In the latest Pseudcast episode, we tackled the World Commerce Corporation (WCC), a mysterious entity defined as a “commercially-oriented espionage net” by its founder, OSS man William Donovan. With deep ties to American and British services, the WCC operated as something like an invisible cartel, working obliquely in a variety of fields across the world. Oil deals in the Gulf of Mexico, asbestos mining in Venezuela, tourist development in Spain, the chili pepper trade, the soybean trade, selling off surplus military aircraft to the KMT, the development of the Thai silk trade in the postwar era, so on and so forth. Our argument was that the WCC emerged from a generalized tendency towards trusts and cartel that brought together formerly-competitive institutions together in order to coordinate activities and set precises – and a more specific historical tendency, snaking through shadowy corporations like the Empire Trust Company and the American International Corporation, that eliminated the already-blurred lines between government and business, commercial activities and foreign policy, social networks and intelligence work.
A brief recap: the WCC was launched in 1945, with a registration in Panama. It appears to have been the brainchild of William Donovan, and he had worked closely with William Stephenson – the head of the British Intelligence Co-ordination (BSC), a British intelligence unit stationed in New York City’s Rockefeller Center during World War 2 – in this endeavor. The same year that WCC was launched, Stephenson has established his own corporation, the British-Canadian-American Corporation (BACC), the leadership of which was drawn from the ranks of the BACC. The Panamanian registration papers make it appear as if BACC itself was an investor in the WCC, along with a litany of other firms (Bechtel Brothers-McCone SA, the Keswick Steamship Company SA, the Weyerhauser Steamship Company, the Sun-Douglas Shipping Company, etc). The ties ran deep: Stephenson is listed in the WCC’s registration papers as a director of the firm, and John Arthur Reed Pepper – associated with the BSC – as vice-president. In 1947, the BACC was formally absorbed into the WCC.
The leadership of WCC was a cross-section of former OSS officers and various business interests. Besides Donovan, these included William Horrigan (OSS; listed as WCC president), Ricardo Sicre (OSS; listed as WCC vice-president), Russell Forgan (OSS; listed as WCC director), Frank Ryan (OSS; listed as WCC director and later president), James Cavagnaro (vice-president of Transamerica, the holding company that controls Bank of America; listed as WCC director), Daniel de Menocal (investment banker connected to JP Morgan; listed as WCC director), L. Boyd Hatch (investment banker; listed as WCC director), and Edward Stettinius Jr. (Secretary of State under FDR and Truman; organized the Liberia Company; listed as WCC director). Other sources have connected Nelson Rockefeller to the WCC, though this has yet to be confirmed. What is known is that Rockefeller had long-standing associations with numerous WCC-connected principles – Donovan, Stephenson, Stettinius – and in this period maintained the International Basic Economy Corporation (IBEC), whose activities directly mirrored those of the WCC.
Like the earlier trusts and cartels, the WCC seems to have riddled with essential interlocks: the promotion of close coordination between economic institutions via overlapping board memberships, which in turn is often closely tied to byzantine ownership structures. It’s clear that individuals involved in the WCC often maintained companies of their own that carried out similar, parallel work to that of the WCC. The aforementioned IBEC of Rockefeller is one such example, and another would be the Liberia Group of Stettinius (each of these were discussed in the Pseudcast). Stephenson himself was involved in a series of companies dedicated to economic development, included the Canada-based Newfoundland & Labrador Development Company. But what is important to keep in mind is that the interlocks and coordination efforts are quite often themselves but the formalization of pre-existing social networks generated by the matrices of commercial activities. Thus expanding the scope to examine these networks themselves is a task that is often illuminating.
The Texas-Jamaica Circuit
At the time that the BACC and WCC were being organized, William Stephenson had ‘retired’ from intelligence work, and had purchased property on Jamaica’s Montego Bay. The site of a major port on the island, Montego Bay was a favored destination for businessmen and the jet-set – and for those who had cut their teeth in the wartime intelligence services. Various accounts offer a laundry-list of Stephenson’s visitors (and perhaps fellow-property owners). Donovan, of course, frequented the tropical paradise, as did Lord Beaverbook, the British industrialist and media mogul. Beaverbook’s papers were enlisted in the wartime propaganda effort, while he had himself taken the position of the UK’s Minister of Supply, and then Minister of War Propaganda. Ian Fleming, of the British Naval Intelligence Division and later creator of James Bond, was another common visitor to Stephenson’s abode. It has often been suspected that Bond was, in fact, a highly romanticized version of Stephenson.
