Inslaw, Incorporated

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Information Technology


Washington, D.C., U.S. (January 1981)


William Anthony Hamilton


Washington, D.C.




Inslaw, Inc. is a Washington, D.C. based information technology company that markets case management software for corporate and government users.

Inslaw is known for developing Promis, an early case management software system. It is also known for a lawsuit that it brought against the United States Department of Justice in 1986 over Promis. Inslaw won damages in bankruptcy court, but these were overturned on appeal. The suit resulted in several Justice Department internal reviews, two Congressional investigations, the appointment of a special counsel by Attorney General William P. Barr, and a lengthy review of the special counsel's report under Attorney General Janet Reno. Inslaw's claims were finally referred by Congress to the Court of Federal Claims in 1995, and the dispute ended with the Court's ruling against Inslaw in 1998.

During the 12-year long legal proceedings, Inslaw accused the Department of Justice of conspiring to steal its software, attempting to drive it into Chapter 7 liquidation, using the stolen software for covert intelligence operations against foreign governments, and involvement in a murder. These accusations were eventually rejected by the special counsel and the Court of Federal Claims.

History of Inslaw

Inslaw began as a non-profit organization called the Institute for Law and Social Research. The Institute was founded in 1973 by William A. Hamilton to develop case management software for law enforcement office automation.[1] Funded by grants and contracts from the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA), the Institute developed a program it called "Promis", an acronym for Prosecutors' Management Information System, for use in law enforcement record keeping and case-monitoring activities.[2] When Congress voted to abolish the LEAA in 1980, Hamilton decided to continue operating as a for-profit corporation and market the software to current and new users. In January 1981 Hamilton established the for-profit Inslaw, transferring the Institute's assets over to the new corporation.[2]

Development of Promis

Promis software was originally written in COBOL for use on mainframe computers; later a version was developed to run on 16 bit mini-computers such as the DEC PDP-11.[3] The primary users of this early version of the software were the United States Attorneys Office of the District of Columbia, and state and local law enforcement.[4] Both the mainframe and 16 bit mini-computer versions of Promis were developed under LEAA contracts, and in later litigation, both Inslaw and DOJ eventually agreed that the early version of Promis was in the public domain, meaning that neither the Institute nor its successor had exclusive rights to it.[5]

The Promis implementation contract

In 1979, the DOJ contracted with the Institute to do a pilot project that installed versions of Promis in four US Attorneys offices; two using the mini-computer version, and the other two a "word-processor" version which the Institute was developing.[2] Encouraged by the results, the Department decided in 1981 to go ahead with a full implementation of locally based Promis systems, and issued a request for proposals (RFP) to install the mini-computer version of Promis in the 20 largest United States Attorneys offices. This contract, usually called the "implementation contract" in later litigation, also included developing and installing "word-processor" versions of Promis at 74 smaller offices.[6] The now for-profit Inslaw responded to the RFP, and in March 1982 was awarded the three year $10m contract by the contracting division, the Executive Office of United States Attorneys (EOUSA).[7]

Contract disputes and Inslaw bankruptcy

The contract did not go smoothly. Disputes between EOUSA and Inslaw began soon after its execution.[7][8] A key dispute over proprietary rights had to be solved by a bi-lateral change to the original contract. (This change, "Modification 12," is discussed below.) EOUSA also determined that Inslaw was in violation of the terms of an "advance payment" clause in the contract. This clause was important to Inslaw's financing and became the subject of months of negotiations.[9] There were also disputes over service fees. During the first year of the contract, the DOJ did not have the hardware to run Promis in any of the offices covered by the contract. As a stopgap measure, Inslaw provided Promis on a time-share basis through a VAX computer in Virginia, allowing the offices to access Promis on the Inslaw VAX through remote terminals, until the needed equipment was installed on-site.[10] EOUSA claimed that Inslaw had overcharged for this service and withheld payments.[11]

The DOJ ultimately acquired Prime computers, and Inslaw began installing Promis on these in the second year of the contract, in August 1983.[12] The "word-processor" Promis installation, however, continued to have problems, and in February 1984 the DOJ cancelled this portion of the contract. Following this cancellation, the financial condition of Inslaw worsened, and the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February 1985.[13]

Proprietary rights dispute

The implementation contract called for the installation of the mini-computer version of Promis, plus some later modifications that had also been funded by LEAA contracts and like the mini-computer version were in the public domain.[14] In addition, the contract data rights clause "gave the government unlimited rights in any technical data and computer software delivered under the contract."[15] This presented a potential conflict with Inslaw's plans to market a commercial version of Promis which it called "Promis 82" or "Enhanced Promis." The issue came up early in the implementation contract, but was resolved by an exchange of letters in which DOJ signed off on the issue after Inslaw assured the DOJ that Promis 82 contained "enhancements undertaken by Inslaw at private expense after the cessation of LEAA funding."[16]

The issue arose again in December 1982 when the DOJ invoked its contract rights to request all the PROMIS programs and documentation being provided under the contract.[17] The reason the DOJ gave for this request in later litigation was that it was concerned about Inslaw's financial condition. At that point, DOJ had access to Promis only through the Vax time-sharing arrangement with Inslaw; if Inslaw failed, DOJ would be left without a copy of the software and data it was entitled to under the contract.[18] Inslaw responded in February 1983 that it was willing to provide the computer tapes and documents for Promis, but that the tapes it had were for the Vax version of Promis, and included proprietary enhancements. Before providing the tapes, Inslaw wrote, "Inslaw and the Department of Justice will have to reach an agreement on the inclusion or exclusion" of the features.[19]

The DOJ response to Inslaw was to emphasize that the implementation contract called for a version of PROMIS in which the government had unlimited rights and to ask for information about the enhancements Inslaw claimed as proprietary.[20] Inslaw agreed to provide this information, but noted that it would be difficult to remove the enhancements from the time-sharing version of Promis and offered to provide the Vax version of Promis if the DOJ would agree to limit their distribution.[21] In March 1983, the DOJ again informed Inslaw that the implementation contract required Inslaw to produce software in which the government had unlimited rights, and that delivery of software with restrictions would not satisfy the contract.[22]

Contract revisions

After some back and forth, DOJ contracting officer Peter Videnieks sent a letter proposing a contract modification. Under the modification, in return for the software and data request, DOJ agreed not to disclose or disseminate the material "beyond the Executive Office for United States Attorney and the 94 United States Attorneys' Offices covered by the subject contract, until the data rights of the parties to the contract are resolved."[23] To resolve the data rights issue, the letter proposed that Inslaw identify its claimed proprietary enhancements and demonstrate that the enhancements were developed "at private expense and outside the scope of any government contract."[23] After these were identified, the government would then "either direct Inslaw to delete those enhancements from the versions of PROMIS to be delivered under the contract or negotiate with Inslaw regarding the inclusion of those enhancements in that software."[23] Inslaw eventually agreed to this suggestion, and the change, referred to as "Modification 12," was executed in April 1983. Inslaw then provided DOJ with tapes and documentation for the Vax version of Promis.[24]

Under this arrangement, however, Inslaw had substantial difficulty demonstrating the extent of the enhancements and the use of private funding in their development. It proposed several methods for doing this, but these were rejected by DOJ as inadequate.[25] Inslaw's attempts to identify the proprietary enhancements and their funding ended when it began installing Promis on the USAO Prime computers in August 1983. By the end of the contract in March 1983, it had completed installing Promis in all 20 of the offices specified in the implementation contract. Since none of the available versions of Promis was compatible with the Department's new Prime computers, Inslaw ported the Vax version, which contained Inslaw's claimed enhancements, to the Prime computers.[26]

Inslaw's bankruptcy case

After Inslaw filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February 1985, there were still disputes over implementation contract payments, and as a result the DOJ was listed as one of Inslaw's creditors. At the same time, the DOJ continued its office automation program and, in place of the originally planned "word-processor" version of Promis, it installed the version ported to Prime mini-computers in at least 23 more offices. When Inslaw learned of the installations, it notified EOUSA that this was in violation of Modification 12 and filed a claim for $2.9m, which Inslaw said was the license fees for the software DOJ self-installed.[27] Inslaw also filed claims for services performed during the contract, for a total of $4.1m. The DOJ contracting officer, Peter Videnieks, denied all these claims.[28]

Inslaw appealed the denial of the service fees to the Department of Transportation Board of Contract Appeals (DOTBCA).[29] For the data rights claim, however, Inslaw took a different approach. In June 1986 it filed an adversary hearing in the Bankruptcy Court, claiming that DOJ's actions violated the automatic stay provision of the bankruptcy code by interfering with the company's rights to its software.[27]

Inslaw's initial filing claimed that the contract disputes arose because the DOJ officials who administered the contract were biased against Inslaw.[30] The filing specifically mentioned Promis project manager, C. Madison Brewer, and Associate Attorney General, D. Lowell Jensen. Brewer had previously been Inslaw's general counsel, but according to Inslaw had been terminated for cause. Inslaw claimed that Brewer's dismissal caused him to be unreasonably biased against Inslaw and owner William Hamilton.[31] Jensen was a member of the project oversight committee at the time of the contract. He had helped to develop another competing case management software system several years earlier, and Inslaw claimed that this led him to be prejudiced against Promis, so that he ignored the unreasonable bias of Brewer.[32]

"Independent handling" proceeding

In February 1987, Inslaw requested an "independent handling hearing", to force the DOJ to conduct the adversary hearing "independent of any Department of Justice officials involved in the allegations made" in the hearing.[33] The bankruptcy court judge assigned to handle Inslaw's Chapter 11 proceedings, Judge George F. Bason, granted the request, and scheduled the hearing for June.

Prior to the hearing, Inslaw owners William and Nancy Hamilton spoke to Anthony Pasciuto, then the Deputy Director of the Executive Office of the United States Trustees (EOUST), a DOJ component responsible for overseeing the administration of bankruptcy cases. Pasciuto told the Hamiltons that the Director of the EOUST, Thomas Stanton, had pressured the U.S. Trustee assigned to the Inslaw case, Edward White, to convert Inslaw's bankruptcy from chapter 11 (reorganization of the company), to chapter 7 (liquidation).[33] The Hamiltons had Inslaw's attorneys depose the people whom Pasciuto had named. One of them corroborated part of Pasciuto's claims: Cornelius Blackshear, then a U. S. Trustee in New York, swore in his deposition testimony that he was aware of pressure to convert the bankruptcy.[34] Two days later, however, Blackshear submitted an affidavit recanting his testimony, saying that he had mistakenly recalled an instance of pressure from another case.[34]

Blackshear repeated his retraction at the June hearing on Inslaw's request. Pasciuto also retracted part of his claims at this hearing, and said instead that he did not use the word "conversion." Judge Bason, however, chose to believe the original depositions of Pasciuto and Blackshear, and found that the DOJ, "unlawfully, intentionally and willfully" tried to convert INSLAW's Chapter 11 reorganization case to a Chapter 7 liquidation "without justification and by improper means."[35] In the ruling, Bason was harshly critical of the testimony of several DOJ officials, describing it as "evasive and unbelieveable," or "simply on its face unbelievable."[35] He enjoined the DOJ and the EOUST from contacting anyone in the U.S. Trustee's office handling the Inslaw case except for information requests.[35]

Adversary proceeding

Inslaw's adversary proceeding followed a month after the "independent handling hearing." The proceeding lasted for two and half weeks, from late July to August. In a bench ruling on September 28, Judge Bason found that DOJ project manager Brewer, "believing he had been wrongfully discharged by Mr. Hamilton and INSLAW, developed an intense and abiding hatred for Mr. Hamilton and INSLAW," and had used his position at DOJ to "vent his spleen." He also found that the DOJ "took, converted, stole, INSLAW's enhanced PROMIS by trickery, fraud, and deceit."[36] Specifically, he found that DOJ had used the threat of terminating "advance payments" to get a copy of the enhanced Promis that it was not entitled to, and that it had negotiated modification 12 of the contract in bad faith, never intending to meet its commitment under the modification.[37] In his ruling, Judge Bason again called the testimony of DOJ witnesses "biased", "unbelievable", and "unreliable."[36]

Judge Bason not reappointed

Bankruptcy Court Judge Bason was appointed to the District of Columbia Bankruptcy Court in February 1984 for a four-year term. He sought re-appointment early in 1987, but was informed in December that the Court of Appeals had chosen another candidate. Judge Bason then suggested in a letter to the Court of Appeals that DOJ might have improperly influenced the selection process because of his bench ruling for Inslaw.[38] After learning of this letter, DOJ lawyers moved to recuse Judge Bason from the Inslaw case, but their motion was rejected, and Judge Bason remained on the case until the expiration of his term on February 8, 1988.[38] In early February, Judge Bason filed a lawsuit seeking to prevent the judge the Court of Appeals had selected for the District of Columbia Bankruptcy Court from taking office, but the suit was rejected. Bason's last actions in the case were to file a written ruling on Inslaw's adversary proceeding, and to award damages and attorneys fees to Inslaw.[39]

Appeals of the bankruptcy suit

After Judge Bason left the bench, the Inslaw bankruptcy was assigned to Baltimore bankruptcy judge James Schneider.[40] Schneider accepted Inslaw's reorganization plan at the end of 1988 after a cash infusion from IBM.[41] In the meanwhile, DOJ filed an appeal of Judge Bason's adversary suit ruling in the District of Columbia Circuit Court.[42] In November 1989, Circuit Court Judge William Bryant upheld Bason's ruling. Reviewing the case under the "clear error" standard for reversal, Bryant wrote: "[T]here is convincing, perhaps compelling support for the findings set forth by the bankruptcy court."[43]

DOJ appealed the Circuit Court decision and in May 1991, the Court of Appeals found the DOJ had not violated the automatic stay provisions of the bankruptcy code and that the Bankruptcy Court therefore lacked jurisdiction over Inslaw's claims against DOJ.[44] It vacated the Bankruptcy Court's rulings and dismissed Inslaw's complaint.[45] Inslaw appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case.[44]

Federal investigations

Inslaw's allegations against the Justice Department led to a number of investigations, including internal Department probes and Congressional investigations by the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) and the House Judiciary Committee. The DOJ eventually appointed a special counsel to investigate. After the special counsel issued his report, Inslaw responded with a lengthy rebuttal. The DOJ then re-examined the special counsel's findings, resulting in the release of a final Department review.

During these federal investigations, Inslaw began making allegations of a broad, complex conspiracy to steal Promis, involving many more people and many more claims than the bankruptcy proceedings had covered. These later allegations are described below under the investigations which examined them.

Justice Department investigations

After Judge Bason's June 1987 bench ruling found several DOJ officials' testimony "unbelievable", DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) opened an investigation of DOJ staff who testified at the hearing, including C. Madison Brewer, Peter Videnieks, and EOUST director Thomas Stanton. It also opened a separate investigation of EOUST deputy director Anthony Pasciuto. OPR recommended Pasciuto be terminated, based on his hearing testimony that he had made false statements to the Hamiltons, but in its final report it found no evidence that the other officials investigated had applied pressure to convert Inslaw's bankruptcy or lied during the independent handling hearing.[46] After Judge Bason issued his written ruling in January 1988, Inslaw's attorneys also complained to the DOJ's Public Integrity Section that Judge Blackshear and U.S. Trustee Edward White had committed perjury. Public Integrity opened an investigation that ultimately found perjury cases could not be proven, and recommended declining prosecution.[47]

The Senate report

The first Congressional investigation into the Inslaw case came from the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI). PSI's report was issued in September 1989, after a year and a half of investigation.[48] During the investigation, Inslaw made a number of new allegations, which take up most of the PSI report.

  1. New allegations

    • Inslaw's new allegations described the Justice Department dispute with Inslaw as part of a broad conspiracy to drive Inslaw into bankruptcy so that Earl Brian, the founder of a venture capital firm called Biotech (later Infotechnology), could acquire Inslaw's assets, including its software Promis. Inslaw owner William Hamilton told PSI investigators that Brian had first attempted to acquire Inslaw through a computer services corporation he controlled, called Hadron. Hamilton said that he rejected an offer from Hadron to acquire Inslaw, and that Brian then attempted to drive Inslaw into bankruptcy through his influence with Attorney General Edwin Meese.[49]

    • Both Meese and Brian had served in the cabinet of Ronald Reagan when he was governor of California, and Meese's wife had later bought stock in Brian's company, so that Meese was willing to do this, Hamilton claimed. The contract dispute with DOJ was contrived by Brian and Meese with the help of Associate Attorney General Jensen, and Promis project manager Brewer.[50]

    • Hamilton also complained that a DOJ automation program, 'Project Eagle', was part of a scheme to benefit Brian after he acquired Promis,[51] and that an AT&T subsidiary, AT&T Information Systems, had engaged with the DOJ in a conspiracy to interfere with Inslaw's efforts to reorganize.[52] He also told PSI investigators that the DOJ had undermined Bankruptcy Court Judge Bason's reappointment,[53] and had attempted to undermine Inslaw's lead counsel in the bankruptcy suit.[54]

  2. Report findings

    • Senate investigators found no proof for any of these claims. Their report noted that the bankruptcy court ruling had not concluded that Jensen had engaged in a conspiracy against Inslaw and that their own investigation had found no proof that Jensen and Meese had conspired to ruin Inslaw or steal its product, or that Brian or Hadron were involved in a conspiracy to undermine Inslaw and acquire its assets.[55]

    • The report did re-examine the bankruptcy finding that the DOJ had pressured the United States Trustee to recommend converting Inslaw's bankruptcy from Chapter 11 to Chapter 7, and found that EOUST director Thomas Stanton had improperly tried to get special handling for Inslaw's bankruptcy. He did this, the report stated, in order to gain support for the EOUST from the DOJ.

