World Commerce Corporation & the Safari Club

Continuing on from yesterday’s post, another information dump on the World Commerce Corporation –

When he wasn’t writing adventure columns and lounging about with spooks, oilmen and celebrities in Spain, Robert C. Ruark spent much of his time traveling about the African continent, participating in big game hunts on the lands of various safari resorts. But just as the written accounts of his activities in Spain, draped in knock-off Hemingway-style prose, seemed to obscure a more covert dimension, the details that he lets bleed through concerning his African ventures suggests something more. Consider, for example, the following June 1962 column titled “Five Thousand Head”, concerning a trip to ‘Safarilandia’ in Mozambique:

Safarilandia was a hang-out for the international jet-set, including figures from the Dallas business circles alluded to in the previous post and in the JFK Pseudcast episode (D.H. Byrd, the owner of the land where the Texas School Book Deposity – and board member with Jack Crichton at the Dorchester Oil and Gas Co. – appears to have been a frequent guest). Given that Dallas oilman Jake Hamon was clearly an associate of Ruark and Ricardo Sicre as evidenced by Ruark’s column on the Spanish bullfights, this is indicative of a pattern of social interaction. Yet there is another element in this “Five Thousand Head” column that is noteworthy: the owner of Safarilandia, Werner von Alvensleben.

The noteworthy aspect of von Alvensleben was an article that ran in a December, 1963 edition of the Dallas Morning News: “D.H. Byrd just returned from a safari in Africa run by Werner von Alvensleben, who ran Safarilandia safari company in Mosambique. Werner von Alvensleben travelled to Dallas in 1963 as a guest of D.H. Byrd”.

The second aspect is von Alvensleben’s activities during World War 2: according to an OSS X-2 report, von Alvensleben, while a member of the Bavarian police force in the 1930s, he had been involved in assassination attempts against Austrian political figures. Later, after having been arrested during the Night of the Long Knives, he was arrested through intervention from above. He traveled to Africa in 1935, spending time in South Africa, and Rhodesia. After being arrested and released in the latter country, he made his way to Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique). Von Alvensleben was then recruited into the OSS, answering to Huntington Harris.

Susan Williams, in her book Spies in the Congo, describes Harris and the overall atmosphere as follows:

One OSS agent posted to sub-Saharan Africa worked out an ideal situation regarding women and companionship – by marrying the assistant of a British intelligence official working in the same city. This OSS agent was the tall and very thin Huntington Harris, known as Hunt, who came from a prominent banking family in Chicago. Codenamed EBERT by OSS, he was sent in 1942 as chief of station to Lourenco Marques, the capital of Mozambique, under the cover of working for the War Shipping Administration.. His British ‘opposite’ there was Malcolm Muggeride, who worked for the Secret Intelligence Service and whose boss was Kim Philby, the head of the Iberian section of Counter-Espionage (and double agent who was covertly relaying information to the Soviet Union).

From the very start of the war, Lourenco Marques was a hotbed of intrigue and intelligence-gathering. A number of spies, both Allied and Axis, were stationed there, to obtain information on shipping traffic and U-boats in South African waters. Lourenco Marques was close to the border of South Africa, which had entered the war on the Allied side with only the slimmest vote in favor, when a vote was still taken in parliament.

The OSS archives describe von Alvensleben as “the US double agent in Portuguese East Africa during the war”. While it isn’t clear what exactly von Alvensleben’s activities were, Ken Robertson and Michael Richard’s book War, Resistance and Intelligence that he worked in some capacity at the country’s German consulate. It is also mentioned that von Alvensleben not only worked on behalf of Harris and the OSS, but also Harris’ British opposite, Muggeride.