During the 1950s, a development project appeared near to Stephenson’s property. This was the Tryall Club, an exclusive “private villa resort” that is still operational today. Curiously, the Tryall Club appears to have been the brainchild of Texas money: according to the club’s website, the land on which the club was built had been purchased by John Connally, who would later serve as Secretary of the Navy in 1961, and governor of Texas between 1963 and 1969. At the time, however, Connally was the lawyer for Fort Worth tycoon Sid Richardson (having made his debut in the world of Texas big money through lucrative oil ventures, he had expanded into construction and railroads with his longtime business associate Clint Murchison Sr. The two would maintain extensive political ties, particularly to J. Edgar Hoover and to Lyndon Johnson).
Yet the real power player behind the development of the Tryall Club was not Connally, but Dallas oil figure Paul Raigorodsky. To find Raigorodsky here was surprising: Kantbot and I had discussed him in our JFK episode. It was Raigorodsky who had been a director of the Tolstoy Foundation, an organization that acted as the heart of Dallas’s White Russian Community. The Tolstoy Foundation had a history of involvement with CIA activities: it had received funding from the agency via the Ford Foundation, and appears in agency files in relation to Project AEVIRGIL – the aim of which was to “use a controlled anti-communist emigre organization and its assets to create or intensify and exploit evolutionary changes in the USSR favorable to United States policy objectives”.
Raigorodsky also made clear in his Warren Commission testimony that he was familiar with George de Mohrenschildt:
Mr. JENNER. Did there in due course come into this community a man by the name of George De Mohrenschildt?
Mr. RAIGORODSKY. Yes, sir.
Mr. JENNER. And you were here when he came here, were you?
Mr. RAIGORODSKY. Well, let’s say that I met George De Mohrenschildt in Dallas while I was coming here, just–you know–just occasionally to see my friends, probably about. I’ll say 15 or 17 years ago, somewhere in that neighborhood.
Mr. JENNER. Had you heard of him prior to that time?
Mr. RAIGORODSKY. Yes; I heard of him through Jake Hamon.
Mr. JENNER. Through Mr. Hamon?
Mr. RAIGORODSKY. Hamon, H-a-m-o-n [spelling]–Jake.
Mr. JENNER. Who is he?
Mr. RAIGORODSKY. He is an oilman friend of mine here, quite well known, and he told me there was a Russian here do I know him, and I said, “No; I hadn’t heard about him.” That’s how I met him–at a party.
Mr. JENNER. You are talking about George De Mohrenschildt?
Mr. RAIGORODSKY. Yes.
Mohrenschildt, of course, was Oswald’s ‘friend’ and temporary benefactor in Dallas, a task he had taken up – as he later told Edward Jay Epstein – on behalf of James Walton Moore, a CIA officer in Dallas. This wasn’t Mohrenschildt’s only tie to the agency. At the time that he befriended Oswald, he had been involved in a tumultuous oil project in Haiti with banker Clemard Joseph Charles. As Joan Mellon extensively documents in Our Man in Haiti, Mohrenschildt and Charles’ activities were closely tied to CIA operations on the island. This is also evidenced in an April 23rd, 1963 CIA cable, which outlined a visit by Mohrenschildt and Charles to the offices of an agency codenamed WUBRINY-1. WUBRINY-1 was later identified as Thomas J. Devine, a “CIA staffer who then became an ‘oil-wildcatting associate with George [H.W.] Bush at Zapata Offshore Oil Company”.
Jake Hamon, mentioned by Raigorodsky as the individual who introduced him to Mohrenschildt, was yet another Dallas oil figure (and friend of the Bush family). Raigorodsky further elaborated in his testimony that it was Hamon that had brought him to Dallas in the first place. Prior to this, Raigorodsky had spent time in Washington DC and Houston, Texas. During World War 2, he had helped organize the US Department of Natural Gas and National Gasoline Industries, and had served there under yet another Dallas oil figure, Everette Degolyer of the prolific Degolyer-MacNaughton firm (both Delgolyer and Lewis MacNaughton – as well as their employee, Jack A. Crichton – were served as vice-presidents of the Empire Trust company; for how this interlock played into George de Mohrenschildt’s activities in Cuba, see my earlier post “Wall Street Goes to Cuba”).
