgingly, that Christie should go ahead and raise a separate fund to pay for his transition team. “But not too much!” he said.

And so Christie set out to prepare for the unlikely event that Donald Trump would one day be elected president of the United States. Not everyone in Trump’s campaign was happy to see him on the job. In June, Christie received a call from Trump adviser Paul Manafort. “The kid is paranoid about you,” Manafort said. The kid was Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law. Back in 2005, when he was US attorney for New Jersey, Christie had prosecuted and jailed Kushner’s father, Charles, for tax fraud. Christie’s investigation revealed, in the bargain, that Charles Kushner had hired a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law, whom he suspected of cooperating with Christie, videotaped the sexual encounter and sent the tape to his sister. The Kushners apparently took their grudges seriously, and Christie sensed that Jared still harboured one against him. On the other hand, Trump, whom Christie considered almost a friend, could not have cared less.

Christie viewed Kushner as one of those people who thinks that, because he is rich, he must also be smart. Still, he had a certain cunning about him. And Christie soon found himself reporting everything he did to prepare for a Trump administration to an “executive committee”. The committee consisted of Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr, Eric Trump, Manafort, Steve Mnuchin and Jeff Sessions. “I’m kind of like the church elder who double-counts the collection plate every Sunday for the pastor,” said Sessions, who appeared uncomfortable with the entire situation. The elder’s job became more complicated in July 2016, when Trump was formally named the Republican nominee. The transition team now moved into an office in downtown Washington DC, and went looking for people to occupy the top 500 jobs in the federal government. They needed to fill all the cabinet positions, of course, but also a whole bunch of others that no one in the Trump campaign even knew existed. It is not obvious how you find the next secretary of state, much less the next secretary of transportation – never mind who should sit on the board of trustees of the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation.

By August, 130 people were showing up every day, and hundreds more working part-time, at Trump transition headquarters, on the corner of 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. The transition team made lists of likely candidates for all 500 jobs, plus other lists of informed people to roll into the various federal agencies the day after the election, to be briefed on whatever the federal agencies were doing. They gathered the names for these lists by travelling the country and talking to people: Republicans who had served in government, Trump’s closest advisers, recent occupants of the jobs that needed filling. Then they set about investigating any candidates for glaring flaws and embarrassing secrets and conflicts of interest. At the end of each week, Christie handed over binders, with lists of names of people who might do the jobs well, to Kushner, Donald Jr and the others. “They probed everything,” says a senior Trump transition official. “‘Who is this person?’ ‘Where did this person come from?’ They only ever rejected one person: Manafort’s secretary.”

The first time Trump paid attention to any of this was when he read about it in the newspaper. The story revealed that Trump’s very own transition team had raised several million dollars to pay the staff. The moment he saw it, Trump called Steve Bannon, the chief executive of his campaign, from his office on the 26th floor of Trump Tower, and told him to come immediately to his residence, many floors above. Bannon stepped off the elevator to find Christie seated on a sofa, being hollered at. Trump was apoplectic, yelling:

“You’re stealing my money! You’re stealing my fucking money! What the fuck is this?”

Seeing Bannon, Trump turned on him and screamed: Why are you letting him steal my fucking money? Bannon and Christie together set out to explain to Trump federal law. Months before the election, the law said, the nominees of the two major parties were expected to prepare to take control of the government. The government supplied them with office space in downtown DC, along with computers and rubbish bins and so on, but the campaigns paid their people. To which Trump replied: Fuck the law. I don’t give a fuck about the law. I want my fucking money. Bannon and Christie tried to explain that Trump couldn’t have both his money and a transition.

“Shut it down,” said Trump. “Shut down the transition.”

Here Christie and Bannon parted ways. Neither thought it was a good idea to shut down the transition, but each had his own misgivings. Christie thought that Trump had little chance of running the government without a formal transition. Bannon wasn’t so sure if Trump would ever get his mind around running the federal government; he just thought it would look bad if Trump didn’t at least seem to prepare. Seeing that Trump wasn’t listening to Christie, he said: “What do you think Morning Joe will say if you shut down your transition?” What Morning Joe would say – or at least what Bannon thought it would say – was that Trump was closing his presidential transition office because he didn’t think he had any chance of being president.

Trump stopped hollering. For the first time he seemed to have listened.

“That makes sense,” he said.

With that, Christie went back to preparing for a Trump administration. He tried to stay out of the news, but that proved difficult. From time to time, Trump would see something in the paper about Christie’s fundraising and become upset all over again. The money that people donated to his campaign Trump considered, effectively, his own. He thought the planning and forethought pointless. At one point he turned to Christie and said: “Chris, you and I are so smart that we can leave the victory party two hours early and do the transition ourselves.”

At that moment in American history, if you could somehow organise the entire population into a single line, all 350 million people, ordered not by height or weight or age but by each citizen’s interest in the federal government, and Donald Trump loitered somewhere near one end of it, Max Stier would occupy the other.

By the autumn of 2016, Stier might have been the American with the greatest understanding of how the US government worked. Oddly, for an American of his age and status, he had romanticised public service since he was a child. He had gone through Yale in the mid-80s and Stanford law school in the early 90s without ever being tempted by money or anything else. He thought the US government was the single most important and interesting institution in the history of the planet and could not imagine doing anything but working to improve it. A few years out of law school he had met a financier named Sam Heyman, who was as disturbed as Stier was by how uninterested talented young people were in government work. Stier persuaded Heyman to set aside $25m for him so that he might create an organisation to address the problem.

Stier soon realised that to attract talented young people to government service, he would need to turn the government into a place that talented young people wanted to work. He would need to fix the US government. Partnership for Public Service, as Stier called his organisation, was not nearly as dull as its name. It trained civil servants to be business managers; it brokered new relationships across the federal government; it surveyed the federal workforce to identify specific management failures and success; and it lobbied Congress to fix deep structural problems. It was Stier who had persuaded Congress to pass the laws that made it so annoyingly difficult for Trump to avoid preparing to be president.

Anyway, from the point of view of a smart, talented person trying to decide whether to work for the US government, the single most glaring defect was the absence of an upside. The jobs were not well-paid compared with their equivalents in the private sector. And the only time government employees were recognised was if they screwed up – in which case they often became the wrong kind of famous. In 2002, Stier created an annual black tie, Oscars-like awards ceremony to celebrate people who had done extraordinary things in government.

Every year the Sammies – as Stier called them, in honour of his original patron – attracted a few more celebrities and a bit more media attention. And every year, the list of achievements was mind-blowing. A guy in the energy department (Frazer Lockhart) organised the first successful cleanup of a nuclear weapons factory, in Rocky Flats, Colorado, and had brought it in 60 years early and $30bn under budget. A woman at the Federal Trade Commission (Eileen Harrington) had built the Do Not Call Registry, which spared the entire country from trillions of irritating sales pitches. A National Institutes of Health researcher (Steven Rosenberg) had pioneered immunotherapy, which had successfully treated previously incurable cancers. There were hundreds of fantastically important success stories in the US government. They just never got told.

Stier knew an astonishing number of them. He had detected a pattern: a surprising number of the people responsible for them were first-generation Americans who had come from places without well-functioning governments. People who had lived without government were more likely to find meaning in it. On the other hand, people who had never experienced a collapsed state were slow to appreciate a state that had not yet collapsed.

That was maybe Stier’s biggest challenge: explaining the value of this enterprise at the centre of a democratic society to people who either took it for granted or imagined it as a pernicious force in their lives over which they had no control. He would explain that the federal government provided services that the private sector could not or would not: medical care for veterans, air traffic control, national highways, food safety guidelines. He would explain that the federal government was an engine of opportunity: millions of American children, for instance, would have found it even harder than they did to make the most of their lives without the basic nutrition supplied by the federal government. When all else failed, he would explain the many places the US government stood between Americans and the things that might kill them. “The basic role of government is to keep us safe,” he would say.

The US government employed 2 million people, 70% of them one way or another in national security. It managed a portfolio of risks that no private person or corporation was able to manage. Some of the risks were easy to imagine: a financial crisis, a hurricane, a terrorist attack. Most were not: the risk, say, that some prescription drug proves to be both so addictive and so accessible that each year it kills more Americans than were killed in action by the peak of the Vietnam war. Many of the risks that fell into the government’s lap felt so remote as to be unreal: that a cyberattack left half the country without electricity, or that some airborne virus wiped out millions, or that economic inequality reached the point where it triggered a violent revolution. Maybe the least visible risks were of things not happening that, with better government, might have happened. A cure for cancer, for instance.

Enter the presidential transition. A bad transition took this entire portfolio of catastrophic risks – the biggest portfolio of such risks ever managed by a single institution in the history of the world – and made all the bad things more likely to happen and the good things less likely to happen. Even before Stier created an organisation to fix the federal government, the haphazard nature of presidential transitions drove him nuts. “We have a legacy government that hasn’t kept up with the world we live in, largely because of disruptions from bad transitions,” he said. “People don’t understand that a bungled transition becomes a bungled presidency.” The new people taking over the job of running the government were at best only partially informed, and often deeply suspicious, of whatever happened to be going on before they arrived. By the time they fully grasped the problems they were dealing with, it was time to go. “It’s Groundhog Day,” said Stier. “The new people come in and think that the previous administration and the civil service are lazy or stupid. Then they actually get to know the place they are managing. And when they leave they say: ‘This was a really hard job, and those are the best people I’ve ever worked with.’ This happens over and over and over.”

Most of the big problems inside the US government were of the practical management sort and had nothing to do with political ideology. A mundane but important example was how hard it was for any government agency to hire new people. Some agencies couldn’t hire anyone without 60 different people signing off on him. The George W Bush administration had begun to attack that particular mundane problem. The Obama administration, instead of running with the work done during the Bush years, had simply started all over again.

Stier’s Partnership for Public Service had helped to push through three separate laws related to the transition. In 2010, Congress gave free office space and other resources to the nominees of the two major political parties immediately after the summer conventions. “The reason campaigns didn’t prepare is that they thought it would cost them politically: no one wanted to be seen measuring the drapes,” said Stier. “The idea was to give the nominees of the major political parties cover to do what they should do.” In 2011-2012, to enable the president to put people in jobs more quickly, Congress reduced the number of presidential appointments that required Senate confirmation from about 1,400 to roughly 1,200 – still more than 1,000 too many, in Stier’s view, but a start. Finally, in 2015, Congress required the sitting president to prepare in various ways to hand the government over to his or her successor. The person who had already taken the test was now required by law to help the person who may not have studied for it.

As the 2016 presidential election approached, Stier was about as hopeful as he had ever been that the US government would be handed from one leader to another with minimum stupidity. His partnership had worked with both the Clinton and the Trump campaigns. “Their work was good,” said Stier. He was disappointed with Obama in some ways. Obama had been slow to engage with the federal workforce. He had appointed some poor managers to run some agencies. The fiasco of the rollout of HealthCare.gov was not an accident but a byproduct of bad management. But Obama’s preparations to hand over the government had been superb: the Obama administration had created what amounted to the best course ever on the inner workings of the most powerful institution on earth. What could go wrong?

Chris Christie was sitting on a sofa beside Trump when Pennsylvania was finally called. It was 1.35am, but that wasn’t the only reason the feeling in the room was odd. Mike Pence went to kiss his wife, Karen, and she turned away from him. “You got what you wanted, Mike,” she said. “Now leave me alone.” She wouldn’t so much as say hello to Trump. Trump himself just stared at the TV without saying anything, like a man with a pair of twos whose bluff has been called. His campaign hadn’t even bothered to prepare an acceptance speech. It was not hard to see why Trump hadn’t seen the point in preparing to take over the federal government: why study for a test you will never need to take? Why take the risk of discovering you might, at your very best, be a C student? This was the real part of becoming president of the US. And, Christie thought, it scared the crap out of the president-elect.

Not long after the people on TV announced that Trump had won Pennsylvania, Jared Kushner grabbed Christie anxiously and said: “We have to have a transition meeting tomorrow morning!” Even before that meeting, Christie had made sure that Trump knew the protocol for his discussions with foreign leaders. The transition team had prepared a document to let him know how these were meant to go. The first few calls were easy – the very first was always with the prime minister of Great Britain – but two dozen calls in you were talking to some kleptocrat and tiptoeing around sensitive security issues. Before any of the calls could be made, however, the president of Egypt called in to the switchboard at Trump Tower and somehow got the operator to put him straight through to Trump. “Trump was like … I love the Bangles! You know that song Walk Like an Egyptian?” recalled one of his advisers on the scene.

That had been the first hint Christie had of trouble. He had asked Kushner what that was about, and Kushner had simply said, Trump ran a very unconventional campaign, and he’s not going to follow any of the protocols. The next hint that the transition might not go as planned came from Pence – now, incredibly, the vice-president-elect. Christie met with Pence the day after the election, to discuss the previous lists of people who had been vetted for jobs. The meeting began with a prayer, followed by Pence’s first, ominous question: “Why isn’t Puzder on the list for labour?” Andrew Puzder, the head of CKE Restaurants, the holding company for the fast-food chains Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr, wanted to be the secretary of labour. Christie explained that Puzder’s ex-wife had accused him of abuse (although she later retracted the allegation) and his fast-food restaurant employees had complained of mistreatment. Even if he was somehow the ideal candidate to become the next secretary of labour, he wouldn’t survive his Senate confirmation hearings. (Trump ignored the advice and nominated Puzder. In the controversy that followed, Puzder not only failed to be confirmed, but also stepped down from his job.)

After meeting with Pence, Christie was scheduled to brief the Trump children, Kushner and the other members of Trump’s inner circle. He was surprised to find, suddenly included in this group, retired army lieutenant general Michael Flynn. Flynn was a jobseeker the transition team had found reasons to be extremely wary of. Now he wanted to be named Trump’s national security adviser, which was maybe the most important job in the entire national security apparatus. The national security team inside the Trump transition – staffed with senior former military and intelligence officials – had thought that was an especially bad idea. Flynn’s name was not on the list. But here he was, in the meeting to decide who would do what in the Trump administration, and Ivanka was asking him which job he would like to have.

Before Christie could intercede, Bannon grabbed him and asked to see him privately. Christie followed Bannon to his office impatiently. Hey, this is going to have to be quick, said Christie.

“It’s really quick,” said Bannon. “You’re out.”

“Why?” asked Christie, stunned.

“We’re making a change.”

“Okay, what are we changing?”



“It’s really not important.”

The method of his execution was unsurprising: Trump always avoided firing people himself. The man who played Mr You’re Fired on TV avoided personal confrontation in real life. The surprise was that it was being done now, just when the work of the transition team was most critical. Only when Christie threatened to go down and tell reporters that Bannon had fired him did Bannon concede, “It was Jared.”

In the days after the election, the people in the building on 17th and Pennsylvania were meant to move to another building in downtown DC, a kind of White House-in-waiting. They soon discovered that the lists that they had created of people to staff the Trump administration were not the lists that mattered. There was now this other list, of people allowed into the new building, and most of their names weren’t on it. “People would show up to the new building and say: ‘Let me in,’ and the secret service would say: ‘Sorry, you’re not on the list,’” said a civil servant who worked in the new building.

It wasn’t just Christie who had been fired. It was the entire transition team – although no one ever told them so directly. As Nancy Cook reported in Politico, Bannon visited the transition headquarters a few days after he had given Christie the news, and made a show of tossing the work the people there had done for Trump into the bin. Trump was going to handle the transition more or less by himself. Not even Bannon thought this was a good idea. “I was fucking nervous as shit,” Bannon later told friends. “I go, ‘Holy fuck, this guy [Trump] doesn’t know anything. And he doesn’t give a shit.’”

They were about to take control of the portfolio of existential risks managed by the US government. Only they weren’t. On the morning after the election the hundreds of people who had prepared to brief the incoming Trump administration sat waiting. A day became a week and a week became a month … and no one showed up. The parking spots that had been set aside for Trump’s people remained empty, and the briefing books were never opened. You could walk into almost any department of the US government and hear people asking the same question: where were these people who were meant to be running the place?

The department of agriculture was an excellent case study. The place had an annual budget of $164bn and was charged with so many missions critical to the society that the people who worked there played a drinking game called Does the Department of Agriculture Do It? Someone would name a function of government, say, making sure that geese don’t gather at US airports, and fly into jet engines. Someone else would have to guess whether the agriculture department did it. (In this case, it did.) Guess wrong and you had to drink. Among other things, the department essentially maintained rural America, and also ensured that the American poor and the elderly did not starve. Much of its work was complicated and technical – and yet for the months between the election and the inauguration, Trump people never turned up to learn about it. Only on inauguration day did they flood into the building, but the people who showed up had no idea why they were there or what they were meant to do. Trump sent, among others, a long-haul truck driver, a telephone company clerk, a gas company meter reader, a country club cabana attendant, a Republican National Committee intern and the owner of a scented candle company. One of the CVs listed the new appointee’s only skill as “a pleasant demeanor”.

All these people had two things in common. They were Trump loyalists. And they knew nothing whatsoever about the job they suddenly found themselves in. A new American experiment was underway.


The CIA Confessions: The Crowley Conversations

December 26, 2018

by Dr. Peter Janney

On October 8th, 2000, Robert Trumbull Crowley, once a leader of the CIA’s Clandestine Operations Division, died in a Washington hospital of heart failure and the end effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. Before the late Assistant Director Crowley was cold, Joseph Trento, a writer of light-weight books on the CIA, descended on Crowley’s widow at her town house on Cathedral Hill Drive in Washington and hauled away over fifty boxes of Crowley’s CIA files.

Once Trento had his new find secure in his house in Front Royal, Virginia, he called a well-known Washington fix lawyer with the news of his success in securing what the CIA had always considered to be a potential major embarrassment.

Three months before, on July 20th of that year, retired Marine Corps colonel William R. Corson, and an associate of Crowley, died of emphysema and lung cancer at a hospital in Bethesda, Md.

After Corson’s death, Trento and the well-known Washington fix-lawyer went to Corson’s bank, got into his safe deposit box and removed a manuscript entitled ‘Zipper.’ This manuscript, which dealt with Crowley’s involvement in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, vanished into a CIA burn-bag and the matter was considered to be closed forever.

The small group of CIA officials gathered at Trento’s house to search through the Crowley papers, looking for documents that must not become public. A few were found but, to their consternation, a significant number of files Crowley was known to have had in his possession had simply vanished.

When published material concerning the CIA’s actions against Kennedy became public in 2002, it was discovered to the CIA’s horror, that the missing documents had been sent by an increasingly erratic Crowley to another person and these missing papers included devastating material on the CIA’s activities in South East Asia to include drug running, money laundering and the maintenance of the notorious ‘Regional Interrogation Centers’ in Viet Nam and, worse still, the Zipper files proving the CIA’s active organization of the assassination of President John Kennedy..

A massive, preemptive disinformation campaign was readied, using government-friendly bloggers, CIA-paid “historians” and others, in the event that anything from this file ever surfaced. The best-laid plans often go astray and in this case, one of the compliant historians, a former government librarian who fancied himself a serious writer, began to tell his friends about the CIA plan to kill Kennedy and eventually, word of this began to leak out into the outside world.

The originals had vanished and an extensive search was conducted by the FBI and CIA operatives but without success. Crowley’s survivors, his aged wife and son, were interviewed extensively by the FBI and instructed to minimize any discussion of highly damaging CIA files that Crowley had, illegally, removed from Langley when he retired. Crowley had been a close friend of James Jesus Angleton, the CIA’s notorious head of Counterintelligence. When Angleton was sacked by DCI William Colby in December of 1974, Crowley and Angleton conspired to secretly remove Angleton’s most sensitive secret files out of the agency. Crowley did the same thing right before his own retirement, secretly removing thousands of pages of classified information that covered his entire agency career.

Known as “The Crow” within the agency, Robert T. Crowley joined the CIA at its inception and spent his entire career in the Directorate of Plans, also know as the “Department of Dirty Tricks,”: Crowley was one of the tallest man ever to work at the CIA. Born in 1924 and raised in Chicago, Crowley grew to six and a half feet when he entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in N.Y. as a cadet in 1943 in the class of 1946. He never graduated, having enlisted in the Army, serving in the Pacific during World War II. He retired from the Army Reserve in 1986 as a lieutenant colonel. According to a book he authored with his friend and colleague, William Corson, Crowley’s career included service in Military Intelligence and Naval Intelligence, before joining the CIA at its inception in 1947. His entire career at the agency was spent within the Directorate of Plans in covert operations. Before his retirement, Bob Crowley became assistant deputy director for operations, the second-in-command in the Clandestine Directorate of Operations.

Bob Crowley first contacted Gregory Douglas  in 1993  when he found out from John Costello that Douglas was about to publish his first book on Heinrich Mueller, the former head of the Gestapo who had become a secret, long-time asset to the CIA. Crowley contacted Douglas and they began a series of long and often very informative telephone conversations that lasted for four years. In 1996, Crowley told Douglas that he believed him to be the person that should ultimately tell Crowley’s story but only after Crowley’s death. Douglas, for his part, became so entranced with some of the material that Crowley began to share with him that he secretly began to record their conversations, later transcribing them word for word, planning to incorporate some, or all, of the material in later publications.


Conversation No. 64

Date: Monday, February 10, 1997

Commenced: 11:02 AM CST

Concluded: 11:35 AM CST

GD: Good morning, Robert. What’s going on back there on a nice cold Monday?

RTC: Not very much, Gregory, and after a lifetime of excitement, I rather like it that way.

GD: Are you still in touch over there?

RTC: Sometimes, Gregory, sometimes. A casual conversation here, a visit there. You know how it is. Gone and soon forgotten.

GD: And no memoirs, either.

RTC: No, the code of omerta is with all of us retirees.

GD: But never having worked for your people, I have no such caveat, do I?

RTC: No, you do not.

GD: But Corson never worked for you, did he?

RTC: No, not actually. He wanted to, but he never did. He has been involved in various things but only on the periphery.

GD: People love to dream and eventually, they begin to fantasize and after those take hold, begin to lie in public and later, in print.

RTC: Cruel, Gregory, but close to the truth.

GD: Do you know what really disturbs me, Robert? I mean the CIA people who do not like me writing that the head of the Gestapo worked for them. What I find bad is their utter stupidity. I can appreciate intelligence, even if it is directed towards or against me, but when your people drag up dismal failures like Wolfe who calls himself Doctor when he isn’t, and Landreth who calls himself a television producer when he isn’t. And all the pathetic and utterly predictable kindergarten games they play, trying to lure me into some kind of a trap or to find out what documents I have from a man they claim did not exist….pathetic, Robert, really pathetic. Wolfe is a second-level librarian with delusions of literary grandeur and Landreth claims to run a television company and actually runs a wino soup kitchen in Los Angeles. Can’t Langley find someone with an IQ higher than their belt size?

RTC: Now, Gregory, you are getting loquacious again. I don’t think it’s because these people are stupid, but that you are too intelligent for your own good. Certainly for theirs. You annoy Kimmel, whose middle-class morality is offended by your callous treatment of his station in life, and Bill is terrified of you. I don’t mean he thinks you are going to lure him outside on garbage can night and split his skull with an axe, but Bill is like so many other creative liars; he’s afraid someone like you will come on the scene and expose him.

GD” I don’t do this on purpose, you know.

RTC: Oh, I think there is some malice in what you do, Gregory. I don’t find you either stupid or unkind, but you have a very active streak of destruction in your nature. Why, Gregory, bother to shoot butterflies with a rifle?

GD: Point, but then I don’t put up with these morons gladly. Now, an intelligent and creative approach might get some positive reaction from me, but all of this transparent bleating just annoys me. And after I have dispatched one with withering words or, better, making a fool out of them, why here comes another one down the path, wearing the top half of a clown suit and waving a fan. Jesus wept. You know, their reaction time is marvelous, Robert. I did the first Mueller book in ’95 and just now they are starting to leak negative stories about me. Do they sleep in refrigerators at night? Slow on the draw, Robert. In the Old West of blessed fiction, they would be full of holes. I wonder what sort of attack they will try next? There never was a Heinrich Mueller? I am really a practicing vampire? I misspelled a name once so I can’t be right about anything? Do you think some broken-down academic who teaches animal husbandry at an Arkansas community college will come forward and produce a book showing that Mueller was eaten by Stalin? They did a story like that once about Mueller living in Panama but it turned out to be a huge joke. Then some senile Czech intelligence person’s son claimed his father said Mueller was shot in Moscow. Of course, when the press tried to talk to the father, he was too far gone to do anything but wet himself.

RTC: I don’t think a book, Gregory. And after what you did to that Hungarian Jewess in London, I doubt if any reporter will dare to attack you again.

GD: Fear is a wonderful deterrent, Robert. Pick the loudest of the pack, stick a knife in them and gut them in front of everybody and the rest of the piebald apes run back to the security of the deep forest.

RTC: Well, you don’t fit the mold, Gregory. You were supposed to turn all of Mueller’s highly incriminating material over to that jerk from Time magazine and then they would be done with you. I don’t think the boobery understands that hiring General Mueller, bringing him over here and putting him to work was a very, very sensitive business. After all, FDR’s propaganda machine depicted Mueller’s Gestapo as pure evil…

GD: Which they were not…

RTC: No, just professionals. But necessary targets. And in light of the propaganda, how could we dare to hire the man who personally shoved millions of Jews into the enormous gas chambers that could have been seen from the moon? No, a very private matter indeed. That’s why Jim Critchfield is terrified of you and wants to kill you. If it ever got into the Jewish and far left community…

GD: The same thing…

RTC: Yes, and if it did, Jim would be toast. Therefore, you lie like a rug and no one should ever listen to you. Of course, given your volatile and creative personality, such jabber only gets you angrier and that results in more very ugly mischief. Not to be impudent, Gregory, but how much money have you skinned these people out of?

GD: About a hundred and ten thousand, give or take a few cents. Book advance fees, television rights, outright bribes and so on.

RTC: And what did they ever get for all the taxpayer’s money?

GD: A number ten shoe in their scrotum, Robert.

RTC: It seems that way. Well, I don’t know what their next move will be, but I have seen this all before. The usual method of dealing with people like you, aside from the convenient heart attack or car accident, is to hire worthless but hungry scribblers to submit articles to obedient newspapers, marginalizing you, misspelling your name and, in general, treating you like someone on ticket of leave from a nut house. And then on to other, more important, matters. You know, we have an entire department that invents news stories to feed to our toadies in the press in order to disguise something very bad we just pulled off. We kill the head of the UN and then start a story going about the Yeti being seen in downtown Detroit.

GD: That’s a familiar pattern. How controlled is it?

RTC: Gregory, the US government owns the press, the newspapers, the magazines and the television. They print what we tell them to and they ignore that which we wish them to ignore. We wanted to get rid of Nixon, who was becoming a loose cannon, so the press obliged by daily attacks. We kill Kennedy and suddenly, legions of conspiracy nuts emerge from under their damp rocks with tens of thousands of books filled with more shit than a Christmas turkey.

GD: Are they on the payrolls?

RTC: God no, Gregory. Most of these slime merchants are on their own and we would never dare to pay them…at least not directly. But what we do accomplish is to get their cloaking nuttiness published and distributed through our friends in the media. You know, big New York publishing house does a book that Kennedy was only shot by Oswald, number one on The New York Times book list, even though they only sold three copies, talk show babbling on friendly TV networks and on and on. And the more the literary nut fringe sees and hears others braying like donkeys in public and, very important here, getting attention, they go at it again by proving some Secret Service agent was hiding in the trunk of Kennedy’s car and shot him through the trunk lid.

GD” (Laughter)

RTC: No, don’t laugh. They’re armies of the ignorant out there who believe such crap. You know that.

GD: Yes, I do. And since we’re on the topic, how much of all this insanity is planned?

RTC: Oh, we start it, that’s for certain, but there are many who carry on the good work quite for free. Actually for free. Most of them are pathetic losers and they lust after attention…for recognition…for something other than their bleak and unrewarding existence. They become keepers of great secrets, Gregory, and smug in their inner knowledge.

GD: They delude themselves.

RTC: Yes, but they also delude the public which is often very important.

GD: Why must the CIA, or the Pentagon, or the White House, use such garbage to advance their evil ends?

RTC: I never said we didn’t need rubber gloves and Lysol, dealing with our sources, Gregory. But these twits have produced so much silly garbage about the Kennedy business that our worries are over.

GD: I recall a cartoon in Playboy. A bunch of ancient Hebrews were standing around at the base of a mountain and down the path came a man with a long beard and a little bottle in his hand. One of those below had his head turned to his neighbor and the caption said, as I recall it, ‘Our headaches are over. Here comes Moses with the tablets!’ It said Aspirin on the little bottle.

RTC: (Laughter) Naughty boy, Gregory.

GD: Here, I never did see the cartoon. I’m just commenting on it. All of this reminds me of a scenario. A small child sees a stallion mounting a mare in a pasture and points to it. ‘Mommy, what’s the big horsy doing to the little one?’ ‘Oh,’ said the shocked mother, ‘just look over there, Jimmy! See the nice donkey?’ ‘Why,’ said the entranced child, ‘what’s the donkey doing to cousin Muriel?’ Ah well, Robert, in seeking to avoid Scylla, we fall upon Charybdis.

RTC: Pardon?

GD: A classical Greek nautical problem, Robert.


Concluded at 11:35 AM CST




Frozen Continent  Antarctica 

  • A frozen graveyard: The sad tales of Antarctica’s deaths
  • Beneath layers of snow and ice on the world’s coldest continent, there may be hundreds of people buried forever. Martha Henriques investigates their stories.

by Martha Henriques

The Guardian

In the bleak, almost pristine land at the edge of the world, there are the frozen remains of human bodies – and each one tells a story of humanity’s relationship with this inhospitable continent.

Even with all our technology and knowledge of the dangers of Antarctica, it can remain deadly for anyone who goes there. Inland, temperatures can plummet to nearly -90C (-130F). In some places, winds can reach 200mph (322km/h). And the weather is not the only risk.

Many bodies of scientists and explorers who perished in this harsh place are beyond reach of retrieval. Some are discovered decades or more than a century later. But many that were lost will never be found, buried so deep in ice sheets or crevasses that they will never emerge – or they are headed out towards the sea within creeping glaciers and calving ice.

The stories behind these deaths range from unsolved mysteries to freak accidents. In the second of our new series Frozen Continent, BBC Future explored what these events reveal about life on the planet’s most inhospitable landmass.

1800s: Mystery of the Chilean bones

At Livingston Island, among the South Shetlands off the Antarctic Peninsula, a human skull and femur have been lying near the shore for 175 years. They are the oldest human remains ever found in Antarctica.

The bones were discovered on the beach in the 1980s. Chilean researchers found that they belonged to a woman who died when she was about 21 years old. She was an indigenous person from southern Chile, 1,000km (620 miles) away.

Analysis of the bones suggested that she died between 1819 and 1825. The earlier end of that range would put her among the very first people to have been in Antarctica.

The question is, how did she get there? The traditional canoes of the indigenous Chileans couldn’t have supported her on such a long voyage through what can be incredibly rough seas.

There’s no evidence for an independent Amerindian presence in the South Shetlands,” says Michael Pearson, an Antarctic heritage consultant and independent researcher. “It’s not a journey you’d make in a bark canoe.”

The original interpretation by the Chilean researchers was that she was an indigenous guide to the sealers travelling from the northern hemisphere to the Antarctic islands that had been newly discovered by William Smith in 1819. But women taking part in expeditions to the far south in those early days was virtually unheard of.

Sealers did have a close relationship with the indigenous people of southern Chile, says Melisa Salerno, an archaeologist of the Argentinean Scientific and Technical Research Council (Conicet). Sometimes they would exchange seal skins with each other. It’s not out of the question that they traded expertise and knowledge, too. But the two cultures’ interactions weren’t always friendly.

“Sometimes it was a violent situation,” says Salerno. “The sealers could just take a woman from one beach and later leave her far away on another.”

A lack of surviving logs and journals from the early ships sailing south to Antarctica makes it even more difficult to trace this woman’s history.

Her story is unique among the early human presence in Antarctica. A woman who, by all the usual accounts, shouldn’t have been there – but somehow she was. Her bones mark the start of human activity on Antarctica, and the unavoidable loss of life that comes with trying to occupy this inhospitable continent.

29 March 1912: Scott’s South Pole expedition crew

Robert Falcon Scott’s team of British explorers reached the South Pole on 17 January 1912, just three weeks after the Norwegian team led by Roald Amundsen had departed from the same spot.

The British group’s morale was crushed when they discovered that they had not arrived first. Soon after, things would get much worse.

Attaining the pole was a feat to test human endurance, and Scott had been under huge pressure. As well as dealing with the immediate challenges of the harsh climate and lack of natural resources like wood for building, he had a crew of more than 60 men to lead. More pressure came from the high hopes of his colleagues back home.

“They mean to do or die – that is the spirit in which they are going to the Antarctic,” Leonard Darwin, a president of the Royal Geographical Society and son of Charles Darwin, said in a speech at the time.

“Captain Scott is going to prove once again that the manhood of the nation is not dead… the self-respect of the whole nation is certainly increased by such adventures as this,” he said.

Scott was not impervious to the expectations. “He was a very rounded, human character,” says Max Jones, a historian of heroism and polar exploration at the University of Manchester. “In his journals, you find he’s racked with doubts and anxieties about whether he’s up to the task and that makes him more appealing. He had failings and weaknesses too.”

Despite his worries and doubts, the mindset of “do or die” drove the team to take risks that might seem alien to us now.

On the team’s return from the pole, Edgar Evans died first, in February. Then Lawrence Oates. He had considered himself a burden, thinking the team could not return home with him holding them back. “I am just going outside and may be some time,” he said on 17 March.

Perhaps he had not realised how close the rest of the group were to death. The bodies of Oates and Evans were never found, but Scott, Edward Wilson and Henry Bowers were discovered by a search party several months after their deaths. They had died on 29 March 1912, according to the date in Scott’s diary entry. The search party covered them with snow and left them where they lay.

“I do not think human beings ever came through such a month as we have come through,” Scott wrote in his diary’s final pages. The team knew they were within 18km (11 miles) of the last food depot, with the supplies that could have saved them. But they were confined to a tent for days, growing weaker, trapped by a fierce blizzard.

“They were prepared to risk their lives and they saw that as legitimate. You can view that as part of a mindset of imperial masculinity, tied up with enduring hardship and hostile environments,” says Jones. “I’m not saying that they had a death wish, but I think that they were willing to die.”

14 October 1965: Jeremy Bailey, David Wild and John Wilson

Four men were riding a Muskeg tractor and its sledges near the Heimefront Mountains, to the east of their base at Halley Research Station in East Antarctica, close to the Weddell Sea. The Muskeg was a heavy-duty vehicle designed to haul people and supplies over long distances on the ice. A team of dogs ran behind.

Three of the men were in the cab. The fourth, John Ross, sat behind on the sledge at the back, close to the huskies. Jeremy (Jerry) Bailey, a scientist measuring the depth of the ice beneath the tractor, was driving. He and David (Dai) Wild, a surveyor, and John Wilson, a doctor, were scanning the ice ahead. Snow obscured much of the small, flat windscreen. The group had been travelling all day, taking turns to warm up in the cab or sit out back on the sledge.

Ross was staring out at the vast ice, snow and Stella Group mountains. At about 8:30, the dogs alongside the sledge stopped running. The sledge had ground to a halt.

Ross, muffled with a balaclava and two anoraks, had heard nothing. He turned to see that the Muskeg was gone. Ahead, the first sledge was leaning down into the ice. Ross ran up to it to find it had wedged in the top of a large crevasse running directly across their course. The Muskeg itself had fallen about 30m (100ft) into the crevasse. Down below, its tracks were wedged vertically against one ice wall, and the cab had been flattened hard against the other.

Ross shouted down. There was no reply from the three men in the cab. After about 20 minutes of shouting, Ross heard a reply. The exchange, as he recorded it from memory soon after the event, was brief:

Ross: Dai?

Bailey: Dai’s dead. It’s me.

Ross: Is that John or Jerry?

Bailey: Jerry.

Ross: How is John?

Bailey: He’s a goner, mate.

Ross: What about yourself?

Bailey: I’m all smashed up.

Ross: Can you move about at all or tie a rope round yourself?

Bailey: I’m all smashed up.

Ross tried climbing down into the crevasse, but the descent was difficult. Bailey told him not to risk it, but Ross tried anyway. After several attempts, Bailey stopped responding to Ross’s calls. Ross heard a scream from the crevasse. After that, Bailey didn’t respond.

Crevasses – deep clefts in the ice stretching down hundreds of feet – are serious threats while travelling across the Antarctic. On 14 October 1965, there had been strong winds kicking up drifts and spreading snow far over the landscape, according to reports on the accident held at the British Antarctic Survey archives. This concealed the top of the chasms, and crucially, the thin blue line in the ice ahead of each drop that would have warned the men to stop.

“You can imagine – there’s a bit of drift about, and there’s bits of ice on the windscreen, your fingers are bloody cold, and you think it’s about time to stop anyway,” says Rod Rhys Jones, one of the expedition party who had not gone on that trip with the Muskeg. He points to the crevassed area the Muskeg had been driving over, on a map of the continent spread over his coffee table, littered with books on the Antarctic.

You’re driving along over the ice and thumping and bumping and banging. You don’t see the little blue line.”

Jones questions whether the team had been given adequate training for the hazards of travel in Antarctica. They were young men, mostly fresh out of university. Many of them had little experience in harsh physical conditions. Much of their time preparing for life in Antarctica was spent learning to use the scientific equipment they would need, not training them in how to avoid accidents on the ice.

Each accident in Antarctica has slowly led to changes in the way people travelled and were trained. Reports filed after the incident recommended several ways to make travel through crevassed regions safer, from adapting the vehicle, to new ways to hitch them together.

August 1982: Ambrose Morgan, Kevin Ockleton and John Coll

The three men set out over the ice for an expedition to a nearby island in the depths of the Antarctic winter.

The sea ice was firm, and they made it easily to Petermann Island. The southern aurora was visible in the sky, unusually bright and strong enough to wipe out communications. The team reached the island safely and camped out at a hut near the shore.

Soon after reaching the shore, a large storm blew in that, by the next day, entirely destroyed the sea ice. The group was stranded, but concern among the party was low. There was enough food in the hut to last three people more than a month.

In the next few days, the sea ice failed to reform as storms swept and disrupted the ice in the channel.

There were no books or papers in the hut, and contact with the outside world was limited to scheduled radio transmissions to the base. Soon, it had been two weeks. The transmissions were kept brief, as the batteries in their radios were getting weaker and weaker. The team grew restless. Gentoo and Adelie penguins surrounded the hut. They might have looked endearing, but their smell soon began to bother the men.

Things got worse. The team got diarrhoea, as it turned out some of the food in the hut was much older than they had thought. The stench of the penguins didn’t make them feel any better. They killed and ate a few to boost their supplies.

The men waited with increasing frustration, complaining of boredom on their radio transmissions to base. On Friday 13 August 1982, they were seen through a telescope, waving back to the main base. Radio batteries were running low. The sea ice had reformed again, providing a tantalising hope for escape.

Two days later, on Sunday 15 August, the group didn’t check in on the radio at the scheduled time. Then another large storm blew in.

The men at the base climbed up to a high point where they could see the island. All the sea ice was gone again, taken out by the storm.

“These guys had done something which we all did – go out on a little trip to the island,” says Pete Salino, who had been on the main base at the time. The three men were never seen again.

There were very strong currents around the island. Reliable, thick ice formed relatively rarely, Salino recalls. The way they tested whether the ice would hold them was primitive – they would whack it with a wooden stick tipped with metal to see if it would smash.

Even after an extensive search, the bodies were never found. Salino suspects the men went out onto the ice when it reformed and either got stuck or weren’t able to turn back when the storm blew in.

“It does sound mad now, sitting in a cosy room in Surrey,” Salino says. “When we used to go out, there was always a risk of falling through, but you’d always go prepared. We’d always have spare clothing in a sealed bag. We all accepted the risk and felt that it could have been any of us.”

Legacy of death

For those who experience the loss of colleagues and friends in Antarctica, grieving can be uniquely difficult. When a friend disappears or a body cannot be recovered, the typical human rituals of death – a burial, a last goodbye – elude those left behind.

Clifford Shelley, a British geophysicist based at Argentine Islands off the Antarctic Peninsula in the late 1970s, lost friends who were climbing the nearby peak Mount Peary in 1976. It was thought that those men – Geoffrey Hargreaves, Michael Walker and Graham Whitfield – were trapped in an avalanche. Signs of their camp were found by an air search, but their bodies were never recovered.

You just wait and wait, but there’s nothing. Then you just sort of lose hope,” Shelley says.

Even when the body is recovered, the demanding nature of life and work on Antarctica can make it a hard place to grieve. Ron Pinder, a radio operator in the South Orkneys in the late 1950s and early 1960s, still mourns someone who slipped from a cliff on Signy Island while tagging birds in 1961. The body of his friend, Roger Filer, was found at the foot of a 20ft (6m) cliff below the nests where he was thought to have been tagging birds. His body was buried on the island.

“It is 57 years ago now. It is in the distant past. But it affects me more now than it did then. Life was such that you had to get on with it,” Pinder says.

The same rings true for Shelley. “I don’t think we did really process it,” he says. “It remains at the back of your mind. But it’s certainly a mixed feeling, because Antarctica is superbly beautiful, both during the winter and the summer. It’s the best place to be and we were doing the things we wanted to do.”

These deaths have led to changes in how people work in Antarctica. As a result, the people there today can live more safely on this hazardous, isolated continent. Although terrible incidents still happen, much has been learned from earlier fatalities.

For the friends and families of the dead, there is an ongoing effort to make sure their lost loved ones are not forgotten. Outside the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, UK, two high curved oak pillars lean towards one another, gently touching at the top. It is half of a monument to the dead, erected by the British Antarctic Monument Trust, set up by Rod Rhys Jones and Brian Dorsett-Bailey, Jeremy’s brother, to recognise and honour those who died in Antarctica. The other half of the monument is a long slither of metal leaning slightly towards the sea at Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, where many of the researchers set off for the last leg of their journey to Antarctica.

Viewed from one end so they align, the oak pillars curve away from each other, leaving a long tapering empty space between them. The shape of that void is perfectly filled by the tall steel shard mounted on a plinth on the other side of the world. It is a physical symbol that spans the hemispheres, connecting home with the vast and wild continent that drew these scientists away for the last time.

No responses yet

Leave a Reply