    • The report concluded that the Subcommittee found no proof for a broad conspiracy against Inslaw within the DOJ, or a conspiracy between DOJ officials and outside parties to force Inslaw into bankruptcy for personal benefit. However, it criticized DOJ for hiring a former Inslaw employee (Brewer) to oversee Inslaw's contract with EOUSA, and for failing to follow standard procedures in handling Inslaw's complaints. It also criticized the DOJ for a lack of cooperation with the Subcommittee, which delayed the investigation and undercut the Subcommittee's ability to interview Department employees.[56]

The House report

Following the PSI report, the House Judiciary Committee began another investigation into the dispute.[57] By the time the report was released in September 1992, Inslaw's bankruptcy suit had been first upheld in the D.C. Circuit Court, then vacated by the D.C. Appeals court. The House report thus took a different approach to several of the legal issues that the Senate report had discussed. Like the Senate report, much of the House report dealt with new evidence and new allegations from Inslaw.

  1. New allegations[edit]

    • Inslaw's new evidence consisted of statements and affidavits from witnesses supporting Inslaw's previous claims. The most important of these witnesses was Michael Riconosciuto, who swore in an affidavit for Inslaw that businessman Earl Brian had provided him with a copy of Inslaw's enhanced Promis, supporting Inslaw's earlier claims that Brian had been interested in acquiring and marketing the software. A new allegation was also introduced in Riconosciuto's affidavit: Riconosciuto swore that he added modifications to enhanced Promis "to support a plan for the implementation of PROMIS in law enforcement and intelligence agencies worldwide." According to Riconosciuto, "Earl W. Brian was spearheading the plan for this worldwide use of the PROMIS computer software."[58]

    • Another important witness was Ari Ben-Menashe, who also provided affidavits for Inslaw that Brian had brought both public domain and enhanced versions of Promis to Israel, and eventually sold the enhanced version to the Israeli government.[59] Committee investigators interviewed Ben-Menashe in May 1991, and he told them that Brian sold enhanced Promis to both Israeli intelligence and Singapore's armed forces, receiving several million dollars in payment. He also testified that Brian sold public domain versions to Iraq and Jordan.[60][61]

  2. Report findings[edit]

    • On the issue of Inslaw's rights in "enhanced Promis", the House report found that "There appears to be strong evidence" supporting Judge Bason's finding that DOJ "acted willfully and fraudulently" when it "took, converted and stole" INSLAW's Enhanced PROMIS by "trickery, fraud and deceit."[62]

    • Like Judge Bason, the report found that DOJ did not negotiate with Inslaw in good faith, citing a statement by Deputy Attorney General Arnold Burns as "one of the most damaging statements received by the committee."[63] According to the report, Burns told OPR investigators that Department attorneys informed him in 1986 that INSLAW’s claim of proprietary rights was legitimate and that DOJ would probably lose in court on this issue. House Investigator found it "incredible" that DOJ would pursue litigation after such a determination, and concluded "This clearly raises the specter that the Department actions taken against INSLAW in this matter represent an abuse of power of shameful proportions."[63]

    • On the new allegations brought by Inslaw, although the Committee conducted extensive investigations, the report did not make any factual findings on the allegations, it did conclude that further investigation was warranted into the statements and claims of Inslaw's witnesses.

    • The report also discussed the case of Danny Casolaro, a free-lance writer who became interested in the Inslaw case in 1990, and began his own investigation.[64] According to statements from Casolaro's friends and family, the scope of his investigation eventually expanded to include a number of scandals of the time, including the Iran-Contra affair, the October Surprise conspiracy claims, and the BCCI banking scandal. In August 1991, Casolaro was found dead in a hotel room where he was staying. The initial coroner's report ruled his death suicide, but Casolaro's family and friends were suspicious, and a lengthy second autopsy was conducted. This too ruled Casolaro's death a suicide, but House investigators noted that "The suspicious circumstances surrounding his death have led some law enforcement professionals and others to believe that his death may not have been a suicide," and strongly urged further investigation.[65]

    • The Democratic majority called upon Attorney General Dick Thornburgh to compensate Inslaw immediately for the harm that the government had "egregiously" inflicted on Inslaw. The Republican minority dissented and the committee divided along party lines 21–13.[61]

Bua report

In October 1991 William P. Barr succeeded Dick Thornburgh as Attorney General. In November, Barr appointed retired federal judge Nicholas J. Bua as a Special Counsel to investigate the allegations in the Inslaw case.[66] Bua was granted authority to appoint his own staff and investigators, to impanel a grand jury, and to issue subpoenas.[67] In March 1993 he issued a 267-page report.

The report concluded that there was no credible evidence to support Inslaw's allegations that DOJ officials conspired to help Earl Brian acquire Promis software, and that the evidence was overwhelming that there was no connection between Brian and Promis.[68] It found the evidence "woefully insufficient" to support the claim that DOJ obtained enhanced PROMIS through "fraud, trickery, and deceit," or that DOJ illegally distributed PROMIS inside or outside of DOJ.[68] It found no credible evidence that DOJ had influenced the selection process that replaced Judge Bason.[68] It found "insufficient evidence" to confirm the allegation that DOJ employees sought to influence the conversion of Inslaw's bankruptcy or commit perjury to conceal the attempt to do so.[68] Finally, it concluded that the DOJ had not sought to influence the investigation of Danny Casolaro's death, and that the physical evidence strongly supported the autopsy finding of suicide.[69]

Bua's report came to a number of conclusions that contradicted earlier proceedings and investigations. Judge Bason had found that DOJ's claim it was concerned about Inslaw's financial condition when it requested a copy of Promis was a false pretext. Bua rejected this finding as "just plain wrong."[70] The House report had cited Deputy Attorney General Burns' statements as evidence that DOJ knew it did not have a valid defense to Inslaw's claims. Bua found this interpretation "entirely unwarranted."[71]

Bua was particularly critical of several of Inslaw's witnesses. He found that Michael Riconosciuto had given inconsistent accounts in statements to the Hamiltons, his affidavit, and in testimony at his 1992 trial for manufacturing methamphetamine.[72] Bua compared Riconosciuto's story about Promis to "a historical novel; a tale of total fiction woven against the background of accurate historical facts."[73]

Bua found Ari Ben-Menashe's affidavits for Inslaw inconsistent with his later statements to Bua, in which Ben-Menashe said that he had "no knowledge of the transfer of Inslaw's proprietary software by Earl Brian or DOJ" and denied that he had ever said this elsewhere.[74] Ben-Menashe said that others simply assumed that he was referring in his previous statements to Inslaw's Promis, but acknowledged that one reason he failed to clarify this was because he was going to publish a book and "he wanted to make sure that his affidavit was filed in court and came to the attention of the public."[75]

Bua also noted that the House October Surprise Task Force had examined Ben-Menashe's October Surprise allegations and found them "totally lacking in credibility," "demonstrably false from beginning to end," "riddled with inconsistencies and factual misstatements," and "a total fabrication." He specifically observed that the Task Force found no evidence to substantiate Ben-Menashe's October Surprise allegations about Earl Brian.[76]

DOJ review

Inslaw responded to the Bua report with a 130-page Rebuttal,[77] and another set of new allegations in an Addendum. These allegations included the claim that the DOJ's Office of Special Investigations was "a front for the Justice Department's own covert intelligence service" and that "another undeclared mission of the Justice Department's covert agents was to insure that investigative journalist Danny Casolaro remained silent about the role of the Justice Department in the INSLAW scandal by murdering him in west Virginia in August 1991."[78]

By this time, Janet Reno had succeeded Barr as Attorney General after Bill Clinton's election as president. Reno then asked for a review of Bua's report with recommendations on appropriate actions. In September 1994, the Department released a 187-page review (written by Assistant Associate Attorney General John C. Dwyer) which concluded that "there is no credible evidence that Department officials conspired to steal computer software developed by Inslaw, Inc. or that the company is entitled to additional government payments."[79] The review also reaffirmed the earlier police findings that Casolaro's death was a suicide and rejected Inslaw's claim that OSI agents had murdered Casolaro as "fantasy," with "no corroborative evidence that is even marginally credible." [80]

Court of Federal Claims trial and ruling

In May 1995, the United States Senate asked the U.S. Court of Federal Claims to determine if the United States owed Inslaw compensation for the government's use of Promis. On July 31, 1997, Judge Christine Miller, the hearing officer for the U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruled that all of the versions of Promis were in the public domain and that the government had therefore always been free to do whatever it wished with Promis.[81][82] The following year, the appellate authority, a three-judge Review Panel of the same court, upheld Miller's ruling and in August 1998 informed the Senate of its findings.[81]

Later developments

A 1999 book by the British journalist Gordon Thomas, titled Gideon's Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad, repeated the claims of Ari Ben-Menashe that Israeli intelligence created and marketed a Trojan horse version of Promis in order to spy on intelligence agencies in other countries.[83]

In 2001, the Washington Times and Fox News each quoted federal law enforcement officials familiar with debriefing former FBI Agent Robert Hanssen as claiming that the convicted spy had stolen copies of a Promis-derivative for his Soviet KGB handlers. Later reports and studies of Hanssen's activities have not repeated these claims.


Investigation - Was the reporter who claimed to have found the missing link between Iran-contra, the October Surprise, and B.C.C.I. a victim of a conspiracy—or of conspiracy theories?

Source - [HP004G][GDrive]

One of the first stories I heard about Danny Caso laro's funeral was the five blondes at the grave site. Five stunners ranging in age from twenty to forty, all dressed in black, all weep ing copiously.

I was feeling pretty bad about Danny myself, for my own reasons. I'd been thinking, Maybe I shouldn't have yelled at him the last time we spoke. Maybe I shouldn't have been so harsh, shouldn't have told him, "Danny, you've got to get ruthless with yourself. ' '

I'd been feeling that way ever since the morning of August 13, when I was idly flipping through The Washington Post and froze at the headline: "WRITER PROBING INSLAW CASE FOUND DEAD— Freelancer Was in West Virginia to Meet Source, Friends Say."

Friends were saying more than that. Friends and family were disputing the local coroner's hasty preliminary verdict of suicide, a verdict issued before the locals learned about who Danny was and what kind of story he'd been looking into. About the death threats and warnings he'd been getting in the final weeks before he was found, his wrists sliced open with an X-Acto-type blade in a bloody motel-room bathtub. The friends were saying that Danny was hot on the trail of the long-sought Missing Link between the scandals that had been convulsing Washington—B.C.C.I., the October Surprise, and Iran-contra—and that he was killed to keep him quiet.

And it wasn't just friends saying this: a former U.S. attorney general, Elliot Richardson, the ordinarily circumspect Brahmin, was calling for a federal investigation, and suggesting Danny "was deliberately murdered because he was so close to uncovering sinister elements in what he called 'The Octopus.' " Was this another Silkwood case? Was Danny murdered because he was "The Man Who Knew Too Much," as Time put it?

But at that point I wasn't thinking murder. I was thinking guilt—my own. I'd had several phone conversations with Danny about his Octopus idea in the weeks before he died, and I'd been pretty skeptical: a lot of it sounded like a rehash of familiar conspiracy-theory connections. That's what I'd meant when I raised my voice and enjoined him to be "ruthless" with himself: slash away the underbrush, so that whatever he had that was news would emerge. Still, when someone you've yelled at to be ruthless with himself is found dead with his wrists slashed, it makes you wonder if he took your words too much to heart.

Which is why I had to go down to West Virginia. Which is why I'm sitting fully clothed in an empty bathtub in the motel room just across the hall from the one in which Danny died, here at the Sheraton Martinsburg ("where meetings and fitness are our business"). Staring up at the cheap cottage-cheese-textured ceiling of the bathroom, perhaps the last sight Danny Casolaro saw.

I've spent the past ten days immersing myself in Danny's world, retracing his steps from the fragments and pieces of the puzzle he left behind in his notes, trying to reconstruct the vision of the Octopus that led him to meet his death here. To see if I could find out, to my own satisfaction, the answer to the murder-orsuicide question: Did Danny Casolaro die because he was, in some sense, too ruthless with himself? Or because someone got too ruthless with him?

"Danny, this story isn't fun, it's no adventure. It's traumatic, it's a disease, it's like going into the depths of insanity. ... It [the story] is the Octopus.'' —Danny's friend Ann Klenk, summer 1991.

I didn't know the guy well. Met him about a dozen years ago down in D.C. I was doing a story about revisionist Watergate theories for The New Republic and someone had referred me to Danny as a guy who was pursuing the "Democratic trap" theory—the idea that shadowy figures in the intelligence community hostile to Richard Nixon actually set up the Nixon White House for the Watergate bust.

What I remember most about that evening was not so much the mysteries of Watergate as the mystery of Danny.

The Arabian horses, for instance. Not many investigative reporters I knew raised thoroughbred Arabians in the heart of Virginia horse country. Danny did. Good-looking, good-natured, goldenhaired Danny looked less the ink-stained wretch most investigative reporters are than a Fitzgerald golden boy. I was left with a hazy impression of a Gatsbyesque horsey-set dabbler in the arcana of right-wing conspiracy theories.

In fact, it turns out Danny did have a kind of Gatsby fixation, one that apparently persisted until the final hours of his life. One of the last people to report seeing him alive was a waitress at a Pizza Hut, the one that shares a parking lot with the Sheraton Martinsburg. She describes Danny as flirting with her in a lighthearted way on the Thursday afternoon before his body was found. She says that Danny, apparently in high spirits, was quoting to her some lines from a favorite poem, the one about the "goldhatted, high-bouncing lover" that Fitzgerald used as the epigraph to The Great Gatsby.

According to Wendy Weaver, an attractive blonde ad exec who was Danny's steadiest girlfriend, Danny was a romantic who loved to quote those particular lines, because it was how he saw himself. Once, Wendy told me, "he painted a tin hat gold, and came into a restaurant that I was in, wearing a tuxedo and carrying roses."

Had Danny struck gold in his Octopus investigation or was he just gilding tin? What was the grail he died trying to find?

He started calling me last winter—I hadn't heard from him in years—first to ask for a copy of a story I'd done for V.F. involving "the Blond Ghost," the legendary ex-C. I. A. -covert-operations mastermind Ted Shackley ("The General and 'the Blond Ghost,' " January 1990). He was pursuing some leads concerning Shackley, he said. Danny wouldn't tell me anything more at that point than that he was working on "something really big," that there was a Shackley angle to it, and that he was reluctant to elaborate ("It would take hours").

Then, this past summer, two months before he died, he started calling me again, asking me for advice on a proposal for a book, a book he wanted to call The Octopus, about a shadowy group of rogue intelligence operatives who, in a Ghostly way, were linked to spectacular covert-world-generated scandals from the Bay of Pigs and Watergate to Iran-contra, B.C.C.I., and the October Surprise.

I liked the guy, but when I tried to cut through the thicket of conspiracy-theory connections he was reeling off for me, I just couldn't get a clue to what he might have that was new.

And there was something in Danny's tone of voice that disturbed me, something I'd heard before: that note of smug, condescending certainty that begins to creep into the voice of those who feel they have it All Figured Out and are quite beyond the need to document and substantiate. (Later he left a message on my answering machine thanking me specifically for the advice to be ruthless—it was the last I heard from him.)

And so as I headed down to Washington and West Virginia to begin retracing the last journey Danny took, I was so skeptical about the Octopus murder theory that I even harbored a suspicion that Danny might have staged his own death. That, while his friends were saying it was murder disguised to look like suicide, maybe it was really a suicide staged to provoke suspicion of murder. That by killing himself and leaving enough ambiguities to raise the possibility of murder Danny would make his own death the sensational final chapter of the book he never wrote—the one thing that would validate the seriousness of the quest he was on. It would be the Gatsbyesque thing to do.

But now I think I may have wronged him in at least one respect. By the time I got to the motel here in Martinsburg— after spending hours immersed in his notes, days talking with his friends, nights having strange conversations with his sources—I still didn't believe in the Ludlumesque Octopus conspiracy Danny hyped up for his book proposal. But I now believed that he was onto something, that his investigations were real, and that, in the months before his death, they were taking him into areas that involved dangerous knowledge and dangerous characters—one of whom had already been convicted of "solicitation of murder. ' '

"Will you kiss me when I'm dead?" —Danny Casolaro to Ann Klenk three weeks before he died.

The line that best characterizes the kind of journey Danny Casolaro was on in the months before his death was one I found on a scrap of paper amid the literally thousands of sheets and scraps of notebook paper, envelopes, and cocktail napkins I'd been studying. (Was the "Denise" whose number is written on a cocktail napkin from a bar in Tacoma, Washington, a key source or a waitress he was trying to pick up?)

Five big file boxes of Danny's Octopus-investigation notes were retrieved from his basement office by his close friend Ann Klenk, who raced over there as soon as she got the news he was dead.

"He'd told me several times that summer that if I heard he met with an accident, make sure I got that shit out of there," says Klenk, an attractive ex-girlfriend who stayed close to him for twelve years after they broke up. Over dinner at a place near her CNBC office, where she works as a producer for Jack Anderson, she told me that, toward the end, a change had come over Danny. That his obsession with the story had become grim and all-consuming and that one evening at her place he'd turned to her and asked, "Will you kiss me when I'm dead?" (Danny's brother Dr. Anthony Casolaro reports that in the last couple of months Danny warned him "not to believe it" if he died in what was reported to be an "accident.")

Was this another Silkwood case? Was Danny murdered because he was "The Man Who Knew Too Much"?

Anyway, there it was on a scrap of notepaper in Danny's files, that line, written in his cheap ballpoint, probably the best testimony to how he had come to see his quest:

In the middle of the journey of our life, I found myself in a dark wood, having lost the straight path.

It is, of course, the opening passage of the Inferno, the description of Dante's state of mind when he came upon the hole in the world that led down to the gates of hell.

Danny Casolaro's dark wood was a bizarre, tangled lawsuit involving a computer-software company called INSLAW; unfortunately, his guide was not exactly the wise Virgil figure who took Dante in hand. Danny's guide—some would say his Svengali—was a Machiavellian rogue scientist who wove the web Danny was tracing from a jail cell in Tacoma. And the hole in the world Danny fell into was a sunbaked Indian reservation located, appropriately enough, a few hours south of Death Valley as the buzzard flies.

Before plunging into that dark wood, it might be useful now to fill in the picture of the pre-Octopus Danny. He was always a restless soul. The son of a successful obstetrician, he grew up to be an affable, athletic six-footer, a boxer with a touch of the poet, searching for something more than his suburban-Virginia setting offered. At age sixteen, his brother Tony remembers, "Danny got it in his head to go down to Peru to look for the lost Inca treasure." Tony recalls he got only "as far as Ecuador, where he ran into some rich guy" who distracted him into a scheme to ship corbina fish to the U.S.

Danny's first brush with a mysterious death came when his younger sister died in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury in the late sixties. It was never certain whether it was an accidental death or suicide. But friends say the traumatic effect of the death on his family made Danny, a Catholic, even more adamantly antisuicide.

After graduating from Providence College in 1968, Danny began a writing career that shifted fitfully back and forth between fiction and nonfiction. In a ten-year-old resume I dug out of the file boxes retrieved from his house, Danny informs us that, "in 1969, I wrote two books and authored the initial treatment for Rain for a Dusty Summer, a film starring Ernest Borgnine.

"From 1970 to the present [circa 1982], I've been a Washington correspondent, contributor, columnist, editor for national magazines, daily newspapers, weekly newspapers, professional journals and trade journals including World News, National Star, London Sun, Sydney Daily Mirror, National Enquirer. . .El Dorado News Times, Home and Auto, Washington Star, American Paint Journal. . .Media Horizons magazines. . . Washington Crime News."

A mixed bag, perhaps skewed a bit toward the supermarket tabs, but Danny goes on to claim, "During these years my investigative work included reporting on some of the most important stories of the decade. In 1970-71 I was one of the first journalists to expose the renewed Soviet Naval presence in Cuba, prompting the U.S. Government official warning statements. ... In 1971 I was one of the first U.S. journalists to uncover the make up and composition of the Castro intelligence network in the U.S. . . . In 1972-3 I was the first journalist to expose how the Chinese Communists were smuggling opium into America. In 1973 to 1974 I was the first journalist to expose and document the 'prior knowledge of Watergate' story, a major breakthrough showing an untold side of the Watergate Scandal."

In fact, there's some doubt about where his investigative output on some of these stories appeared. Reed Irvine, the chairman of the right-wing watchdog group Accuracy in Media, recalls that Danny came to talk to him about his revisionist Watergate theory. "But he never wrote anything for us and I never saw anything on the subject he ever wrote," Irvine told me. "I think he was one of those guys who liked to talk big but never delivered."

What's interesting about Danny's investigations is that they all had a definite right-wing agenda. Subversive Castro spy networks, sinister opium-peddling Red Chinese, Soviet naval nukes in Cuba—these suggest Danny had a pipeline into right-wing intelligence networks, or at least hard-right propagandists. It's ironic that Danny's Octopus conspiracy theory has been picked up by the left-leaning Christie Institute. Because a close reading of his book proposals makes it clear that Danny viewed the Octopus as something that subverted the right-thinking, anti-Communist covert operations he believed in, like the Bay of Pigs.

By the end of the seventies, Danny's life changed in a couple of important ways. His ten-year marriage to his wife, Terrill, a former Miss Virginia, came to an end. She moved to Florida; their son, Trey, stayed with him. It was, by all accounts, a shattering breakup. "He loved her deeply, very deeply," Ann Klenk told me. "He even started writing a book about her. It was a romantic novel, he called it Pursuit."

Around that time, Danny dropped out of journalism and became a kind of entrepreneur. He started working for, then acquiring, a series of computer and dataprocessing trade journals. He began making good money, but with daily and weekly deadlines, he had little time for the kind of investigations he once boasted of. By the mid-eighties, after playing the field with a succession of what his friends invariably describe as remarkably beautiful women, he entered into a long-running relationship with Wendy Weaver.

"It was love at first sight for me," says Wendy, still very starry-eyed about Danny. "He was magnetic, charming, charismatic."

But then, at the end of the decade, just when it seemed he'd settled down into a comfortable, early middle age, he found himself adrift. He'd decided to sell his chain of computer publications, but according to friends and family, "Danny was really out of his league making the deal. He just didn't have a business sense." He walked away with a sum not commensurate with the sweat equity he had put in over the years.

Another friend says that Danny's bitterness over the deal marked the beginning of "a clear deterioration in his morale. He was not the kind of guy to run around bitterly raging. Danny just internalized. He felt under pressure to make something of himself in a highly achievement-oriented environment."

Danny set out to settle the score with fete by bagging that One Big Story, the contemporary equivalent of the Inca treasure.

His friends recall an enormously generous guy who'd throw them surprise bon voyage parties and write them soulful birthday poems. "He was someone with an incredible ability to give love, but he had trouble taking it in," another ex-girlfriend told me.

Clearly, something was missing. And so, in the spring of 1990, Danny set out to settle the score with fate by bagging that One Big Story, the contemporary equivalent of the lost treasure of the Incas.

"This story killed my friend, and I want very simple questions answered. . . . These people who were jerking him around—whether he killed himself or he was killed—/ still hate them." —Ann Klenk

It was Danny's computer-world contacts that brought him to the INSLAW case, and it was INSLAW that brought him into the ambit—some would say under the spell—of the rogue scientist/ weapons designer/platinum miner/alleged crystal-meth manufacturer who sent Danny off on the quest for the grail he was to die seeking.

The INSLAW case alone is enough to drive a sane man to madness, if not suicide. The INSLAW lawsuit has devoured the lives of those involved the way the all-consuming Jarndyce v. Jarndyce Chancery suit devoured its progeny in Bleak House. If they ever make a movie of the INSLAW suit, it could be called Mr. and Mrs. Smith Go to Washington and Meet Franz Kafka.

The Mr. and Mrs. Smith in question are Bill and Nancy Hamilton, an earnest, dedicated St. Louis couple who went to Washington and, in the early seventies, began working on the hightech side of the war on crime, INSLAW, the software company they built, designed a breakthrough program for use by U.S. attorneys in administering the crime war: it tracks cases, ranking their priorities and helping allocate resources to them. It put INSLAW on the ground floor of a potential quarter-billion-dollar market.

[ NOTE - See "1990 (Oct 01) - Washington Post - "OBSESSED BY A THEORY OF CONSPIRACY" / Source - [HN01C5][GDrive] ]

Then, the Hamiltons claim, their company became a crime victim. They charge that elements within the Justice Department—cronies of Reagan attorney general Ed Meese's—plotted to sabotage their contract with Justice, drive the company into bankruptcy, and steal the valuable software for their own profit. Farfetched as that might sound, back in 1987 a federal bankruptcy judge ruled definitively in favor of Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton, declaring that the Justice Department had used "trickery, fraud, and deceit" to misappropriate the software and then tried to drive INSLAW out of business. (The decision, reversed on appeal, is now heading for the Supreme Court, where Elliot Richardson will argue the Hamiltons' case.)

But this victory was merely the cue for the real Kafkaesque weirdness to begin. Suffice it to say that the Hamiltons, struggling desperately to escape from bankruptcy, began to suspect there was something larger going on behind the scenes that accounted for what they saw as a pattern of mysterious interventions and string pulling directed against them.

Then along came a master conspiracy theorist who confirmed their darkest suspicion: That they weren't in the world of Kafka but that of Robert Ludlum. That the alleged theft of their software by Reagan-Meese Justice Department cat'spaws was actually a key element in the hottest new conspiracy theory of them all. He told them that their case was, in effect, the grassy knoll of the October Surprise plot.

His name is Michael Riconosciuto, and he's the rogue scientist and self-proclaimed former covert operator who became the Hamiltons' tutor and Danny's Svengali. (It should be noted that the person who brought Riconosciuto to the Hamiltons' attention was a key lieutenant of conspiracy-cult leader Lyndon LaRouche; LaRouche intelligence reports were also found in Danny's files.)

In May 1990, according to the Hamiltons' internal "Memorandum for the Record" I found in Danny's files—a memo which became a road map for Danny's fatal journey—Riconosciuto gave the Hamiltons the following account:

That in October 1980, Riconosciuto was serving as director of research of a weapons-design project operating out of the sparsely populated Cabazon Indian Reservation in the California desert (there were only twenty-four Cabazons living there at the time). That Bill Casey—then Reagan-campaign director, later C.I.A. head—hired Riconosciuto and a Reagan confidant, Earl Brian, to undertake a secret mission to Iran.

Riconosciuto told the Hamiltons that he "did the electronic funds transfer" to convey a payoff of more than $40 million to "certain elements in Iran" to "prevent a deal with the Carter Administration to release the American hostages prior to the election."

Riconosciuto added that Brian's reward was a kind of license to grab the Hamiltons' lucrative software, with the help of Reagan's Justice Department minions. Riconosciuto further told the Hamiltons that he "saw documents" in the law offices of a former U.S. senator in which the INSLAW-related October Surprise payoff was "chiselled in stone." (Brian denies all these charges and any connection to the INSLAW case.)

Enter Danny Casolaro. In the summer of 1990, shortly after Riconosciuto had disgorged the details of this story to the Hamiltons, Danny showed up in their offices on K Street in downtown Washington, expressing interest in doing some kind of story on the INSLAW case. And at some point that summer the Hamiltons made available to Danny their twelve-page Riconosciuto memo with its profusion of suggestive and seductive leads, its wealth of references to code names, cover-ups, corporate fronts, cutouts, and covert ops—all of which show up in the notes Danny left behind, many of which go far beyond the October Surprise.

The moment he got his hands on that maddening memo, with its maze of illusion and reality, was the moment Danny's life changed and he began his descent into the obsession that would lead to his death. He was slowly, then rapidly, sucked into a kind of covert-ops version of Dungeons & Dragons, with that memo as his guide and Michael Riconosciuto as his Dungeon Master.

"Stop it, Danny. Just stop it! Get a job. Just let this goddamn story go.'' —Ann Klenk

In Danny, Riconosciuto found the perfect audience. The spook and the journalist have always shared an affinity: each thriving in a realm of secrets and lies, cover-ups and cover stories, sharing the romance of the covert mentality, with its thrilling sense of being privy to the secret heart of matters undreamt of by the ordinary, CNN-watching citizen. And both Casolaro and Riconosciuto were in a similar position: lone operatives freelancing on the fringe, longing to be at center stage.

The turning point in their relationship came when a dramatic prediction Riconosciuto made seemed to come true. In February 1991, he told Danny, a highranking Justice Department official had warned him not to give a deposition to House Judiciary Committee staffers investigating the INSLAW controversy or he'd end up in jail. Several weeks later, federal agents arrested Riconosciuto on charges of distributing speed. (Riconosciuto, who did talk to Judiciary Committee staffers, insists the chemicals were actually being used in an innovative process for refining platinum ore; the Justice Department official has denied making any threat.) As soon as he got news of the arrest, Danny hopped a jet and flew all night cross-country to Tacoma, where he spent ten days working as an unpaid, unofficial investigator of the Riconosciuto "frame-up"—and of the endless tangled tales of intrigue and dirty tricks this imprisoned Scheherazade of the spook world had to tell.

Not many investigative reporters I knew raised thoroughbred Arabians in the heart of Virginia horse country. Danny did.

"Danny said that when he started out he only believed 5 percent of what I was saying" and doubted 95 percent. "But by the end," Riconosciuto boasted to me from jail during one of our marathon conversations, the ratio was reversed.

I'd still put his credibility at Danny's original figure of 5 percent—but even so, the 5 percent that does check out makes Riconosciuto one of the more remarkable characters I've encountered in years of debriefing spook types. If he's a liar, he's not your ordinary liar. He's extraordinarily skillful at weaving fact and fiction into a seamless web of seductive intrigue. And he did direct Danny down some dark paths in which he came into contact with some seriously dangerous dudes.

"These people in the desert were murdered. Murder, dope, government. That's dangerous. Think about it, Danny." —Warning from "Clark Gable."

It was a whipsaw, a psychological whipsaw, Danny Casolaro got caught in. A cruel game of paranoid psychout played with Danny's head. The players batting him back and forth were Michael Riconosciuto and his longtime shadow-world nemesis, the man we'll call, for reasons to be clear soon enough, "Clark Gable."

But it was no game, it was a long-distance duel. In fact, the only thing the two men agree on is this: Danny's death was murder. And each implies the other may well have had something to do with it.

Let's look first at Riconosciuto. Here are some of the things he told Danny— and me—about himself:

That he was a child prodigy who developed a powerful argon-based laser, then went to work in the lab of a Nobel Prize-winning scientist at Stanford at age sixteen. That his grandfather was a top military aide who worked with an early C.I.A. chief, General Walter Bedell Smith—family connections, he said, "opened a lot of doors for me."

That from Stanford he went on to Haight-Ashbury in the sixties, where he was responsible for an undergroundnewspaper spread in which, he said, "we published pictures of narcotics agents," including one "showing [an agent] having sex with these under-age girls that we took from a rooftop."

Ultimately, Riconosciuto told Danny and me, vengeful narcs engineered his "frame-up" on charges of manufacturing psychedelic drugs.

In Danny's notes I found evidence that he'd checked out these claims, even getting Riconosciuto's grades and I.Q. from a parochial school he attended: the I.Q. was a somewhat-less-than-prodigylevel 124; the story about building the argon laser is true. But Danny dug up clips which tell a somewhat different version of the narc-sex-vengeance "frame-up." They report that Riconosciuto was arrested in Seattle in September 1972 by "federal narcotics agents who say they have had the defendant under surveillance off and on since 1968." What Riconosciuto said back then at his trial was that sinister drug people tried to force him to make psychedelic drugs, threatening to kill him if he didn't do their bidding. They'd already been "responsible for 14 murders," he told the court.

That figure—"14 murders"—rang a bell. In my first conversation with Riconosciuto, I was exploring some cryptic but provocative notes I'd found in Danny's files about "biological warfare" projects. The notes made references to the possibility of manufacturing "slowacting brain viruses" such as "Mad Cow Disease" which could be slipped into "meat pies." (Hey, I just report the facts here.)

Riconosciuto was reluctant to talk about the germ-warfare leads. "It's a real Dr. Strangelove tale," he said. "But it's obviously real enough that anybody who's ever come near it has gotten killed. And Danny was starting to make progress."

When I asked him to elaborate on the germ-warfare story, he uncharacteristically—or perhaps theatrically— clammed up. "I really don't want to be the one to say, you know, because I know of fourteen people that are dead that have tried to come out publicly on this."

While it's clear Riconosciuto has a special affection for the figure of fourteen deaths, that's only a fraction of the mortality rate around him, he said. "That's only on the 'biotech,' " as he called the germ-warfare stuff. "There's almost fifty dead total that have been connected with me in one way or another since the early eighties."

While this claim captures the paranoid flavor of conversations with Riconosciuto, it's deceptive in one sense. Because, while there may not have been fifty, or even fourteen, there were some real, documentable murders happening around him, particularly after he arrived at the Cabazon Indian Reservation in the early eighties and became involved with Clark Gable and ''Dr. John."

The whole Cabazon-reservation maze Danny was pursuing is further proof that the reality of the covert-ops shadow world will always outinvent the cliches of a Tom Clancy. It is also, to my mind, the strongest barrier to believing Danny's death was a simple suicide. Regardless of what money problems he had, or book-proposal rejections he suffered, he was really onto a story here.

His investigations were taking him into areas that involved dangerous knowledge and dangerous characters.

Evidence that Danny was onto something real can be found in a frontpage, three-part investigative series in the respected San Francisco Chronicle that appeared three weeks after Danny died and that was inspired in part by his probe into the Cabazon-reservation enigma.

"Just fifteen years ago," Chronicle reporter Jonathan Littman begins, "a handful of Cabazon Indians barely scratched out a living on their reservation in this tumbleweed desert just north of the Salton Sea," near Indio, California. But since a "mystery man," Dr. John Nichols, took control of their affairs as the "administrator" of the tiny tribe, a staggering quarter-billion dollars has been poured into projects based on the reservation.

What Nichols did was leverage the one asset of the woebegone Cabazon band—their "sovereign status" as a quasi-independent nation, which allows them to build casinos and enter into joint ventures with corporations. Such joint ventures are shielded to some degree from the usual legal and regulatory scrutiny, making the reservation extremely attractive to the kind of enterprise which prefers to operate in the shadows. In fact, Dr. Nichols (the doctorate is of divinity) seemed to have close contacts with C.I.A. and military-intelligence operatives (according to the Chronicle, he would tell some that he'd had a hand in the C.I.A. assassination attempts on Fidel Castro and Salvador Allende). Contacts which attracted to the desolate reservation what the Chronicle called "a maze of politicians, military officers, organized crime figures, intelligence agents, foreign officials ranging from Saudi sheiks to Nicaraguan Contras."

One of the people who materialized in this maze is our friend Michael Riconosciuto. He claimed he'd spent the years since his psychedelic-lab bust as a government informer on the anti-war movement and as a covert C.I.A. operative in South America (where he says he first met Dr. Nichols) infiltrating the liberationtheology movement. Back in the States, Riconoseiuto then became the "technical adviser" to mystery man Dr. Nichols on the reservation. Before long, Riconoseiuto says, he began to learn about some "horrible things" going on out there.

This is the labyrinth Riconoseiuto was leading Danny into—the one he died in. The Chronicle reporter tells us that, "just days before his death," Danny Casolaro "planned to visit the Reservation.

. . . Although he did not divulge what role the Cabazons may have had in the conspiracy [he was investigating], Casolaro. . . recently told this reporter that one of the titles he was considering for his [Octopus] book was Indio."

It would have been a more accurate title. Indeed, the grandiose "Octopus" of Danny's maladroit, overhyped book proposal was—to continue the piscine imagery—a red herring. But there was a lowercase octopus out there in the desert beyond Indio.

Riconoseiuto himself, the resident demon of this labyrinth, supports the more modest, lowercase characterization of the octopus: "Danny's theory was different" from the typical megaconspiracy theory, he told me. "Danny was dealing with real people and real crimes."

One of the crimes was murder. Several murders, all unsolved. One victim was Michael Riconosciuto's "business partner," a man named Paul Morasca, whom he candidly describes as a money launderer. Morasca was found hog-tied and asphyxiated in a San Francisco apartment. One of the initial suspects in the murder was Michael Riconoseiuto himself, and he says the accusation shocked—shocked—him, and motivated him to spill the beans on all the dirty deeds done on the reservation.

He claims he was responsible for pinning a "solicitation of murder" charge on Dr. Nichols for trying to hire a hit man to kill some casino associates on the reservation. (Nichols pleaded no contest and served sixteen months' jail time on the charge.) A Cabazon spokesman has said, "There's nothing sinister going on at the reservation. It's just a very successful operation."

Anyway, it was in the midst of this film noir intrigue out there in the sterile desert flats that Riconoseiuto first encountered the man who would become his partner, his target, his obsession, and, ultimately, the second pole of Danny's Octopus investigation: the man we're calling Clark Gable.

We're calling him Gable for two reasons: first, because those among Danny's friends who met this mysterious figure when he flew into D.C., to warn Danny his life was in danger, invariably describe him as "looking just like Clark Gable, only without the big ears," and, second, because his real name is Robert Booth Nichols, and there already is a Nichols (Dr. John, no relation) in this story.

The circumstances in which Riconosciuto and Gable met are in dispute. But it seems that for a time they planned some R&D ventures for high-tech hardware behind the shield of the Cabazons' sovereign status. Gable admits to being the head of a holding company, one of whose subsidiaries has licenses on the prototype for an automatic weapon. But he won't say much more about his business. When I finally reached him at a California number I'd found in Danny's notes, he denied any involvement in improper activities. He told me his falling-out with Riconoseiuto began at the reservation when he caught the selfstyled scientist in "lies" about his esoteric inventions. He blames Riconosciuto and others who have been "Michaelized" for peddling dark tales about him. He hedged when I asked him about intelligence-world connections. "I have been involved in sensitive activities. That's the only way I can describe it," he said. And while he denied being in the C.I.A., he said he'd "been involved with a lot of people who tell me they are in the C.I.A., although I have no way of substantiating it."

What is certain is that Michael Riconosciuto has it in for Gable, and that he began pointing Danny in Gable's direction, filling his head with allegations of Gable's sinister, international covertworld connections. Indeed, he began to paint a picture of Gable that linked him to very big, very dangerous organizedcrime syndicates, including the feared Japanese Yakuza and the fearsome Gambino crime family of John Gotti. That linked him in addition to various C.I.A. and British intelligence plots, because Gable was the friend of a legendary Bond-ish Brit known as "Double Deuce." (Are you beginning to get a feel for the texture of Danny Casolaro's world by now?)

In fact, Riconosciuto attempted to convince Danny, with some success for a while, that this man Gable was the key to what Danny was starting to call the Octopus.

According to an ex-F.B.I. man who was a source for Danny in his final weeks, Danny began rashly and unwisely calling Gable himself about these allegations. "Danny began getting into areas that were dangerous, very dangerous," the ex-F.B.I. guy told me. "This is dangerous work. He was warned. You know. Gable warned him."

If they ever make a movie of the INSLAW suit, it could be called Mr. and Mrs. Smith Go to Washington and Meet Franz Kafka.


I have the details of the strange encounters between Danny and Gable from three different sources, none of whom was eager to be the sole source.

Because all recalled them as chilling. The exotic quality of those meetings is captured by one of Danny's friends, who had lunch with Danny and Clark Gable. Gable had flown into Washington, D.C., on a weekend about a month before Danny's death, was staying at the top-bracket Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown, and seemed to have little business other than to spend time with Danny Casolaro.

The friend, a well-connected player in Pacific Rim politics who requested that his name be withheld, said Gable was "very slick, very civilized-appearing. Danny used to say he had the manners of a gentleman, but underneath he was a thug."

The friend recalls Gable "doing that thing that guys do on barstools the world over. He looks at you with that wink and says, 'You know, I'm not in the C.I.A.' "

When the three of them finally sat down to lunch at Clyde's in Tyson's Comer, the friend says, Gable promptly informed them he'd "just taped a radio broadcast as the incoming minister of state security in Dominica, and was preparing a coup that 'some bimbo in the C.I.A.' was asking him about. But he was actually at a higher level than the 'bimbo.' " (The island of Dominica, which figures heavily in Danny's notes, is an impoverished flyspeck in the Caribbean that has been characterized as "the Third World's Third World." Gable says he was asked by the leader of the opposition party on the island if he'd become security minister, should an election bring it to power; he says he cleared this with the State and Justice departments. He also denies any C.I.A. coup plot and says the broadcast was an interview about economic development.)

Danny's friend says he "never witnessed a performance" like the one that ensued. "[Gable] had this story that they were going to turn Dominica into a C.I.A. base, had plans for a desalination program, and pulled out this design drawn by a French architect of a dome the size of Texas Stadium that was half underwater. Really, the whole thing reminded me of Ernst Stavro Blofeld [the Bond villain], I mean, good Lord, you could just see James Bond swimming out there with a babe. I excused myself at this point. I really didn't want to hear anything more after seeing Blofeld's underwater lair."

"Did he come across as a con man?" I asked Danny's friend.

"It's funny," he said. "It was like he was real slick, really like Clark Gable, and there were nuggets of truth. The guy just oozes intrigue." (Gable told me he was exploring plans for exploiting the island's heavy rainfall to export purified water, and denies anything improper about it.)

Then, the friend says, Danny showed him a side of Gable he didn't want to know about.

"After lunch Danny pulls me aside and pulls out this purported F.B.I. wiretap summary on [Gable], and it showed how [Gable] is connected. It linked him to the Yakuza and to the Gambinos as a money launderer. And that widened my eyes. I said, 'Danny, I'm gonna take you out back and whip your ass! You just put me in a meeting with this man and didn't tell me what the hell—why didn't you tell me before?' And Danny was kind of, 'Oh, I don't know. I wanted to see how [Gable] would react.' In other words, he gaffed me with a hook and tossed me in the water to see if the Octopus would move!"

Gable says the suggestion that he's involved with the Yakuza and the Gambinos is "totally false." It's "absolutely ridiculous" to link him to "the Gambia family," he told me, conspicuously mispronouncing the name. He traces the trouble to an F.B.I. misunderstanding of his screenplay career. He says he was introduced to a high-level executive of MCA several years ago at a coffee shop. When the MCA man encouraged him to turn some tales he'd told him into screenplays, they became friends and, briefly, business associates. Unknown to him, the MCA man was the subject of a full-court-press F.B.I. investigation for being a key organized-crime link to the entertainment industry. And so, Gable says, his voice was picked up by taps on the MCA man's phone. The bureau misinterpreted their conversations as containing code words for illegal activities, turned around, targeted him, and slandered him to his business associates. In fact, Gable's company is suing an F.B.I. man for libel and slander. He says that the wiretap summary was part of the F.B.I. man's affidavit in the Gable slander suit.

In addition to the dispute over the wiretap affidavit, there's also a dispute over the nature of the warning Gable gave Danny. Riconosciuto, who wasn't there, tries to portray it as a personal threat from Gable. But others recall that it was Gable warning Danny against Riconosciuto.

Danny's girlfriend Wendy Weaver, for instance, spent a long, strange evening with Danny and Gable and has an indelible memory of the warning.

"It was a weird night, so weird," she recalls. "We met at the Four Seasons [bar]. He was pretty well lit when we got there. He was very charming, very handsome. When I tried to find out who he really was, he really didn't give me an answer. He just started these warnings. ... He kept saying, 'You don't know how bad this guy Riconosciuto is. Tell Danny to stay away.' He said, 'Riconosciuto—he might not get you today, he might not get you next month. He might get you two years from now. If you say anything against him he will kill you.' "

He repeated it several times, Wendy says. "At least five times.''

Later in the evening, Wendy reports, there was a heated altercation with "this

The only thing his two chief sources agree on is this: Danny was murdered. And each implies the other may well have had something to do with it

Asian-looking guy, who apparently insulted me in some way. And Danny was scared. After we got rid of [Gable], Danny goes, 'Wendy, this guy is scary.' That's the first I heard him say that."

While Gable was trying to warn Danny about Riconosciuto, Riconosciuto, for his part, was desperately trying to warn Danny about Gable. Or so he says. "I was absolutely frantic trying to warn him," Riconosciuto told me.

It was Danny's habit of "bouncing" Riconosciuto's stories off Gable that put him in peril, Riconosciuto says. One of the things he was supposedly "bouncing" involved what Riconosciuto said was a major heroin-related sting. (Gable denies any involvement in drug traffic. "I hate narcotics," he told me.) Another involved Riconosciuto's claims about an effort by the Cali cocaine cartel to derail the extradition of an alleged Colombian kingpin called Gilberto.

Gable just "went ballistic," Riconosciuto says, when Danny bounced this Gilberto matter off him. "But by the time I heard about it, there was nothing I could do, you know, except to warn Danny.

"And I called from that day on—it was on a late Monday—Tuesday, Wednesday, all the way through the weekend when they found Danny. Every day I was calling the Hamiltons, asking if anybody had heard from Danny. And I was frantic."


What was going on in Danny's head as he was being whipsawed between these two shadowy operators and their death warnings?

There was one point in my immersion in Danny's mental world when I felt a flash—a brief, chilling, but illuminating flash of what it must have been like for him when he got in too deep. It came in the course of a phone conversation I had with Ann Klenk, who was not only one of Danny's oldest and closest friends but also the one whose skeptical perspective on his obsession I'd come to rely upon.

She was telling me of her surprise and puzzlement over something she'd just learned: that not long before his death Danny had approached a nurse he knew and questioned her closely about the symptoms of multiple sclerosis and brain diseases.

This was particularly pertinent to the murder-or-suicide question, because an autopsy examination of Danny's brain revealed possible symptoms of M.S. Initially, his friends and family had dismissed this as irrelevant—it couldn't be a motive for suicide, because Danny had never complained of symptoms or, to their knowledge, known of the disease.

Then I mentioned to Ann the cryptic notes I'd found in Danny's files: on germ warfare, on slow-acting brain viruses like Mad Cow Disease, about targeting people with them by slipping them into meat pies.

That's when it struck me. "Oh, God," I said to Ann, "Danny's asking a nurse about brain disease—maybe he thought he'd been targeted."

Had he gone that far, or was / now too far gone down the road to paranoia that he'd traveled?

A few days later, I happened to mention the report of Danny's seeking information about brain-disease symptoms to Michael Riconosciuto. Who promptly said, "Oh, yes. He, uh, was concerned. And that was one of the reasons he had such an obsession [with this story]. Because he felt he had been hit by these people."

"Hit by them?"

"He confided this to me to try to get me to talk further" about biologicalwarfare projects he'd discovered, Riconosciuto explained. He'd been warning Danny that he wasn't appreciating the danger his investigation was exposing him to. "I told him, 'You can't envision your own death. Why would you want to do this [kind of reporting]?' And he finally came out and said, 'I'm going to die anyway and... I want to go out in a blaze of glory and take them with me.' "

What did he mean, he was going to die anyway? I asked Riconosciuto.

"He suspected that he had been, you know...a source told him that he, among others, had been targeted with this sort of [slow-acting virus] thing."

This was too much even for Riconosciuto. "I told Danny, 'Look, the paranoia will consume you. You need to go and get tests.' And Danny went and got tests and they were inconclusive. Now, what he probably had was the genesis of a naturally occurring ailment."

The paranoia will consume you. This exchange marks the moment when Danny's conspiracy-obsessed imagination surpassed even that of his most inventive source. In fact, the definition of true paranoia might be the point where Michael Riconosciuto says you're too paranoid for him.

And yet, there's something in Danny's reported remark that caught my attention: Riconosciuto's recollection of Danny's saying, I want to go out in a blaze of glory.

Certainly, as it turned out, Danny went out in a blaze of publicity. The networks, the magazines, the mainstream reporters who had given him the brushoff in the weeks before he died, gave him star treatment as a corpse. ABC's Nightline and CNN assigned swAT-team investigative squads to follow the leads in his notes. He couldn't have had it better if it had been scripted.

Could he have scripted it?

More than anything, it's the conspicuous theatricality of Danny's behavior in the last ten days of his life—when he suddenly went into his "I've cracked the whole case" mode—that led me to reluctantly revive consideration of what might be called "the Gatsby scenario": that his death was a final act of selfcreation.

What ultimately led me back to the Gatsby scenario was the inadequacy of both the case for murder and the case for simple suicide.

One can certainly understand why almost every one of Danny's friends and family leans toward the murder theory. (His mother's first reaction when she heard the news: "They've killed him!") They knew he'd been getting warnings. They knew he'd been getting threatening phone calls. On the Monday before the Saturday he died, he told his brother, "I'm getting these strange phone calls saying, 'You're gonna die.' " Also that week, shortly before he left on the fatal journey to that West Virginia motel, the neighbor who looked after his house reported answering Danny's phone and hearing a voice saying, "You're dead." She reports a similar "You're dead, you son of a bitch" call hours after his body was found—which rules out Danny himself as a possible source of the alleged threats against him.

And then there was the unmistakably clear—at least on the surface—prophecy to his brother: If anything happens to me it won't be an accident.

With admirable dedication, Danny's younger brother Dr. Tony Casolaro has made it his mission to ensure that there is any truth to this he will make certain it gets out. Which has resulted in this soft-spoken, reserved specialist in pulmonary medicine—quite the opposite of the extroverted, gung ho party dude Danny was—plunging into his dead brother's world.

He's talked to Clark Gable. He's even taken collect calls from Michael Riconosciuto in which Danny's jailbird Svengali spun out his "fentanyl" theory: that Danny was immobilized by the powerful synthetic heroin-like drug fentanyl, and then, in a state of compliant, semi-paralyzed alertness, was forced to cut his own wrists.

After spending weeks on his brother's case, Tony Casolaro is tom. He can't believe it's suicide, because his brother was so excited and upbeat about his investigation on that last Monday he saw him.

Tony is also troubled by a number of facts. Papers and files Danny had been seen with up in West Virginia were missing from his motel room. Stolen by his murderers? (Of course, if Danny wanted to create doubt he could have made a point of "disappearing" the papers before killing himself.) Then there are the still-unexplained phone calls from people who seemed familiar with the implications of Danny's death before even the police knew. There was the hasty embalming, the cursory look at the death scene by the cops, who made an initial judgment of suicide. (The reinvigorated Martinsburg police investigation—ongoing as of this writing—has been far more thorough, but perhaps too late.)

But, on the other hand, Tony knows the actual scenario for murder is "kind of Tom Clancy-ish. ''

"The way I envision it could have happened," Tony told me over dinner one night in downtown Washington, D.C., "someone stands over him and says, 'You write this suicide note or my partner who's standing with your son will, you know, [kill your son].' And Danny would just go, 'Fine.' "

Danny was a big, tough guy, a boxer, fearless, Tony says. But if he felt his son's life was being threatened, "he wouldn't be someone who would resist that kind of pressure."

Having written the suicide note, this murder scenario goes, Danny would then have run the bath, gotten undressed, gotten in, and started carving up his wrists with the blade his captors provided him.

The reason his friends and family, all solid-citizen types, could believe in such a farfetched scenario is precisely that Danny made such a big point of telling each of them in the week before his death that he was on the verge—or over the verge—of the big breakthrough he'd been looking for. That he was about to go to West Virginia to "wrap it up," to get the final piece of the puzzle, to nail it once and for all. He told one friend he was going to West Virginia "to meet the head of the Octopus." He told another he was going to West Virginia to "bring back the head of the Octopus."

Riconosciuto was reluctant to talk about the germ-warfare leads. "Anybody who's ever come near it has gotten killed."

The exact nature of the breakthrough he was trumpeting seemed to vary. He told three people he had finally solved the whole insanely complicated INSLAW mystery. He gave two other friends the impression that he'd gotten the goods on the October Surprise case and linked it to B.C.C.I. He told a source he met in West Virginia that he'd just "gotten enough information on B.C.C.I. to hang Clark Clifford." He went through an elaborate charade with the two friends —showing them a key document that he said tied it all up. The document was a photocopy of a $4 million check signed by Adnan Khashoggi, the Saudi arms dealer who's been linked to Iran-contra. The check, copies of which I found in his files, is made out to Manucher Ghorbanifar, the shadowy Iranian exile arms dealer who played a mysterious role in the Iran-contra deal.

"He was really excited when he got that," Danny's friend Ben Mason told me. "It was like, 'This is it!' "

Was this the magic document/smoking gun of the whole October Surprise/ B.C.C.I. /Iran-contra mega-conspiracy ?

That's what Danny implied to his friends. Mason, a musician who wrote songs with Danny, is still under the impression that the discovery of the check was a scoop, a Danny Casolaro exclusive. But, as it turns out, the check had been made public by the congressional Iran-contra committee in 1987 and was well known to reporters in the field.

Ben Mason says that the real bombshell significance of the check is in its link to another document Danny showed him on the eve of his West Virginia trip: a passport photo of an Iraqi named Hassan Ibrahim, a reputed arms dealer. There are those who say that it was Ibrahim whom Danny was going to meet in West Virginia, that it was most likely Ibrahim who was the mysterious "Middle Eastern-looking man" Danny was seen with in the bar of the Sheraton Martinsburg the day before he died. But thus far nothing solid has turned up to suggest the whole magic "Missing Link check" act was anything other than a creative leap of speculation by Danny— if not a deliberate charade.

It should also be recalled that Danny was a novelist. And that he'd spoken to a number of his friends about possibly telling the whole Cabazon-Octopus story as a novel. His theatrical "I cracked the case" declarations in that final week suggest the thriller-novelist imagination at work, setting the stage for the obligatory mysterious murder essential to every spy thriller—in this case, his own.

The timing for all this is notable. The sudden flurry of melodramatic "I cracked the case" calls began at the end of July, shortly after Danny's nonfiction-Octopus-book proposal was rejected by the first mainstream publisher he sent it to, Little, Brown. One friend Danny called that final week remembers him "planting the seeds" earlier that summer. "Danny began telling me about these death threats he was getting on his answering machine, ' ' the friend says. ' ' And I said, 'Look, Danny, the telephone company can find ways to trace these calls.' And he got very embarrassed."

Meaning he faked it? I ask.

"Right." This friend's theory is that Danny knew he was suffering from some progressive debility, like M.S.— there'd been several "accidents" involving Danny's muscle coordination. That Danny knew he wouldn't or couldn't ever get his book written, in part because he wasn't sure what he really had. "What he did is throw a whole issue up against the wall so that it would be sorted out in some fashion." The friend believes that if Danny staged his death to look like murder, it would be "tragic," but also a "very wild, courageous," desperate attempt to get the truth out.

Then why leave a suicide note? Ann Klenk asked. It's a cogent objection. If he'd left no note, or, she suggests, if he'd driven his car off a cliff, or jumped off a building, then people would be more likely to speculate he'd been run off the road like Karen Silkwood, or he'd been pushed off the building he "jumped" from. She thinks if it was suicide it may well have been because "Danny finally found it all a crock," because the whole thing was "LaRouche sickthink, doublethink," and disinformation.

Some, however, cite the note itself as a clue to the murder. The note read, "To those who I love the most: Please forgive me for the worst possible thing I could have done. Most of all I'm sorry to my son. I know deep down inside that God will let me in."

Several of Danny's friends have told me emphatically that that last line— "God will let me in"—is the tip-off. That Danny, a Catholic, knew that suicides could not be "let in" to the Kingdom of Heaven. And that by including that line, by saying he would be "let in," he was signaling—under the noses, or under the guns, of his captors—that his death was not suicide.

Perhaps. But the best response to Ann Klenk's contention that he wouldn't have left a suicide note if he had wanted people to think he'd been murdered is, well. . .the actual reaction to his death. A VICTIM OF "THE OCTOPUS"? asked Newsweek in a full-page takeout. THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH? asked Time. CLOUDED IN MYSTERY,People said darkly two months after his death.

And that's only the mainstream media. Among the conspiracy theorists it's already an article of faith that Danny was assassinated. "A government-sanctioned hit," declares Virginia McCullough, a California-based October Surprise-conspiracy specialist who exchanged notes with Danny before he died. She says Danny was just the latest of several reporters murdered because of their October Stirprise investigations— all ''government hits." Riconosciuto has added Danny's body to the fifty he says were murdered because of their proximity to him and his schemes. Danny's missing files have already begun to assume the all-purpose, prove-anything status of such other totems of conspiracy theory as the eighteen-minute gap on the Watergate tapes, the stolen papers of Howard Hughes, and the missing diary of Mary Meyer (the murdered J.F.K. mistress).

Several of Danny's friends have told me emphatically that the last line of his suicide note is the tip-off

And Danny himself—the reality of who he was and what he was really after— has begun to be subsumed by his enshrinement in the rolls of the martyrs to the great Octopoidal conspiracy in the sky.

That evening, in my room at the Sheraton Martinsburg, I climbed out of the bathtub. You stare too long at that cottage-cheese ceiling and you begin to see patterns coalescing in the pockmarked surface.

I sat down at the functional desk, trying to ignore the heavy-handed irony of the hotel's promotional card in front of me. It showed a picture of a knotted rope being stretched taut between two fists. This trip probably has you tied up in knots. . . . If you're at the end of your rope, give us a call. It was an ad for the hotel's massage service.

I tried to imagine Danny Casolaro at the end of his rope, stretched to the breaking point by his two sources, staring at that knotted cord.

For about the tenth time in the past twenty-four hours, I opened up Danny's last surviving notebook, one of those cheap composition notebooks with a speckled black-and-white cover. On the inside cover was a date: August 6, four days before Danny died. Wendy Weaver had just located it and supplied it to me, along with ten loose pages of notes which had not previously surfaced.

The notebook itself had only one page written on by Danny. There was only one substantive note:

Bill Hamilton Aug. 6

M.R. . . . also brought up Gilberto.

This is an apparent reference to the alleged Cali-coke-cartel kingpin who figured in the last murky Michael Riconosciuto quest Danny was pursuing

What caught my attention were the two names and phone numbers on that page, above the note, under the heading "To Call."

One name was "Jonathan," apparently Jonathan Beaty, the reporter who broke Time magazine's story on alleged B.C.C.I. hit squads.

The other was "Ron." Followed by my phone number.

He didn't call, but I suspect that if he'd reached me in the forty-eight hours before he left for Martinsburg he might well have told me some version of the "I finally cracked the case" riff. And I suppose if I'd heard it, it would have had the same effect on me: I would have been far more predisposed to believe the murder theory.

There is, of course, a legitimate, even compelling reason to pursue every piece of missing evidence, every discrepancy, every unexplained circumstance surrounding Danny's death—the reason Jack Anderson, dean of investigative columnists (who believes it's likely that Danny was murdered), gave: "Anytime a reporter is found dead while covering a story, it's a threat to all of us until the truth comes out." I don't think we should close the book on Danny Casolaro until we rule out the murder theory. Just as maybe a disturbing 5 percent of what Michael Riconosciuto says is credible, I'd say there's still a disturbing 5 percent chance that Danny Casolaro was murdered.

But I do have my own theory about what really killed Danny Casolaro. And the larger lesson his death has for us.

I believe that, in a sense, Danny was correct when he worried he might have been "targeted" with a "slow-acting brain virus." Not exactly the organic virus he worried about, not Mad Cow Disease or multiple sclerosis. Rather, I believe what destabilized Danny was an extremely virulent strain of the information virus we're suffering from collectively as a nation: Conspiracy Theory Fever. A slow-acting virus that has infected our ability to know the truth about the secret history of our age.

Don't get me wrong: I believe there are real conspiracies—Watergate was one; Iran-contra and C.I.A./Mafia plots against Castro were others. But those in the grip of Conspiracy Theory Fever seem compelled to believe that (to paraphrase the Flannery O'Connor title) everything that conspires must converge. That all conspiracies are tentacles of one big Octopoidal conspiracy that contains and explains everything.

The chief symptom of slow-acting brain viruses like Mad Cow Disease is that the brain becomes "spongiform," riddled with holes. The chief symptom of Conspiracy Theory Fever is that the brain becomes too sponge-like, too absorbent, indiscriminately accepting all facts and conjectures as equals, turning coincidence into causality, conjectures into certainties.

It's clear that toward the end Danny Casolaro fell victim to this kind of fever. He couldn't be content with the lowercase octopus of the Cabazon-reservation maze. He somehow had to convince himself and the rest of the world that he'd come upon the mega-conspiracy that explained everything. Even if he died trying.

Certainly a share of the blame for conspiracy fever must go to spooky sources like Riconosciuto and Clark Gable, to the LaRouchians, to paranoids-in-power like C.I.A. counterintelligence guru James Angleton, to the overly credulous Christie Institute types. And to the mainstream media, whose inadequate performance on the key scandal nexuses of our time have left the field open to the paranoids and opportunists who populate it with phantom Octopi.

Still, I think of Danny Casolaro not as a paranoid or opportunist but as a kind of Gatsbyesque conjurer, a feverish romantic illusionist.

The far-off glow Danny Casolaro yearned for was the illusory Ultimate Story, the one that would illuminate the source of the ongoing American nightmare. It was an illusion Danny loved so much he may well have given his life to make it seem true.

1990 (Oct 01) - Washington Post - "OBSESSED BY A THEORY OF CONSPIRACY"

Source - [HN01C5][GDrive]

By Sandra Sugawara

Sometimes in the still of the night, in the quiet of his living room or in the isolation of his car, Bill Hamilton will remember a forgotten conversation with a Justice Department official or a long ago phone call from a competitor or a colleague. And his mind will take that information, mull it over, turning it this way and that, as he tries to fit it into the puzzle that has become his life's obsession.

The puzzle: Why did a seemingly simple contract dispute over a software product evolve into a blood feud with the Justice Department, plunging his District computer software company, Inslaw Inc., into bankruptcy court for almost four years? And was somebody powerful trying to destroy his company?

"He's consumed by that one thought constantly," said his 19-year-old daughter Molly. "I'll see him in the living room and I can tell by the expression on his face that he's thinking about it. ... He's always working on it.".

The 49-year-old former National Security Agency analyst has spent much of his waking hours over the past several years trying to prove a conspiracy theory about his company's plight. Hamilton is convinced that Inslaw's primary product, a software system that enables the Justice Department to keep track of large numbers of legal cases, was the target of politically powerful people who sought to take it away from Inslaw and sell it themselves to the government.

Among his list of suspects are D. Lowell Jensen, a former top ranking Justice Department official, and Earl Brian, a member of Ronald Reagan's cabinet when he was governor of California and a friend of former attorney general Edwin Meese. All those on his list have denied any wrongdoing, in court documents and in interviews.

"To the best of my knowledge, I never met him and I have no knowledge of his operations," said Brian, who is chairman of United Press International and Infotechnology Inc. of New York. Brian said he believes that Hamilton is trying to recover money he has lost over the years "and any story he can come up with that is the least bitplausible hopefully will get him his day in court, from his perspective."

In the course of his battle, Hamilton has alienated some people, who claim that he is hostile to those who do not buy his theory. While acknowledging that Hamilton has a phenomenal memory for facts, they argue that he takes those facts and alters them to fit into his own agenda.

However, Hamilton also has marshaled an impressive list of supporters, including former attorney general Elliott Richardson and Charles R. Work, former president of the D.C. Bar, a lawyer's group. He also has gotten a number of sympathetic stories and editorials from a wide range of reporters and columnists who he regularly bombards with documents, memorandum and press releases.

Confounding opponents, skeptics and some considerable odds, Hamilton has won two crucial courtroom victories.

George F. Bason Jr., the bankruptcy judge who oversaw the Inslaw case, issued in 1987 a scathing condemnation of the Justice Department's behavior, declaring that the agency used "trickery, fraud and deceit" to steal Inslaw's computer software. Senior U.S. District Judge William B. Bryant of Washington backed up Bason's decision, awarding Hamilton $6.1 million in compensatory damages.

The Justice Department has appealed the case and will not discuss its details. A spokesman said that the department has requested that the matter be considered for mediation by the appeals court, in an attempt to settle the long-running dispute.

The decisions, however, did not establish the second half of Hamilton's theory, that Brian, Jensen and others were behind the alleged campaign against Inslaw. So last December Hamilton filed suit in U.S. District Court seeking to force Attorney General Richard Thornburgh and the Justice Department to conduct a "fair and thorough" investigation into his larger conspiracy charges. The latest suit will not bring him any money if he wins, just answers to his many questions.

A Justice Department spokesman said that the department already has looked into the accusations and found nothing. Hamilton argues that those investigations were inadequate. The Justice Department spokesman also noted that a Senate investigation failed to find evidence of a conspiracy against Inslaw within the Justice Department.

However, the Senate report also complained that the Justice Department was uncooperative in the investigation. Unhappy that the Senate probe was not more aggressive, Hamilton has convinced the House Judiciary Committee to launch one of its own. But the results of that investigation are expected to be several months away.

"A lot of people think Bill Hamilton is paranoid. I don't think so," said Leigh Ratiner, who represented Inslaw during the mid-1980s. "Bill Hamilton does not feel unreasonably persecuted. ... Given the facts, it's entirely reasonable to feel the way he does."

Ratiner explained Hamilton this way: "Bill is besieged by the need to find justice and vindicate his life, his management capabilities and look good in the eyes of his family and employees."

But Hamilton said the root of his obsession is justice, not personal vindication. His company will not get a fair break from the government until his enemies are exposed, he said.

"The thing that's important to understand," said Hamilton, "is not only are we determined to get a fair and thorough and independent investigation of this matter, but we have no choice."

When Hamilton says this, he does not pound his fist or shout. His indictment proceeds as a matter-of-fact litany of names, dates, places and conversations, as he peers intently at the listener from behind his wire-rimmed glasses, as if to ask: "Do you get it?"

Or sometimes, after he presents a laundry list of wrongs he believes were committed against Inslaw, a sad but youthful grin will break out from behind his graying beard and he'll quietly shake his head in disbelief.

Software Called Promis Hamilton's pride and joy is a pioneering computer software called Promis (Prosecutors Management Information System), which was designed to help prosecutors and lawyers keep track of their cases.

Initially, Promis was developed with federal funds from the now-defunct Law Enforcement Assistant Administration (LEAA), when Inslaw was the nonprofit Institute for Law and Social Research. But in the late 1970s, when it became obvious that LEAA would be phased out, Hamilton decided to turn Inslaw into a for-profit company and sell the software improvements to the government.

Hamilton, a Notre Dame University graduate and St. Louis native, said he was just a naive Midwesterner back in those days, but even then, he appreciated the value of connections. He hired Roderick Hills, former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, as one of his lawyers. A fortuitous choice, Hills introduced Hamilton to an attorney who would come to play a key role in Inslaw's fate: Elliot L. Richardson.

Richardson originally was brought in to serve on a board of directors, but as Inslaw became more and more entangled in its feud with the Justice Department, it was Richardson who would serve as troubleshooter. Richardson's frequent calls, sometimes from airports or late at night, often boosted Hamilton's morale. And it was Richardson who gave Inslaw's case legitimacy in Congress and elsewhere, according to many.

"The more I got into this case, the angrier I got," at what was happening to Inslaw, Richardson said. "It goes to the heart of the integrity of the Department of Justice itself." He added, "In any situation where there is this much evidence ... to just brush aside this evidence is destructive of public confidence."

In retrospect, Hamilton said there were warning signs almost as soon as Inslaw won the three-year, $10 million contract from the Justice Department in March 1982 to install Promis software in the offices of U.S. attorneys across the country. Almost immediately, attorneys for Inslaw and the Justice Department were fighting over which improvements the government had financed and thus owned, and which enhancements belonged to Inslaw.

Hamilton said the dispute became unusually contentious.

Back then, Hamilton thought his problems could be directly traced to the project manager overseeing the Promis contract, C. Madison Brewer III. From 1974 to 1976, Brewer worked for Inslaw. Hamilton said he fired Brewer; the government said he resigned. Brewer declined to comment on the Inslaw case.

Hamilton said he tried to avoid Brewer, letting other company officials negotiate with him, believing that might make things go more smoothly. But by February 1985, the Justice Department had withheld $1.2 million in payments to Inslaw, forcing the company to file a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition, staving off creditors while it attempted to regain control of its finances.

The entire family quickly became drawn into the survival fight.

"Bill and I are down here {at the office} from morning until late at night, and our kids are calling, saying that the sheriff was at the door looking to serve subpoenas to us," said a still angry Nancy Hamilton, Bill's wife, who joined the firm in late 1984 as vice president of administration. "It was very frightening for the kids."

After Richardson tried unsuccessfully for nearly a year to settle the dispute, the Hamiltons decided in 1986 to take the offensive, suing the Justice Department to recover the money they said they had lost.

Competing Program

Hamilton was forever digging through his old appointment books, memos and scribbled notes. One night, he said, he was jolted awake by the recollection of a forgotten conversation: A Justice Department official had confidentially told one of his attorneys that Brewer was not his only problem. At the time, Hamilton had assumed this was a reference to D. Lowell Jensen, a senior Justice Department official.

Before coming to the Justice Department, Jensen had been in the Alameda County, Calif., prosecutor's office, where he had supervised the development of a competing case-tracking software called Dalite. Jensen was disappointed when the Los Angeles district attorney's office and LEAA had opted for Promis, according to Hamilton. He now believes Jensen was part of the Justice Department group that allegedly wanted to get Inslaw.

Jensen, who is now a federal judge in San Francisco, declined to comment, through an assistant.

Seeing Shadows Everywhere

Before long, the Hamiltons acknowledge, they were seeing shadows everywhere.

"By this time, we were really distrusting," said Nancy Hamilton. The Hamiltons even became suspicious of the motives of the law firm they had hired, Dickstein Shapiro & Morin.

Hamilton began hearing from Ratiner, who was the Dickstein Shapiro attorney handling the case, that others in the firm felt Inslaw should stick to the narrow facts of the contract dispute and not go after Jensen.

The Hamiltons concluded that the Justice Department was pressuring the law firm to drop Jensen from the suit and that Dickstein Shapiro was selling out Inslaw to protect its ties with its more politically important clients. The law firm categorically denied Hamilton's assertions during a later court battle with Inslaw over legal fees and a Baltimore bankruptcy judge later ruled in favor of Dickstein Shapiro, clearing it of all malpractice accusations.

But it was these fears that caused the Hamiltons to take a most unusual step. They decided to file the suit themselves, before Dickstein Shapiro could make any changes in the legal papers.

On June 7, 1986, the Hamiltons told Ratiner of their plans. He urged them to wait. "Normally it's easy for a lawyer to intimidate a client," Ratiner said. "But not Bill."

Joined by their six children, ages 3 to 22, the Hamiltons piled into their 1963 Volkswagen and their Oldsmobile station wagon and headed down to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. To photograph the event, they brought along a girlfriend of their oldest daughter Patty.

"It was a big day in our lives because for the first time, we understood what was happening to us and we had an opportunity to protest, it was quite a milestone," said Nancy Hamilton. "It makes me emotional to talk about it even now."

In October, Ratiner called to say he was being fired from Dickstein Shapiro. The Hamiltons said they were convinced it was because of the Inslaw case. Ratiner, who now teaches international negotiations at American University and has a small company specializing in data entry services, declined to comment on the question.

Work, a longtime friend of Hamilton's, was able to work out a temporary truce but Dickstein Shapiro and Hamilton parted for good when the firm concluded that Hamilton had overstated the improvements to the software produced by Inslaw. "

Thus in 1987, Inslaw was preparing to go to trial against the government without a lawyer and in the middle of a bankruptcy reorganization.

A determined Hamilton convinced two lawyer friends in California to fly to Washington and help out with the deposition. For a week, the two lawyers slept in one of the children's rooms in the Hamilton's house and took depositions from morning until night.

When Hamilton's lawyer friends returned to California, he prevailed on Work to take his case.

Work and Hamilton had worked closely together in the early 1970s when Work was an assistant U.S. Attorney, supervising the installation of the LEAA-funded versions of the Promis software. Work also served as deputy administrator of LEAA under Richardson.

Favorable Ruling The ruling by bankruptcy judge Bason in September 1987 elated the Hamiltons.

Bason concluded that Brewer was biased against Inslaw and that the Justice Department's "failure to begin to investigate Inslaw's complaints was outrageous and indefensible. It constituted an institutional decision by the Department of Justice, consciously made at the highest level, simply to ignore serious questions of ethical impropriety ... "

Although the ruling was critical of Jensen, too, it did not spell out the conspiracy that Hamilton said he believes existed.

The celebration over the ruling had barely ended before Hamilton was back on the case, his suspicions inflamed anew. A journalist who knew about Hamilton's fight mentioned to him that the Justice Department had awarded a computer contract to a subsidiary of Hadron Inc., a Fairfax government contracting company.

The reporter explained that Brian owned a major share of Hadron. The reporter also reminded him that the Meeses' had invested in one of Brian's companies. Suddenly, the name Hadron rang a bell. He hung up the telephone, turned to his wife and said: " 'Hadron! I think that company called me to try to buy me in '83.' I went to my desk calender, one of the old ones, started going through those months until I found it: April 20, 1983, with the name Dominic Laiti and his telephone number."

Hamilton remembers the phone call this way: Laiti, then chairman of Hadron, told Hamilton he was interested in the Promis software and wanted to buy Inslaw to get it. Hamilton replied that the company wasn't for sale.

Hamilton quotes Laiti as replying: "We have political supporters at the highest level of the Reagan administration," and "We have ways of making you sell."

Laiti, who is now president of Globalink Language Service, said he never tried to buy Inslaw, nor does he remember ever talking to Hamilton.

Assistance From IBM Bason's ruling pulled Inslaw out of the ditch. On Dec. 31, 1988, the company emerged from bankruptcy with the assistance of International Business Machines Corp. The computer giant had long been interested in jointly marketing Promis software and loaned the company $2.5 million.

Almost a year later, the Hamiltons got more good news.

On Nov. 22, 1989, the Court of Appeals confirmed the bankruptcy court decision against the Justice Department.

The appeals court said "Inslaw performed its contract in a hostile environment that extended from the higher echelons of the Justice Department to the officials who had the day-to-day responsibility for supervising its work."

The court concluded that the government "acted willfully and fraudulently to obtain property that it was not entitled to under the contract."

Tracking Down Leads Inslaw is still at the 15th Street offices where it has been since 1974. The office is filled with sleek furniture, dressed-for-success employees and other trappings of a successful computer software company. It has developed new sales with state and local governments and law firms.

But Hamilton still spends a good part of each week trying to track down leads on the case. He rarely watches television and hates sports. Occasionally he rents videos. One of his favorite movies in recent times was "All the President's Men," about the Watergate conspiracy.

Hamilton also has become a repository of phone calls from people who feel wronged by the government. He said he listens to them all, no matter how far out, because he understands their frustrations and is more that willing to believe the abuses they describe.

Today, suspicion of the government runs in his marrow. Was he like this before? No, Hamilton said.

"It might be that nobody will know who the real Bill Hamilton is again," said Ratiner. "For instance, I can imagine that before this case, he might have been concerned about real people. But now, if you're not talking to him about Inslaw, you're kind of invisible."

Hamilton said he's sad about the times he could not be there for friends, for family and about the part of his life that has been robbed by this case.

"I'm angry," Hamilton finally said quietly, after first skirting around the issue of his feelings. "I have enough anger to last me for a generation."

1993 (Jan) Wired Magazine - "The INSLAW Octopus : SOFTWARE PIRACY, CONSPIRACY, cover-up, stonewalling, covert action: Just another decade at the Department of Justice"

Source : [HP004F][GDrive]

The House Judiciary Committee lists these crimes as among the possible violations perpetrated by "high-level Justice officials and private individuals":

  • Conspiracy to commit an offense

  • Fraud

  • Wire fraud

  • Obstruction of proceedings before departments, agencies and committees

  • Tampering with a witness

  • Retaliation against a witness

  • Perjury

  • Interference with commerce by threats or violence

  • Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) violations

  • Transportation of stolen goods, securities, moneys

  • Receiving stolen goods

Bill Hamilton, Inslaw & PROMIS


Bill Hamilton and his wife, Nancy Hamilton, start Inslaw to nurture PROMIS (Prosecutors Management Information Systems).

Why #1:

The DOJ, aware that its case management system is in dire need of automation, funds Inslaw and PROMIS. After creating a public-domain version, Inslaw makes significant enhancements to PROMIS and, aware that the US market for legal automation is worth $3 billion, goes private in the early '80s.

Why #2:

Designed as case-management software for federal prosecutors, PROMIS has the ability to combine disparate databases, and to track people by their involvement with the legal system. Hamilton and others now claim that the DOJ has modified PROMIS to monitor intelligence operations, agents and targets, instead of legal cases.

By late November, 1992 the nation had turned its attention from the election-weary capital to Little Rock, Ark., where a new generation of leaders conferred about the future. But in a small Washington D.C. office, Bill Hamilton, president and founder of Inslaw Inc., and Dean Merrill, a former Inslaw vice president, were still very much concerned about the past.

The two men studied six photographs laid out before them. "Have you ever seen any of these men?" Merrill was asked. Immediately he singled out the second photo. In a separate line up, Hamilton's secretary singled out the same photo.

Both said the man had visited Inslaw in February 1983 for a presentation of PROMIS, Inslaw's bread-and-butter legal software. Hamilton, who knew the purpose of the line-up, identified the visitor as Dr. Ben Orr. At the time of his visit, Orr claimed to be a public prosecutor from Israel.

Orr was impressed with the power of PROMIS (Prosecutors Management Information Systems), which had recently been updated by Inslaw to run on powerful 32-bit VAX computers from Digital Equipment Corp. "He fell in love with the VAX version," Hamilton recalled.

Dr. Orr never came back, and he never bought anything. No one knew why at the time. But for Hamilton, who has fought the Department of Justice (DOJ) for almost 10 years in an effort to salvage his business, once his co- workers recognized the man in the second photo, it all made perfect sense.

For the second photo was not of the mysterious Dr. Orr, it was of Rafael Etian, chief of the Israeli defense force's anti-terrorism intelligence unit. The Department of Justice sent him over for a look at the property they were about to "misappropriate," and Etian liked what he saw. Department of Justice documents record that one Dr. Ben Orr left the DOJ on May 6, 1983, with a computer tape containing PROMIS tucked under his arm.

What for the past decade has been known as the Inslaw affair began to unravel in the final, shredder-happy days of the Bush administration. According to Federal court documents, PROMIS was stolen from Inslaw by the Department of Justice directly after Etian's 1983 visit to Inslaw (a later congressional investigation preferred to use the word "misappropriated"). And according to sworn affidavits, PROMIS was then given or sold at a profit to Israel and as many as 80 other countries by Dr. Earl W. Brian, a man with close personal and business ties to then-President Ronald Reagan and then-Presidential counsel Edwin Meese.

A House Judiciary Committee report released last September found evidence raising "serious concerns" that high officials at the Department of Justice executed a pre-meditated plan to destroy Inslaw and co-opt the rights to its PROMIS software. The committee's call for an independent counsel have fallen on deaf ears. One journalist, Danny Casolaro, died as he attempted to tell the story (see sidebar), and boxes of documents relating to the case have been destroyed, stolen, or conveniently "lost" by the Department of Justice.

But so far, not a single person has been held accountable.

WIRED has spent two years searching for the answers to the questions Inslaw poses: Why would Justice steal PROMIS? Did it then cover up the theft? Did it let associates of government officials sell PROMIS to foreign governments, which then used the software to track political dissidents instead of legal cases? (Israel has reportedly used PROMIS to track troublesome Palestinians.)

The implications continue: that Meese profited from the sales of the stolen property. That Brian, Meese's business associate, may have been involved in the October Surprise (the oft-debunked but persistent theory that the Reagan campaign conspired to insure that US hostages in Iran were held until after Reagan won the 1980 election, see sidebar). That some of the moneys derived from the illegal sales of PROMIS furthered covert and illegal government programs in Nicaragua. That Oliver used PROMIS as a population tracking instrument for his White House-based domestic emergency management program.

Each new set of allegations leads to a new set of possibilities, which makes the story still more difficult to comprehend. But one truth is obvious: What the Inslaw case presents, in its broadest possible implications, is a painfully clear snapshot of how the Justice Department operated during the Reagan-Bush years.

This is the case that won't go away, the case that shows how justice and public service gave way to profit and political expediency, how those within the administration's circle of privilege were allowed to violate private property and civil rights for their own profit.

Sound like a conspiracy theorist's dream? Absolutely. But the fact is, it's true.

The Background

Imagine you are in charge of the legal arm of the most powerful government on the face of the globe, but your internal information systems are mired in the archaic technology of the 1960s. There's a Department of Justice database, a CIA database, an Attorney's General database, an IRS database, and so on, but none of them can share information. That makes tracking multiple offenders pretty darn difficult, and building cases against them a long and bureaucratic task.

Along comes a computer program that can integrate all these databases, and it turns out its development was originally funded by the government under a Law Enforcement Assistance Administration grant in the 1970s. That means the software is public domain ... free!

Edwin Meese was apparently quite taken with PROMIS. He told an April 1981 gathering of prosecutors that PROMIS was "one of the greatest opportunities for [law enforcement] success in the future." In March 1982, Inslaw won a $9.6 million contract from the Justice Department to install the public domain version of PROMIS in 20 US Attorney's offices as a pilot program. If successful, the company would install PROMIS in the remaining 74 federal prosecutors' offices around the country. The eventual market for complete automation of the Federal court system was staggering: as much as $3 billion, according to Bill Hamilton. But Hamilton would never see another federal contract.

Designed as a case-management system for prosecutors, PROMIS has the ability to track people. "Every use of PROMIS in the court system is tracking people," said Inslaw President Hamilton. "You can rotate the file by case, defendant, arresting officer, judge, defense lawyer, and it's tracking all the names of all the people in all the cases."

What this means is that PROMIS can provide a complete rundown of all federal cases in which a lawyer has been involved, or all the cases in which a lawyer has represented defendant A, or all the cases in which a lawyer has represented white-collar criminals, at which stage in each of the cases the lawyer agreed to a plea bargain, and so on. Based on this information, PROMIS can help a prosecutor determine when a plea will be taken in a particular type of case.

But the real power of PROMIS, according to Hamilton, is that with a staggering 570,000 lines of computer code, PROMIS can integrate innumerable databases without requiring any reprogramming. In essence, PROMIS can turn blind data into information. And anyone in government will tell you that information, when wielded with finesse, begets power. Converted to use by intelligence agencies, as has been alleged in interviews by ex-CIA and Israeli Mossad agents, PROMIS can be a powerful tracking device capable of monitoring intelligence operations, agents and targets, instead of legal cases.

At the time of its inception, PROMIS was the most powerful program of its type. But a similar program, DALITE, was developed under another LEAA grant by D. Lowell Jensen, the Alameda County (Calif.) District Attorney. In the mid-1970s, the two programs vied for a lucrative Los Angeles County contract and Inslaw won out. (Early in his career, Ed Meese worked under Jensen at the Alameda County District Attorney's office. Jensen was later appointed to Meese's Justice Department during the Reagan presidency.)

In the final days of the Carter administration, the LEAA was phased out. Inslaw had made a name for itself and Hamilton wanted to stay in business, so he converted Inslaw to a for-profit, private business. The new Inslaw did not own the public domain version of PROMIS because it had been developed with LEAA funds. But because it had funded a major upgrade with its own money, Inslaw did claim ownership of the enhanced PROMIS.

Through his lawyers, Hamilton sent the Department of Justice a letter outlining his company's decision to go private with the enhanced PROMIS. The letter specifically asked the DOJ to waive any proprietary rights it might claim to the enhanced version. In a reply dated August 11, 1982, a DOJ lawyer wrote: "To the extent that any other enhancements (beyond the public domain PROMIS) were privately funded by Inslaw and not specified to be delivered to the Department of Justice under any contract or other agreement, Inslaw may assert whatever proprietary rights it may have."

Arnold Burns, then a deputy attorney general, clarified the DOJ's position in a now-critical 1988 deposition: "Our lawyers were satisfied that Inslaw's lawyers could sustain the claim in court, that we had waived those [proprietary] rights."

The enhancements Inslaw claimed were significant. In the 1970s the public- domain PROMIS was adapted to run on Burroughs, Prime, Wang and IBM machines, all of which used less-powerful 16-bit architectures. With private funds, Inslaw converted that version of PROMIS to a 32-bit architecture running on a DEC VAX minicomputer. It was this version that Etian saw in 1983. It was this version that the DOJ stole later that year through a pre-meditated plan, according to two court decisions.

The Dispute Grows

On a gorgeous spring morning in 1981, Lawrence McWhorter, director of the Executive Office for US Attorneys, put his feet on his desk, lit an Italian cigar, eyed his subordinate Frank Mallgrave and said through a haze of blue smoke: "We're out to get Inslaw."

McWhorter had just asked Mallgrave to oversee the pilot installation of PROMIS, a job Mallgrave refused, unaware at the time that he was being asked to participate in Inslaw's deliberate destruction.

"We were just in his office for what I call a B.S. type discussion," Mallgrave told WIRED. "I remember it was a bright sunny morning.... (McWhorter) asked me if I would be interested in assuming the position of Assistant Director for Data Processing...basically working with Inslaw. I told him...I just had no interest in that job. And then, almost as an afterthought, he said 'We're out to get Inslaw.' I remember it to this day."

After Mallgrave refused the job, McWhorter gave it to C. Madison "Brick" Brewer. Brewer at one time worked for Inslaw, but was allowed to resign when Hamilton found his performance inadequate, according to court documents. Brewer was then hired into the Department of Justice specifically to oversee the contract of his former employer. (The DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility ruled there was no conflict of interest.) He would later tell a federal court that everything he did regarding Inslaw was approved by Deputy Attorney General Lowell Jensen, the same man who once supervised DALITE, the product which lost a major contract to Inslaw in the 1970s.

Brewer, who now refuses to comment on the Inslaw case, was aided in his new DOJ job by Peter Videnieks. Videnieks was fresh from the Customs Service, where he oversaw contracts between that agency and Hadron, Inc., a company controlled by Meese and Reagan-crony Earl Brian. Hadron, a closely held government systems consulting firm, was to figure prominently in the forthcoming scandal.

According to congressional and court documents, Brewer and Videnieks didn't tarry in their efforts to destroy Inslaw. After Inslaw's installation of public domain PROMIS had begun, the DOJ claimed that Inslaw, which was supporting the installation with its own computers running the enhanced version of PROMIS, was on the brink of bankruptcy. Although Inslaw was contracted to provide only the public domain PROMIS, the DOJ demanded that Inslaw turn over the enhanced version of PROMIS in case the company could not complete its contractual obligations. Inslaw agreed to this contract modification, but on two conditions: that the DOJ recognize Inslaw's proprietary rights to enhanced PROMIS, and that the DOJ not distribute enhanced PROMIS beyond the boundaries of the contract (the 94 US Attorney's offices.)

The DOJ agreed to these conditions, but requested Inslaw prove it had indeed created enhanced PROMIS with private funds. Inslaw said it would, and the enhanced software was given to the DOJ.

Once the DOJ had control of PROMIS, it dogmatically refused to verify that Inslaw had created the enhancements, essentially rendering the contract modification useless. When Inslaw protested, the DOJ began to withhold payments. Two years later, Inslaw was forced into bankruptcy.

As the contract problems with DOJ emerged, Hamilton received a phone call from Dominic Laiti, chief executive of Hadron. Laiti wanted to buy Inslaw. Hamilton refused to sell. According to Hamilton's statements in court documents, Laiti then warned him that Hadron had friends in the government and if Inslaw didn't sell willingly, it would be forced to sell.

Those government connections included Peter Videnieks over at the Justice Department, according to John Schoolmeester, Videnieks' former Customs Service supervisor. Laiti and Videnieks both deny ever meeting or having any contact, but Schoolmeester has told both WIRED and the House Judiciary Committee it was "impossible" for the pair not to know each other because of the type of work and oversight involved in Hadron's relationship with the Customs Service. Schoolmeester also said that because of Brian's relationship with then-President Reagan (see sidebar), Hadron was considered an "inside" company.

The full-court press continued. In 1985 Allen & Co., a New York investment banking concern with close business ties to Earl Brian, helped finance a second company, SCT, which also attempted to purchase Inslaw. That attempt also failed, but in the process a number of Inslaw's customers were warned by SCT that Inslaw would soon go bankrupt and would not survive reorganization, Hamilton said in court documents.

Broke and with no friends in the government, on June 9, 1986, Inslaw filed a $30 million lawsuit against the DOJ in bankruptcy court. Inslaw's attorney for the case (he was later fired from his firm under extremely suspicious circumstances – see sidebar) was Leigh Ratiner of the Wash- ington firm Dickstein, Shapiro & Morin. Ratiner chose bankruptcy court for the filing based on the premise that Justice, the creditor, had control of PROMIS. He explained recently, "It was forbidden by the BankruptcyAct for the creditor to exercise control over the debtor property. And that theory – that the Justice Department was exercising control – was the basis that the bankruptcy court had jurisdiction.

"As far as I know, this was the first time this theory had been used," Ratiner told WIRED. "This was ground-breaking. It was, in fact, a legitimate use of the code."

It worked, but to only a point. In 1987, Washington, D.C., bankruptcy judge George Bason ruled in a scathing opinion that Justice had stolen PROMIS through "trickery, fraud and deceit." He awarded Inslaw $6.8 million in damages and, in the process, found that Justice Department officials made a concerted effort to bankrupt Inslaw and place the company's enhanced PROMIS up for public auction (where it would then be fodder for Brian's Hadron). Bason's findings of fact relied on testimony from Justice employees and internal memoranda, some of which outlined a plan to "get" PROMIS software.

Bason cited the testimony of a number of the government's defense witnesses as being "unbelievable" and openly questioned the credibility of others. In his 216-page ruling, Bason cites numerous instances where testimony from government witnesses is contradictory. (In a private interview with WIRED he noted that as a bankruptcy judge he was precluded from bringing perjury charges against government employees, but he had recommended to various congressional panels that an inquiry was necessary.)

When the DOJ appealed, a federal district court affirmed Bason, ruling that there was "convincing, perhaps compelling support for the findings set forth by the bankruptcy court." But the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the case on a legal technicality, finding that the bankruptcy court had no jurisdiction to hear the damages claim. A petition to the Supreme Court in October 1991 was denied review.

The IRS got into the act as well. Inslaw was audited several times in the course of their battles with the Department of Justice. In fact, the day following the bankruptcy trial, S. Martin Teel, a lawyer for the IRS, requested that Judge Bason liquidate Inslaw. Bason ruled against Teel. As a coda to the lawsuit, Bason, a respected jurist, was not re-appointed to the bench when his term expired. His replacement? S. Martin Teel. (Bason has testified before Congress that the DOJ orchestrated his replacement as punishment for his rulings in the Inslaw case.)

But Inslaw's troubles did not end with bankruptcy. Frustrated by Attorney General Dick Thornburgh's stubborn refusal to investigate the DOJ or appoint an independent prosecutor, Elliot Richardson, President Nixon's former attorney general and a counsel to Inslaw for nearly 10 years (he retired this January), filed a case in U.S. District Court demanding that Thornburgh investigate the Inslaw affair. In 1990, the court ruled that a prosecutor's decision not to investigate – "no matter how indefensible" – cannot be corrected by any court. Another loss for Inslaw.

Broke and still attempting to revive itself, Inslaw has not refiled its suit, preferring to wait for a new administration and a new DOJ.

By this time, the spinning jennies of the conspiracy network had grasped the Inslaw story and were all-too-eager to put their stitch in the unraveling yarn. According to documents and affidavits filed during court cases and congressional inquiries, the Hamiltons and their lawyers began receiving phone calls, visits and memos from a string of shadowy sources, many of them connected to international drug, spy and arms networks. Their allegations: That Earl Brian helped orchestrate the October Surprise for then-candidate Reagan, and that Brian's eventual payment for that orchestration was a cut of the PROMIS action. Brian and the DOJ then resold or gave PROMIS to as many as 80 foreign and domestic agencies. (Brian adamantly denies any connection to Inslaw or the October Surprise.)

These sources, which include ex-Israeli spy Ari Ben Menashe and a computer programmer of dubious reputation, Michael Riconosciuto, allege that PROMIS had been further modified by the DOJ so that any agency using it could be subject to undetected DOJ eavesdropping – a sort of software Trojan Horse. If these allegations are true, by the late 1980s PROMIS could have become the digital ears of the US Government's spy effort – both internal and external. Certainly something the administration wouldn't want nosy congressional committees looking into.

The diaphanous web of more than 30 sources who offered information to Inslaw were not "what a lawyer might consider ideal witnesses," Richardson admitted. But their stories yielded a surprising consistency. "The picture that emerges from the individual statements is remarkably detailed and consistent," he wrote in an Oct. 21, 1991 New York Times Op Ed.

The Congressional Investigation

The string of lawsuits and widening allegations caught the eye of House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jack Brooks, D-Texas, who in 1989 launched a three-year investigation into the Inslaw affair. In the resulting report, the Committee suggested that among others, Edwin Meese, while presidential counselor and later as attorney general, and D. Lowell Jensen, a former assistant and deputy attorney general and now a US district judge in San Francisco, conspired to steal PROMIS.

"High government officials were involved," the report states. "... (S)everal individuals testified under oath that Inslaw's PROMIS software was stolen and distributed internationally in order to provide financial gain and to further intelligence and foreign policy objectives."

"Actions against Inslaw were implemented through the Project Manager (Brick Brewer) from the beginning of the contract and under the direction of high- level Justice Department officials," the report says. "The evidence...demonstrates that high-level Department officials deliberately ignored Inslaw proprietary rights and misappropriated its PROMIS software for use at locations not covered under contract with the company."

The Committee report accuses former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh of stonewalling congressional inquiries, turning a blind eye to the possible destruction of evidence within the Justice Department, and ignoring the DOJ's harassment of employees questioned by Congressional investigators.

Rep. Brooks told WIRED that the report should be the starting point for a grand jury investigation. The owners of Inslaw, Brooks said, were "ravaged by the Justice Department...treated like dogs."

Brooks' committee voted along party lines, 21-13, to adopt the investigative report on Aug. 11, 1992. The report asked then-Attorney General William Barr to "immediately settle Inslaw's claims in a fair and equitable manner" and "strongly recommends that the Department seek the appointment of an Independent Counsel."

As he did with the burgeoning Iraqgate scandal and as his predecessor did before him, Barr refused to appoint an independent counsel to the Inslaw case, relying instead on a retired federal judge, in this case Nicholas Bua, who reported to Barr alone. In other words, the DOJ was responsible for investigating itself.

"The way in which the Department of Justice has treated this case, to me, is inexplicable," Richardson told WIRED. "I think the circumstances most strongly suggest that there must be wider ramifications."

The Threads Unravel

Proof of those wider ramifications are just starting to leak out, as DOJ and other agency employees begin to talk, although for the most part they spoke to WIRED only on condition of anonymity.

On Nov. 20, 1990, the Judiciary Committee wrote a letter asking CIA director William Webster to help the committee "by determining whether the CIA has the PROMIS software."

The official reply on December 11th: "We have checked with Agency components that track data processing procurement or that would be likely users of PROMIS, and we have been unable to find any indication that the Agency ever obtained PROMIS software."

But a retired CIA official whose job it was to investigate the Inslaw allegations internally told WIRED that the DOJ gave PROMIS to the CIA. "Well," the retired official told WIRED, "the congressional committees were after us to look into allegations that somehow the agency had been culpable of what would have been, in essence, taking advantage of, like stealing, the technology [PROMIS]. We looked into it and there was enough to it, the agency had been involved."

How was the CIA involved? According to the same source, who requested anonymity, the agency accepted stolen goods, not aware that a major scandal was brewing. In other words, the DOJ robbed the bank, and the CIA took a share of the plunder.

But the CIA was not the only place where illegal versions of PROMIS cropped up. Canadian documents (held by the House Judiciary Committee and obtained by WIRED) place PROMIS in the hands of various Canadian government agencies. These documents include two letters to Inslaw from Canadian agencies requesting detailed user manuals – even though Inslaw has never sold PROMIS to Canada. Canadian officials now claim the letters were in error.

And, of course, the software was transferred to Rafael Etian's anti- terrorism unit in Israel. The DOJ claims it was the LEAA version, but former Israeli spy Ben Menashe and others claim it was the 32-bit version. According to Ben Menashe, other government departments within Israel also saw PROMIS, and this time the pitchman was Dr. Earl Brian. In a 1991 affidavit related to the bankruptcy proceedings, Ben Menashe claimed: "I attended a meeting at my Department's headquarters in Tel Aviv in 1987 during which Dr. Earl W. Brian of the United States made a presentation intended to facilitate the use of the PROMIS computer software."

"Dr. Brian stated during his presentation that all U.S. Intelligence Agencies, including the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice were then using the PROMIS computer software," Ben Menashe continued. While the credibility of his statements has been questioned, the Israeli government has admitted that Ben Menashe had access to extremely sensitive information during his tenure at the Mossad.

Asked why Israeli intelligence would have been so interested in Inslaw and PROMIS, Ben Menashe said, "PROMIS was a very big thing for us guys, a very, very big thing ... it was probably the most important issue of the '80s because it just changed the whole intelligence outlook. The whole form of intelligence collection changed. This whole thing changed it." PROMIS, Ben Menashe said, was perfect for tracking Palestinians and other political dissidents.

(Ben Menashe's superior during this period was Rafael Etian, or Dr. Ben Orr, as he was known during his 1983 visit to Inslaw.)

Apparently, Israel was not the only country interested in using PROMIS for internal security purposes. Lt. Col. Oliver North also may have been using the program. According to several intelligence community sources, PROMIS was in use at a 6,100-square-foot command center built on the sixth floor of the Justice Department. According to both a contractor who helped design the center and information disclosed during the Iran-Contra hearings, Oliver North had a similar, but smaller, White House operations room that was connected by computer link to the DOJ's command center.

Using the computers in his command center, North tracked dissidents and potential troublemakers within the United States as part of a domestic emergency preparedness program, commissioned under Reagan's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), according to sources and published reports. Using PROMIS, sources point out, North could have drawn up lists of anyone ever arrested for a political protest, for example, or anyone who had ever refused to pay their taxes. Compared to PROMIS, Richard Nixon's enemies list or Sen. Joe McCarthy's blacklist look downright crude. This operation was so sensitive that when Rep. Jack Brooks asked North about it during the Iran-Contra hearings, the hearing was immediately suspended pending an executive (secret) conference. When the hearings were reconvened, the issue of North's FEMA dealings was dropped.

A Thorough Cleaning at the White House?

If the case against the Department of Justice is so solid, why hasn't anything been done? The answer is timing. The next move belongs to retired Federal Judge Bua, since he was given oversight by Attorney General Barr in lieu of an independent counsel. And everyone, including Judge Bua, whose non-binding report was pending at WIRED's early December deadline, seems to be waiting for the new administration. Both the Clinton/Gore transition team and House majority leader Richard Gephardt had no comment on the Inslaw case pending Clinton's inauguration.

But a source close to Bua's investigation said the retired judge may present the DOJ with a bombshell. While not required to suggest a settlement, the source believes Bua will reportedly recommend that Inslaw be given between $25 million and $50 million for its mistreatment by the DOJ. (In last-minute negotiations, Inslaw attorney Elliot Richardson held brief meetings with DOJ officials in mid-December. Richardson pressed for a settlement ranging from $25 million to $500 million, but the DOJ balked, according to newspaper reports.)

But the question remains: Can the DOJ paper over the willful destruction of a company, the plundering of its software, the illegal resale of that software to further foreign policy objectives, and the overt obstruction of justice with $25 million?

Bua's final recommendation, expected sometime before Clinton's inauguration, is that the Inslaw Affair "requires further investigation," the source said. That conclusion mirrors the House Judiciary Committee's report. Privately, many Democrats, including Gephardt, have expressed a strong desire to get to the bottom of the Inslaw case. Rep. Brooks will be pushing for yet another investigation of the scandal, this time independent of the Justice Department, according to Congressional sources. Once Bua's report is out, the next and possibly final move will be up to a new president, a new Congress, and, possibly, a renewed sense of justice.

Earl W. Brian - The Consumate Insider

Dr. Earl W. Brian has made quite a career of riding Reagan and Meese's coattails. After a stint in Vietnam, where he worked as a combat physician in the unit that supplied air support for Operation Phoenix, Brian returned to California with a chest full of ribbons and a waiting job - as Secretary of Health - with then-Governor Reagan's administration. (Operation Phoenix, a well-documented CIA political assassination program, used computers to track "enemies" in Vietnam.)

In 1974, Brian resigned his cabinet post with Governor Reagan to run for the Senate against Alan Cranston. After his defeat, Brian moved into the world of business and soon ran into trouble. His flagship company, Xionics, was cited by the Security and Exchange Commission for issuing press releases designed to boost stock prices with exaggerated or bloated information. The SEC also accused Xionics of illegally paying "commissions" to brokers, according to SEC documents.

At the close of the Reagan governorship, Brian was involved in a public scandal having to do with - surprise - stolen computer tapes. The tapes, which contained records of 70,000 state welfare files, were eventually returned - Brian claimed he had a right to them under a contract signed in the last hours of the administration. (Brian said he just wanted to develop a better way of doing welfare business.)

In 1980, Brian formed Biotech Capital Corp., a venture capital firm designed to invest in biological and medical companies. Ultimately, Brian has invested in and owned several companies, including FNN (Financial News Network) and UPI, both of which ended up in dire financial straits.

Ursula Meese, who like her husband knew Brian from the Reagan cabinet, was an early investor in Biotech, using $15,000 (borrowed from Edwin Thomas, a Meese aide in the White House and another Reaganite from California) to purchase 2,000 shares on behalf of the Meese's two children, according to information made public during Meese's confirmation hearings for Attorney General.

It is those Reagan-Meese connections that continue to drag Brian into the Inslaw affair. For why would Brian, of all people, be the recipient of stolen PROMIS? PROMIS, after all, was a major part in government automation contracts estimated at $3 billion, according to Inslaw President Bill Hamilton. That's quite a political plum.

One possibility is Ed and Ursula Meese's financial connections to Brian. Another is a payoff for Brian's role in the October Surprise Even if he manages to evade the Inslaw allegations, Brian may still be in hot water. As of this writing, Financial News Network's financial dealings were under investigation by a Los Angeles Grand Jury, according to sources who have testified before it. - RLF

What A Surprise!

Earl W. Brian says he wasn't in Paris in October 1980, but investors were told a different story

As Inslaw President Bill Hamilton moved his company from non-profit status to the private sector in 1980, Ronald Reagan was running for President, negotiations for the release of the American hostages in Iran had apparently hit a snag, and Dr. Earl W. Brian was touring Canada touting stock in his newly acquired Clinical Sciences Inc.

History records that the hostages were released as Ronald Reagan took the Presidential oath of office, and that shortly thereafter, Inslaw received a $9.6 million contract from the Department of Justice. At the same time, Earl Brian was appointed to a White House post to advise on health-care issues. Brian reported directly to Ed Meese. He also arranged White House tours to woo investors in his government contracting company, Hadron Inc., according to a Canadian investment banker who took a tour.

But these seemingly random historical connections between Inslaw, Hadron, the Reagan White House and Earl Brian take on a new meaning when considered in light of the "October Surprise," the persistent allegation that the Reagan campaign negotiated with Iranian officials to guarantee that US hostages would not be released before Reagan won election in 1980.

The October Surprise theory hinges in part on alleged negotiations between the Reagan campaign and the Iranians on the weekend of Oct. 17-21, 1980, in Paris, among other places.The deal, according to former Iranian President Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr, ex-Israeli spy Ari Ben Menashe, and a former CIA contract agent interviewed by WIRED, included the payment of $40 million to the Iranians.

According to several sources, Earl Brian, one of Reagan's close advisors, made it quite clear that he was planning to be in Paris that very weekend. Ben Menashe, who says he was one of six Israelis, 12 Americans and 16 Iranians present at the Paris talks, said, "I saw Brian in Paris."

Brian was interviewed by Senate investigators on July 28, 1992, and denied under oath any connection with the alleged negotiations. He told the investigators he did not have a valid passport during the October 1980 dates. But according to court documents and interviews, Brian told Canadian investors in his newly acquired Clinical Sciences, Inc., that he would be in Paris that weekend. Brian acquired controlling interest in Clinical Sciences in the summer of 1980. Clinical Sciences was then trading at around $2 a share. Brian worked with Janos P. Pasztor, a vice president and special situations analyst with the Canadian investment bank of Nesbitt, Thomson, Bongard Inc., to create a market of Canadian investors for the stock.

Pasztor later testified in court documents that Brian said he would be in Paris the weekend of October 17 to do a deal with the Pasteur Institute (a medical research firm).

Two other brokers, Harry Scully, a broker based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and John Belton, a senior account executive with Nesbitt-Thomson from 1968 to 1982 who is suing Nesbitt-Thomson and Pasztor for securities fraud, also claim that they were told that Brian was in Paris that weekend.

But if Brian went to Paris to see the Pasteur Institute, he seems to have missed his appointment. An investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police into Clinical Sci-ences stock transactions revealed that the Pasteur Institute had never conducted business with, or even heard of Brian.

When asked by WIRED to elaborate on Brian's 1980 trip, Pasztor said, "These are political questions and I don't want to become involved." He refused further comment.Brian contends that the dates of his trip were in error and that he went to Paris in April 1981, not October 1980. But the passport he turned over to Senate investigators did not contain a French entry or exit stamp for April 1981.

Through his lawyers, Brian refused to be interviewed for this story. - RLF

Earl W. Brian: Closet Spook?

Michael Riconosciuto, a computer programmer and chemist who surfs the spooky fringe of the guns-'n'-money crowd, is currently serving a federal prison sentence for drug crimes. From his jail cell he has given several interviews claiming knowledge of Inslaw and the October Surprise (he also claims his jail term is the DOJ's way of punishing him for his knowledge). Much of what he claims cannot be verified, other statements have failed to be veri-fied conclusively.

But prior to his arrest in 1991, Riconosciuto provided the Hamiltons with an affidavit that once again brought Brian into the Inslaw picture. "I engaged in some software development and modification work in 1983 and 1984 on proprietary PROMIS computer software product," he stated. "The copy of PROMIS on which I worked came from the US Department of Justice. Earl W. Brian made it available to me through Wackenhut (a security company with close FBI and CIA connections) after acquiring it from Peter Videnieks, who was then a Department of Justice contracting official with the responsibility for PROMIS software. I performed the modifications to PROMIS in Indio, Calif.; Silver Springs, Md.; and Miami, Fla."

The modifications included a telecommunications "trap door" that would let the US Government eavesdrop on any other organization using the pirated software, Riconosciuto said.

Videnieks and Brian both told House investigators that they did not know Riconosciuto. After Riconosciuto was interviewed by House investigators, Videnieks refused to give Congress further interviews.

Although Brian denies any involvement with Inslaw or Riconosciuto, the House Judiciary Committee received a report from a special task force of the Riverside County, Calif., Sheriff's Office and District Attorney, stating that on the evening of Sept. 10, 1981, arms dealers, buyers and various intelligence operatives gathered at the Cabazon Indian Reservation near Indio, Calif., for a demonstration of night warfare weapons. The demonstration was orchestrated jointly by Wackenhut and the Cabazon Indian tribe. (Many published reports allege that the Wackenhut/Cabazon joint venture served as a weapons fencing operation for Oliver North's Iran- Contra dealings.)

According to Indio city police officers hired to provide security, those attending included Earl W. Brian, who was identified as "being with the CIA," and Michael Riconosciuto. - RLF

US Deputy Attorney General Jensen Lost Once To Inslaw

Could It Be He Wanted to Even The Score? At the time of its inception, PROMIS was the most powerful program of its type. But a similar program, DALITE, was developed under another LEAA grant by D. Lowell Jensen, the Alameda County, Calif., District Attorney. In the mid-1970s, the two programs vied for a lucrative Los Angeles County contract and Inslaw won out.

Early in his career, Attorney General-to-be Edwin Meese worked under Jensen at the Alameda County District Attorney's office. Jensen was later appointed as Deputy Attorney General into Meese's Justice Department.

C. Madison "Brick" Brewer, accused by the House Judiciary Committee of deliberately misappropriating PROMIS, testified in federal court that everything he did regarding Inslaw was approved by D. Lowell Jensen, the same man who once supervised DALITE.

Was Israel's PROMIS to Crush the Infitada?

Asked why Israeli intelligence would have been so interested in Inslaw and PROMIS, ex-Israeli spy Ari Ben Menashe said: "PROMIS was a very big thing for us guys, a very, very big thing ... it was probably the most important issue of the '80s because it just changed the whole intelligence outlook. The whole form of intelligence collection changed. This whole thing changed it." Why? PROMIS, Ben Menashe said, was perfect for tracking the Palestinian population and other political dissidents.

Did Oliver North Use PROMIS?

Apparently, Israel was not the only country interested in using PROMIS for internal security purposes. Lt. Col. Oliver North also may have been using the program. According to several intelligence community sources, PROMIS was in use at a 6,100-square-foot command center built on the sixth floor of the Justice Department. According to both a contractor who helped design the center and information disclosed during the Iran-Contra hearings, Oliver North had a similar, but smaller, White House operations room that was connected by computer link to the DOJ's command center.

Who Fired Inslaw's Lawyer?

As the Inslaw-DOJ battle was joined in bankruptcy court, Inslaw's chief attorney, Leigh Ratiner, was fired from Dickstein, Shapiro & Morin, the firm where he had been a partner for 10 years. His firing came after another Dickstein partner, Leonard Garment, met with Arnold Burns, then- deputy attorney general of the DOJ.

Garment was counsel to President Richard Nixon and assistant to President Gerald Ford. He testified before a Senate inquiry that he and Meese discussed the Inslaw case in October 1986, and afterward he met with Burns. Two days later Ratiner was fired.

The terms of the financial settlement between Ratiner and his firm were kept confidential, but WIRED has been told by ex-Israeli spy Ari Ben Menashe that Israeli intelligence paid to have Ratiner fired, and that the money was transferred through Hadron Inc., the same company that Earl Brian used to distribute illegal copies of PROMIS. Through informed sources, WIRED has independently confirmed portions of Ben Menashe's allegations.

Ben Menashe has told WIRED that he saw a memo in Israel, written in Hebrew, requesting funds for "a lawyer." He claims to have seen the memo at the office of a joint Mossad (Israeli CIA), Internal Defense Forces and Military committee specializing in Israeli-Iran relations. Israel admits that Ben Menashe handled communications at this level and therefore would have had access to such transmissions.

Ben Menashe said the money was used as Ratiner's settlement payment. "The money was transferred, $600,000, to Hadron," he said. As to why Hadron was used, Ben Menashe claims: "Because [Brian] was involved quite deeply." He said Ratiner was unaware of the source of the settlement funds.

Ratiner, contacted after the Ben Menashe interview, said he had never disclosed the amount of the separation settlement to anyone. He is limited contractually by his former firm from discussing any specifics of the firing. Asked if Ben Menashe's figures were correct, Ratiner said, "I can't comment because it would be the same as revealing them." WIRED located a deep background source who confirmed that the amount was "correct almost to the penny."

Ratiner said he was shocked at the allegations of money laundering. "Dickstein, Shapiro is the 10th largest firm in Washington and I had no reason to think it was other than reputable," he said. "Why is it that everyone who comes in contact with the Inslaw case becomes a victim?" - RLF

A Dead Journalist Raises Some Eyebrows

Among the many strong conclusions of the "House Judiciary Committee Report on the Inslaw Affair" was this rather startling and brief recommendation: "Investigate Mr. Casolaro's death."

Freelance reporter Danny Casolaro spent the last few years of his life investigating a pattern which he called "The Octopus." According to Casolaro, Inslaw was only part of a greater story of how intelligence agencies, the Department of Justice and even the mob had subverted the government and its various functions for their own profit.

Casolaro had hoped to write a book based on his reporting. His theories, which some seasoned investigative journalists have described as naive, led him into a Bermuda Triangle of spooks, guns, drugs and organized crime. On August 10th, 1991, he was found dead in a Martinsburg, W. Va., hotel room. Both wrists were deeply slashed.

Casolaro's death has only deepened the mystery surrounding Inslaw. Among the more unusual aspects of his death: He had gone to Martinsburg to meet an informant whose name he never revealed. He had called home the afternoon before his death to say he would be late for a family gathering. Martinsburg police allowed his body to be embalmed before family members were notified and warned hotel employees not to speak to reporters. The hotel room was immediately scrubbed by a cleaning service. Casolaro had told several friends and his brother that if anything ever happened to him, not to believe it was an accident. And his notes, which witnesses saw him carry into the hotel, were missing.

His death was ruled a suicide by Martinsburg and West Virginia authorities several months later. Friends, relatives and some investigators still cry foul.

A source close to retired Federal Judge Nicholas Bua (the Bush Administration appointee who is investigating Inslaw) said Bua will not come to any conclusions regarding Casolaro's fate. "I don't know if he committed suicide or if it was murder," the source said. "But the evidence is consistent with both theories. There are things that bother me but ... certainly no one can be indicted on the evidence that is available."

What does that mean? Either an independent investigation drums up more evidence, or the case may never be solved.

The House Judiciary Committee may have written what could be called the final word on Danny Casolaro's inexplicable death: "As long as the possibility exists that Danny Casolaro died as a result of his investigation into the Inslaw matter, it is imperative that further investigation be conducted." - RLF


Elliot Richardson, President Nixon's former attorney general (he was fired when he refused to fire Archibald Cox during the Watergate scandal) has been a counsel to Inslaw for nearly 10 years (he retired this January). In a Oct. 21, 1991 New York Times Op Ed, Richardson wrote: "This is not the first time I have had to think about the need for an independent investigator. I had been a member of the Nixon Administration from the beginning when I was nominated as Attorney General in 1973. Confidence in the integrity of the Watergate investigation could best be insured, I thought, by entrusting it to someone who had no prior connection to the White House. With Inslaw, the charges against the Justice Department make the same course even more imperative.

"When the Watergate special prosecutor began his inquiry, indications of the President's complicity were not as strong as those that now point to a broad conspiracy implicating lesser Government officials in the theft of Inslaw's technology."

A Well-Covered Coverup?

The House Committee Report contained some no-holds-barred language on the issue of stonewalling:

"One of the principle reasons the committee could not reach any definitive conclusion about Inslaw's allegations of a high criminal conspiracy at Justice was the lack of cooperation from the Department," the report states. "Throughout the two Inslaw investigations, the Congress met with restrictions, delays and outright denials to requests for information and to unobstructed access to records and witnesses.

"During this committee's investigation, Attorney General Thornburgh repeatedly reneged on agreements made with this committee to provide full and open access to information and witnesses ... the Department failed to provide all the documents subpoenaed, claiming that some of the documents ... had been misplaced or accidentally destroyed."

Rep. Jack Brooks and the House Committee On the Inslaw Case

The string of lawsuits and widening allegations caught the eye of House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jack Brooks, D-Texas, who in 1989 launched a three-year investigation into the Inslaw affair. In the resulting report, the Committee suggested that among others, Edwin Meese, while presidential counselor and later as attorney general, and D. Lowell Jensen, a former assistant and deputy attorney general and now a U.S. district judge in San Francisco, conspired to steal PROMIS.

"There appears to be strong evidence," the report states, "as indicated by the findings in two Federal Court proceedings as well as by the committee investigation, that the Department of Justice 'acted willfully and fraudulently,' and 'took, converted and stole,' Inslaw's Enhanced PROMIS by 'trickery fraud and deceit.' "

"While refusing to engage in good faith negotiations with Inslaw," the report continues, "Mr. Brewer and Mr. Videnieks, with the approval of high- level Justice Department officials, proceeded to take actions to misappropriate the Enhanced PROMIS software."

Furthermore, the report states, "several individuals have stated under oath that the Enhanced PROMIS software was stolen and distributed internationally in order to provide financial gain to Dr. Brian and to further intelligence and foreign policy objectives for the United States."

Rep. Brooks told WIRED that the report should be the starting point for a grand jury investigation. The owners of Inslaw, Brooks said, were "ravaged by the Justice Department ... treated like dogs."