Mr. RAIGORODSKY: …in 1943 I resigned, and in the meantime I got ulcer, you know, working like you do, until 11:30 nights, so in 1943 I resigned and came back to my business.
Mr. JENNER. Here in Dallas?
Mr. RAIGORODSKY. No, in Houston. At that time I officed in Houston. By the way, while I was building plants for others, I also built plants for myself for the production of motor fuel, L.P.G. and other pipeline products, and the first plant was built in 1936–the Glen Rose Gasoline Co. The second one was built 1943–the Claiborne Gasoline Co. Then, I lived in Houston until about 1949 or 1950 and I got sick with my back. You know, I have a very bad back. They wanted to operate on me there but Jake Hamon here, a friend of mine, told me that he wouldn’t speak to me unless I come to Dallas, so believe or not, they brought me to Dallas.
Curiously, Jake Hamon makes an unexpected appearance elsewhere: a 1958 article written by jet-setting journalist Robert Ruark describing a bullfight in Spain. What makes this notable is that Ruark’s best friend and occasional roommate was Ricardo Sicre, the vice-president of WCC. The paper inventory of the Ruark archive reveals correspondence between the journalist and the corporation, suggesting that perhaps Ruark was an employee (or more propery, an asset). In the Pseudcast, I speculated that maybe Ruark was doing some kind of ‘guerrilla marketing’ on behalf of WCC, which at the time was involved in building up the Spanish tourist industry.
Yet there’s another important element to this Spanish detour. Ralph Ganis highlights in his analysis of Otto Skorzeny’s business papers, which he had obtained in an auction (these papers are also the subject of a forthcoming work by the late Hank Albarelli), that former SS commando made references to the same bullfight described by Ruark. This might sound surprising at first, but upon closer examination it the matter becomes a bit more clear: while the popular imaginary of Skorzeny is that of globe-trotting paramilitary-for-hire, deploying his Paladin group across multiple continents in the dark underbelly of the Cold War, he also maintained extensive business interests that were decidedly less action-packed. In this period, for example, he had secured a “formal [US Air Force] contract for base construction with the 3977th Support Group of the Sixteenth Air Force. Similarly, the Skorzeny papers apparently contained references to both Sicre and then-president of the WCC, Frank Ryan, “although the exact nature of this business could not be determined”.
To bring this seeming digression to a bit fuller circle, Ganis writes how Ilse Skorzeny, Otto’s wife, worked in the 1950s for the luxury real estate company Previews Inc. There, she answered to Herschel V. Williams, a Air Force reserve colonel who was serving as the company’s vice president. Ganis notes that Skorzeny’s business papers reveal that there was some sort of relationship with between the two soldiers, and that Ilse’s position in the company could very well have been related to some sort of covert activity. To make matters compact, not only did Previews maintain Dallas officies – Herschel appears, alongside Paul Raigorodsky, on the board list of the Tolstoy Foundation.
Back to the Tryall
Was there a relationship between Tryall and the WCC? This remains yet to be determined. WCC did have an ‘associate’ firm in Jamaica: the Carib Cement company founded by William Stephenson. While this did ultimately play a role in establishing the built infrastructure in various Jamaican development project, it is unknown whether or not Carib was a contractor for the project. Nor has it been confirmed whether or not Stephenson was a member of the Tryall Club, though the proximity of the two (both spatially and via social networks) makes it an intriguing question. One potential hint, albeit one this unfortunately unsourced, comes from an article in an issue of the British Caribbean Philatelic Journal: “Early meetings of the WCC were held at the Tryall Country Club, Sandy Bay, Montego Bay, Jamaica, close to where Stephenson had ‘retired’ to at ‘Hillowtown’”.
The Torbitt Document erroneously identifies Stephenson as the founder of the Tryall Club. Long regarded as a piece of disinformation by the more research-oriented critics of the official story of the JFK assassination (‘Torbitt’ works quite hard, for example, to distance the CIA from any plot involvement, and at every turn poses the FBI as the real culprits), the Torbitt Document’s claims are repeated uncritically by Executive Intelligence Review in the book Dope Inc. They write, for example, how the plotting for the assassination was carried out by the board members of the Permindex company at the “Tryall Compound”. (There is much more to be said about Permindex – and the considerable amount of faulty information floating around it – and this will be the subject of a future Pseudcast episode).