Robert Ruark (right)
Werner von Alvensleben

Spies, Crooks, and Safaris (1)

A far more illuminating Ruark column, as far as World Commerce Corporation ties is concerned, is an early one, dated October 1st, 1959, on the topic of the Mount Kenya Safari Club. Formerly the Hotel Mawingo, the Mount Kenya Safari Club another exotic hideaway of politicians and celebrities from around the world. Ruark waxes poetically about the club’s enchantments, its proximity to the Kenyan Northern Frontier, “where the buffalo and elephant roam and bird-shooting is incomparable. The leopards yowl in the forests, but you can go swimming, catch a fish, play tennis, or just neck, if your tendencies turn in that direction”.

Ruark then recounted how the Hotel Mawingo became the Safari Club in the first place – and put himself and Ricardo Sicre, the WCC vice-president, at the center of the story. Accompanying him in the tale were the actor William Holden – who was part of Ruark’s globe-trotting “secret society” that included Sicre, Jake Hamon, and other – and the “oilman-financier” Ray Ryan. In Ruark’s words:

The remainder of the column is a thinly-veiled advertisement for the Safari Club:

It’s worth pausing to look at Ray Ryan, described by Ruark as an “oilman-financier” with “holdings in Palm Springs”. This is a fairly accurate depiction of Ryan: he had gotten involved in the oil game in the 1920s, and while he proved to be a bad hand at it, he for a time owned several wells in Saudi Arabia. In the 1950s, he re-appeared as a land developer in Palm Springs, California, having purchased and restored the El Mirador Hotel, of which he became the solitary owner in 1960.

Ryan’s El Mirador in Palm Springs

But there was another side to Ray Ryan: a series of links to various organized crime figures. Peter Dale Scott, drawing on FBI and Dallas Police Department files, notes that Ray Ryan was named alongside Clint Murchison Sr. and Toddie Wynne (both Murchison and the Wynne family were mentioned in my previous post) in relation to the gambling operation being set up in 1947 by Paul Jones – the frontman for the Chicago syndicate in Dallas (Jones, perhaps importantly, was the individual who helped bring Jack Ruby from Chicago to Texas). A 1961 FBI memo, declassified via the House Select Committee on Assassinations, stated that Ryan was “known to have wide contacts and associates with individuals of the hoodlum element”.

One of these contacts may have been the Harry Hall, a mob-linked swindler who unsuccessfully attempted to secure a loan from Ryan. Hall – who was purported to have been contacted by a member of the Teamsters Union looking to “dig up derogatory information on the Kennedy family” – appeared in the course of the investigation into the Kennedy assassination due to his familiarity with Jack Ruby, who was himself linked to the Teamsters (it is also worth mentioning that Clint Murchison shared a lobbyist with the Teamsters, and received financing for some of his company’s construction ventures from the scandal-ridden Teamster Pension Fund). Yet another contact may have been John Roselli – though he later disavowed much knowledge of the mobster’s activities or social ties.

This isn’t the only instance of organized crime-linked individuals in the orbit of the WCC. A direct case in point would be Sonny Fassoulis, the head of WCC’s China subsidiary that had been involved in questionable soybean trading on the eve of the Korean War and the selling of surplus military aircraft to the KMT. Fassoulis, having been recruited by American counterintelligence officer Garland Williams (who had, during the war, served as William Donovan’s liaison to SOE leader Tony Keswick – the later owner of Keswick Marine Panama S.A., a WCC investor), had spent the immediate postwar years as a mob-linked confidence man in New York City. Later, Fassoulis would be involved in a high-profile stock swindle with Alexander Guterma, a shadowy figure sometimes referred to in the press as “Mr. X”. Guterma’s name appears in FBI files on John Roselli and Michael McLaney – the latter being a stake-holder, prior to Castro’s revolution, in the Hotel Nacional de Cuba. Involved in the hotel at this time was none other than Meyer Lansky.

Spies, Crooks, and Safaris (2)

In the mid-1970s, control of Safari Club passed from Holden and Ryan to two figures, one very well known and the other rather obscure: the Saudi arms dealer, famed for his later role in the Iran-Contra affair, Adnan Khashoggi, and an American PR man by the name of Edward K. Moss. At the time that Khashoggi purchased the club – and as the newspaper article above illustrates, transformed it into his own personal park – Moss had already been chairman for some time. The ties between Khashoggi, Moss, and Kenya ran quite deep. Moss was in fact Khashoggi’s personal PR consultant, but had also served as a consultant to the Kenyan government for various projects. At the time that the Safari Club was acquire, Khashoggi was working closely with the Kenyan tourism and economic ministries. The subject was, to quote from Ronald Kessler’s The Richest Man in the World, “a planned beach resort” and development program that the World Bank anticipated as yielding “millions of dollars in profits for the area”.

Like the earlier figures involved in the Safari Club – Ruark, Sicre, Ryan – a peek into the personal history of Edward Moss quickly reveals ties to both American intelligence services and organized crime. In 1962, for example, Moss had been cleared for participation in a CIA program code-named ZRMAJOR, an operation tasked with the “exploitation of political consultants”. ZRMAJOR was run by the Political Action Group of the agency’s Covert Action Staff; he acted as a public relations consultant. This clearly wasn’t the first time Moss worked with the CIA: a handwritten memo states that he had “obtained a covert security approval in 1959”. This was likely in conjunction with the CIA’s anti-Castro operations. Yet another CIA document refers to Moss acting as the “assistant for raising funds against Castro and for public relations matters” to Tony Varona – the leader of the CIA-backed Cuban Revolutionary Council.

Varona is known not only as one of the CIA’s chief assets in their covert war against Cuba; he is also known for being one of the connecting points between the agency and organized crime figures like Santo Trafficante and John Roselli. CIA files make abundantly clear that Moss was working deep within this web. The aforementioned handwritten memo alludes to Moss’ “long-standing ‘mafia’ connection”, before noting that his “operation seems to be government contracts for the underworld and probably surfaces mafia money in legitimate business activities”.

The Moss file reports a rumor that Julia Cellini, sister of Dino Cellini, was Moss’ mistress, and operated a “secretarial service” that was in reality a “front for Edward K. Moss’ activities”. Moss, furthermore, moved money from Dino Cellini to Varona – a clear example of CIA/organized crime collusion. Throughout the 1950s, Cellini was Meyer Lansky’s pointman in Cuba, and helped manage several major Syndicate casinos: the Riveria Casino and the Tropicana Club (Cellini’s underling at the Tropicana, Lewis McWillie, hailed from the organized crime and gambling circles in Dallas, where he was closely acquainted with Jack Ruby).

Later, Cellini was involved with the creation of Lansky’s Resorts International, which was closely linked to the CIA via Paul Helliwell’s Castle Bank and Trust Money, which helped launder funds for both the agency and for the Syndicate. When Robert Vesco took over the Investors Overseas Service (IOS) – which had worked closely with Lansky for years – in the early 1970s (and subsequently tried to take over Resorts International), the criminal financier worked closely with Cellini. These connections and episodes are discussed in both the Watergate and Iran-Contra Pseudcasts.

Transnational Intelligence and the Private CIA

Adnan Khashoggi, going back to the 1960s, had many of the same ties as Moss to intelligence and gambling circles. To quote from Peter Dale Scott:

Khashoggi had courted Nixon in 1967 by putting a plane at his disposal to tour the Middle East after the Six-Day War. Soon afterward, using a proxy, he opened an account at Rebozo’s [Bebe Rebozo, Nixon’s close confidante] in Florida. He did so, he explained to Watergate prosecutors, hoping to “curry favor with Rebozo,” to get an entrée to the man who might become president, and to pursue business deals.

Khashoggi in effect served as a “cutout,” or representative, in a number of operations forbidden to the CIA and the companies he worked with. Lockheed, for one, was conspicuously absent from the list of military contractors who contributed illicitly to Nixon’s 1972 election campaign. But there was no law prohibiting their official representative, Khashoggi, from cycling $200 million through the bank of Nixon’s friend Bebe Rebozo…

But Khashoggi’s corruption channels and targets overlapped with those of others with CIA connections. In 1972 it was alleged that funds from the Paradise Island casino in the Bahamas were being secretly carried to Nixon and his friend Bebe Rebozo, by a casino employee. This was Seymour (Sy) Alter, who was both “a friend of Nixon and Rebozo since 1962” and also an associate of Edward Moss’s brother-in-law Eddie Cellini, the casino manager at Paradise Island. The funds came from the Paradise Island Bridge Company, a company partly owned by an officer of Benguet International, a firm represented in America by Paul Helliwell.

It is perhaps through these various linkages – the nebulous world where politics, intelligence, and organized crime collided – that Moss first hooked up with Khashoggi and became his personal public relations consultant.

Khashoggi’s subsequent years would be dogged with various scandals, from an episode involving call girls, sexual blackmail, and Belgian politicians and defense contractors, to the Iran-Contra episode. Khashoggi was also deeply involved, according to Gordon Thomas’ biography of Robert Maxwell, to arms transfers to post-revolutionary Iran from Israel that predated – and contextualized – the American arms sales overseen by Oliver North and company. But in late 1970s, Khashoggi would also play a role in facilitating the formation of an international intelligence network. The Safari Club would be central to this drama.

While the Safari Club had been closed to its elite clientele, it became the hang-out of many of Khashoggi’s netherworld associates: arms manufacturers and traffickers and intelligence chiefs. These included Kamal Adham, the director of Saudi intelligence, and his nephew and successor, Turki bin Faisal al Saud. Accompanying them was General Nassiri, head of Iran’s brutal SAVAK, Ahmed Duleimi, the Moroccan intelligence director, and Alexandre de Marenches, the head of France’s SDECE. As Mohammed Heikal argues in Iran: The Untold Story, this coterie was reflective of particular alignments that had been forming since the early 1970s. Both the Saudi and Iranian government had been deepening their interests in Africa, and were taken steps to curb the spread of Soviet influence on the continent. Likewise, the French were interested in maintaining an interest in their former colonies, and were active players in the uranium, diamond, copper and gold trades. This confluence began to produce cooperative ventures: for example, Saudi Arabia had begun to loan money to Egypt, which was in turn used to purchase French arms.

Heikal places de Marenches at the center of this intrigue:

His position brought him into contact with all those who came to Paris to buy arms, or sell oil, or coordinate intelligence, or, as was frequently the case, for a combination of all three purposes. It was his business to ensure these people’s safety and, if necessary, their anonymity, and of course to know exactly what they were up to. He had for some time been extremely concerned with the vulnerability of the shipping lanes that brought oil from the Middle East to Europe, and his office was decorated with maps showing thickening lines representing the volume of tanker cargos around the Horn of Africa and the Cape.

The cooperation between the French, Iranian, Saudi and African interests was actively promoted by the CIA – but at the point in which these various factors were coming together, the aftermath of Watergate was in full swing. Various government committees were attempting to dig into the agency’s murky reveal, and politicians were moving to lessen its scope and capabilities. In a speech before Georgetown College, Turki bin Faisal illustrated this climate: “In 1976, after the Watergate matters took place here, your intelligence community was literally tied up by Congress. It could not do anything. It could not send spies, it could not write reports, and it could not pay money”. It was at this point that de Marenches – with approval of the beleaguered CIA – proposed the idea of a formal, international, intelligence apparatus, bringing together the French, the Saudis, the Iranians, and certain African services. They settled on a name, choosing the place where they met and established these plans: the Safari Club.

bin Faisal:

In order to compensate for that [the supposed decline of CIA power] , a group of countries got together in the hope of fighting Communism and established what was called the Safari Club. The Safari Club included France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Iran. The principal aim of this club was that we would share information with each other and help each other in countering Soviet influence worldwide, and especially in Africa. In the 1970s, there were still some countries in Africa that were coming out of colonialism, among them Mozambique, Angola, and I think Djibouti. The main concern of everybody was that the spread of Communism was taking place while the main country that would oppose Communism was tied up. Congress had literally paralyzed the work not only of the U.S. intelligence community but of its foreign service as well. And so the Kingdom, with these countries, helped in some way, I believe, to keep the world safe at the time when the United States was not able to do that. That, I think, is a secret that many of you don’t know. I am not saying it because I look to tell secrets, but because the time has gone and many of the actors are gone as well.

According to Heikal, the Safari Club established an “Operational Centre” in Cairo, Egypt, “equipped to evaluate what was going on in Africa, identifying the danger spots, and to make recommendations for dealing with them”. The Centre, in turn, consisted of three sections: “a secretariat to run routine matters, a planning section, and an operations section”.

One of the Safari Club’s early major operations was the support for Mohamed Siad Barre’s government in Somalia during the Ogaden War against Ethiopia. The gambit, for the Safari Club, was to break the relationship between Somalia and the Soviet Union – and it certainly worked, at least at first. In the aftermath of the initial invasion, the Soviets dropped support for Barre and began to back Ethiopian forces. In the longer-run, however, Ethiopia won out over Somalia, leading to a decline in Barre’s power.

One of the topics that we talked at length about in the Iran-Contra Pseudcast episode was the ‘private CIA’ network of Theodore Shackley. A veteran of the CIA’s anti-Castro operations through his position as head of JM/WAVE station in Miami, Shackley had risen to the position of directorate of plans under George H.W. Bush – only to have his hopes to become DCI dashed by the victory of President Jimmy Carter and his reform-minded CIA director, Stansfeld Turner. As Turner went to work curbing the CIA’s covert operations divisions (those most near and dear to Shackley’s heart), Shackley went to work establishing what can be called a ‘private CIA’. Assisting him in this effort were a small collection of his closest allies: Thomas Clines, Richard Secord, and Edwin Wilson. Wilson, interestingly, was acquainted with Edward Moss – and knew of his organized crime ties – since the mid-1960s:

The Middle East and North Africa was the main center of operations for the Shackley network: Wilson had deep ties to both Libya and Iran, and much of the network’s activities appear to have centered on Egypt. This brought them into close cooperation with the Safari Club. Shackley understood, according to Joseph Trento, that a decline in the CIA’s covert operations apparatus would mean that the Safari Club would lose much of their own support network at the same time. The ‘private CIA’, then, was as much a support operation for the Safari Club as it was a regrouping of the CIA’s covert action apparatus. At the same time, however, there was an important distance between the Shackley network and the Safari Club. “The Safari Club was run by Saudis”, Trento writes. “It was a club to serve their purposes through the CIA. Shackley and Wilson were men who served the club in exchange for power, influence, and money”.

There’s no need to recount the whole sordid tale of the Shackley network and what it became (listen to the 17.5 hour episode on the topic, which tracks how the Shackley network was the basis for Oliver North’s ‘Enterprise’) – but one important note is that the Safari Club appears to have been instrumental in establishing the Bank for Commerce and Credit International (BCCI), perhaps the darkest bank in history. The tendrils of BCCI snakes through Iran-Contra, the support for the Afghan rebels, the global arms trade, the heroin trade, the Colombian cocaine trade, the dizzying world of offshore finance…

Adham understood that creating a single worldwide clandestine bank was not enough to assure the kind of resources necessary to stave off the coming Islamic revolutions that threatened Saudi Arabia and the entire region. The Safari Club needed a network of banks to finance its intelligence operations… Adham transformed a small Pakistani merchant bank, the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), into a worldwide money-laundering machine, buying banks around the world in order to create the biggest clandestine money network in history…. There had never been anything like it. Paul Helliwell may have made the mold, but Adham and BCCI founder Sheikh Agha Hasan Abedi smashed it.

In October of 1977, as many of these moves were taking shape, a strange incident occurred in Evansville, Indiana. Ray Ryan left the health club where he had been working out, walked to his car, got in, and turned it on. At that moment the bomb that was wired into the ignition exploded, killing him instantly. The murder remains unsolved to this day.

Ray Ryan car bombing scene

2 thoughts on “World Commerce Corporation & the Safari Club

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