Looking at the additional Tryall players besides Raigorodsky is illuminating. There was, for instance, Buddy Fogelson, a Dallas and LA-based attorney and oilman who had served as the head of Allied oil procurement during WW2. In 1947, he launched the Pan American Sulphur Industry, which soon became one of the world’s largest sulphur companies behind Freeport Sulphur.
Another principle was A. Pollard Simons, a land developer – and holder of significant mining and forestry interests – from Dallas.
There was also Winthrop Rockefeller, perhaps the lesser-known of the Rockefeller brothers. This continues a pattern (which I outlined a bit in my earlier post linked above) of intersecting ‘eastern establishment’ and Texan interests that spilled over into the Caribbean and Latin America. While ties between Standard Oil and Texas oil and ranching can be charted back several decades prior, notable examples in this time would be the collaboration of the Rockefeller and the Wynne real estate family of Dallas in setting up Great Southwest, a development firm that had set its sights on the land between Fort Worth and Dallas. There was also the collaboration between the Kleberg ranching family and Nelson Rockefeller’s IBEC in monopolizing Brazil’s ranching sector. And while not directly related to the Rockefellers – but existing within their general social network – was the presence Everette DeGolyer, Lewis MacNaughton, and Jack Crichton in the high ranks of the Empire Trust Company.
Alongside these figures was a small “Jamaican group”, consisting of British interests: George Beary Girardet, John Pringle, and Peter Kerr-Jarrett. All three were major landowners in the Montego Bay area. Girardet is a particularly interesting figure, having served as the personal pilot of Lord Mountbatten during World War 2. Mountbatten, in turn, had been a close associate of William Stephenson and other figures in the British Security Co-ordination – including Ivar Bryce, who frequented Stephenson’s Montego Bay estate.
Two years after the Tryall Club project was launched, the trio of Girardet, Pringle and Kerr-Jarrett were involved in another Jamaican development project spearheaded by Rose Hall Limited. The three were all directors of the company, and were joined there by Sir Gordon Munro, John Loeb, and Sir Gordon Munro, among others. Just as the Tryall Club emerged from a web of elite business and social relations, so too did Rose Hill Ltd. Take Sir Gordon Munro: a London investment banker, he had been placed by the British government on the board of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, which in 1954 was renamed British Petroleum (BP). Meanwhile, the presence of Loeb and Bronfman – a New York banker and Canadian industrialist – reflects both the familial relations between the two and a business connection through none other than the Empire Trust Company. To quote from Stephen Birmingham’s Our Crowd:
In 1945 the Loeb and Lehman million received a new infusion of wealth when Clifford W. Michel joined Loeb, Rhoades. Michel was married to the former Barbara Richards, one of the granddaughters of Jules Bache, and therefore related to the Cahns and the Sheftels and, by marriage at least, to the Lewisohns (to the Lehmans, of course, were already related). Another Bache granddaughter was Mrs F. Warren Pershing, wife of the son of the World War I General, and head of Pershing & Company, a rich brokerage house. Then, in 1953, John Loeb’s daughter, Ann, married Edgar Bronfman, elder son of Samuuel Bronfman, the founder and chief executive Distillers Corporation-Seagrams Ltd., undoubtedly the richest man in Canada and among the wealthiest in the world. Bronfman money is not formally part of Loeb, Rhoades capital, but one of the firm’s partners has said, “He’s a kind of partner who is awfully important”… The Bronfman millions, however, have joined Loeb-Lehman and Bache holdings to make up the largest single holding of stock in New York’s Empire Trust Company, which has assets of some $300 million.
The mention of Bache within this nexus is particular fascinating: Frank Ryan, the former OSS man who was first director, then president, of the WCC had previously been a partner in Jules Bache & Co. This isn’t the only ties that be found. In the autobiography of David Ogilvy – a member of Stephenson’s wartime BSC who became involved in the British-American-Canadian Corporation before it was absorbed into the WCC – he describes being a frequent lunch partner of none other than Samuel Bronfman.
In lieu of any proper kind of ending, here’s some footage of Montego Bay in the 1950s: