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The GOP's $3 Billion Propaganda Organ - 2Part Two: Mysterious Money--Where Moon gets his cash has been a long-time mystery that few American conservatives have been eager to solve.
“Some Moonie-watchers even believe that some of the business enterprises are actually covers for drug trafficking,” wrote Scott and Jon Lee Anderson. “Others feel that, despite the disclosures of Koreagate, the Church has simply continued to do the Korean government’s international bidding and is receiving official funds to do so.”
In a typical response to a gun-running question by the Argentine newspaper, Clarin, Moon’s representative Ricardo DeSena responded, “I deny categorically these accusations and also the barbarities that are said about drugs and brainwashing. Our movement responds to the harmony of the races, nations and religions and proclaims that the family is the school of love.” [Clarin, July 7, 1996]
Without doubt, however, Moon’s organization has had a long record of association with organized crime figures, including ones implicated in the drug trade. Besides collaborating with Sasakawa and other leaders of the Japanese yakuza and the Cocaine Coup government of Bolivia, Moon’s organization developed close ties with the Honduran military and the Nicaraguan contras who were permeated with drug smugglers.
Moon’s organization also used its political clout in Washington to intimidate or discredit government officials and journalists who tried to investigate those criminal activities. In the mid-1980s, for instance, when journalists and congressional investigators began probing the evidence of contra-connected drug trafficking, they came under attacks from Moon’s Washington Times.
An Associated Press story that I co-wrote with Brian Barger about a Miami-based federal probe into gun- and drug-running by the contras was denigrated in an April 11, 1986, front-page Washington Times article with the headline: “Story on [contra] drug smuggling denounced as political ploy.”
When Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, conducted a Senate probe and uncovered additional evidence of contra drug trafficking, the Washington Times denounced him, too. The newspaper first published articles depicting Kerry’s probe as a wasteful political witch hunt. “Kerry’s anti-contra efforts extensive, expensive, in vain,” announced the headline of one Times article on Aug. 13, 1986.
But when Kerry exposed more contra wrongdoing, the Washington Times shifted tactics. In 1987 in front-page articles, it began accusing Kerry’s staff of obstructing justice because their investigation was supposedly interfering with Reagan-Bush administration efforts to get at the truth.
“Kerry staffers damaged FBI probe,” said one Times article that opened with the assertion: “Congressional investigators for Sen. John Kerry severely damaged a federal drug investigation last summer by interfering with a witness while pursuing allegations of drug smuggling by the Nicaraguan resistance, federal law enforcement officials said.” [Washington Times, Jan. 21, 1987]
Despite the attacks, Kerry’s contra-drug investigation eventually concluded that a number of contra units – both in Costa Rica and Honduras – were implicated in the cocaine trade.
“It is clear that individuals who provided support for the contras were involved in drug trafficking, the supply network of the contras was used by drug trafficking organizations, and elements of the contras themselves knowingly received financial and material assistance from drug traffickers,” Kerry’s investigation stated in a report issued April 13, 1989. “In each case, one or another agency of the U.S. government had information regarding the involvement either while it was occurring or immediately thereafter.”
Kerry’s investigation also found that Honduras had become an important way station for cocaine shipments heading north during the contra war.
“Elements of the Honduran military were involved ... in the protection of drug traffickers from 1980 on,” the report said. “These activities were reported to appropriate U.S. government officials throughout the period. Instead of moving decisively to close down the drug trafficking by stepping up the DEA presence in the country and using the foreign assistance the United States was extending to the Hondurans as a lever, the United States closed the DEA office in Tegucigalpa and appears to have ignored the issue.” [Drug, Law Enforcement and Foreign Policy – the Kerry Report – December 1988]
The Kerry investigation represented an indirect challenge to Vice President George H.W. Bush, who had been named by President Reagan to head the South Florida Task Force for interdicting the flow of drugs into the United States and was later put in charge of the National Narcotics Border Interdiction System.
In short, Bush was the lead official in the U.S. government to cope with the drug trade, which he himself had dubbed a national security threat.
If the American voters came to believe that Bush had compromised his anti-drug responsibilities to protect the image of the Nicaraguan contras and other rightists in Central America, that judgment could have threatened the political future of Bush and his politically ambitious family.
By publicly challenging press and congressional investigations of this touchy subject, the Washington Times helped keep an unfavorable media spotlight from swinging in the direction of the Vice President.
Drug EvidenceThe evidence shows that there was much more to the contra drug issue than either the Reagan-Bush administration or Moon’s organization wanted the American people to know in the 1980s.
The evidence – assembled over the years by investigators at the CIA, the Justice Department and other federal agencies – indicates that Bolivia’s Cocaine Coup operatives were only the first in a line of clever drug smugglers that tried to squeeze under the protective umbrella of Reagan’s favorite covert operation, the contra war. [For details, see Robert Parry, Lost History, or for a summary of the contra-drug evidence, see Consortiumnews.com's "Gary Webb's Death: American Tragedy."]
Other cocaine smugglers soon followed, cozying up to the contras and sharing some of the profits, as a way to minimize investigative interest by the Reagan-Bush law enforcement agencies.
The contra-connected smugglers included the Medellin cartel, the Panamanian government of Manuel Noriega, the Honduran military, the Honduran-Mexican smuggling ring of Ramon Matta Ballesteros, and the Miami-based anti-Castro Cubans with their connections to Mafia operations throughout the United States.
The drug traffickers’ strategy also worked. In some cases, U.S. intelligence officials bent over backwards not to take timely notice of contra-connected drug trafficking out of fear that fuller investigations would embarrass the contras and their patrons in the Reagan-Bush administration.
For instance, on Oct. 22, 1982, a cable written by the CIA’s Directorate of Operations stated, “There are indications of links between [a U.S. religious organization] and two Nicaraguan counter-revolutionary groups. These links involve an exchange in [the United States] of narcotics for arms.”
The cable added that the participants were planning a meeting in Costa Rica for such a deal. When the cable arrived, senior CIA officials were concerned. On Oct. 27, CIA headquarters asked for more information from a U.S. law enforcement agency.
The law enforcement agency expanded on its report by telling the CIA that representatives of the contra FDN and another contra force, the UDN, would be meeting with several unidentified U.S. citizens. But then, the CIA reversed itself, deciding that it wanted no more information on the grounds that U.S. citizens were involved.
“In light of the apparent participation of U.S. persons throughout, agree you should not pursue the matter further,” CIA headquarters wrote on Nov. 3, 1982. Two weeks later, after discouraging additional investigation, CIA headquarters suggested it might be necessary to knock down the allegations of a guns-for-drugs deal as “misinformation.”
The CIA’s Latin American Division, however, responded on Nov. 18, 1982, that several contra officials had gone to San Francisco for the meetings with supporters, presumably as part of the same guns-for-drugs deal. But the CIA inspector general found no additional information about that deal in CIA files.
Also, by keeping the names censored when the documents were released in 1998, the CIA prevented outside investigators from examining whether the “U.S. religious organization” had any affiliation with Moon’s network of quasi-religious groups, which were assisting the contras at that time.
Red FlagsAs Moon continued to expand his influence in American politics, some Republicans began to raise red flags.
In 1983, the GOP’s moderate Ripon Society charged that the New Right had entered “an alliance of expediency” with Moon’s church. Ripon’s chairman, Rep. Jim Leach of Iowa, released a study which alleged that the College Republican National Committee “solicited and received” money from Moon’s Unification Church in 1981. The study also accused Reed Irvine’s Accuracy in Media of benefiting from low-cost or volunteer workers supplied by Moon.
Leach said the Unification Church has “infiltrated the New Right and the party it wants to control, the Republican Party, and infiltrated the media as well.” Leach’s news conference was disrupted when then-college GOP leader Grover Norquist accused Leach of lying. (Norquist is now a prominent conservative leader in Washington with close ties to the highest levels of George W. Bush’s administration.)
Despite periodic fretting over Moon’s influence, American conservatives continued to accept his deep-pocket assistance. When White House aide Oliver North was scratching for support for the Nicaraguan contras, for instance, the Washington Times established a contra fund-raising operation.
By the mid-1980s, Moon’s Unification Church had carved out a niche as an acceptable part of the American Right. In one speech to his followers, Moon boasted that “without knowing it, even President Reagan is being guided by Father [Moon].”
Yet, Moon also made clear that his longer-range goal was destroying the U.S. Constitution and America’s democratic form of government.
“History will make the position of Reverend Moon clear, and his enemies, the American population and government will bow down to him,” Moon said, speaking of himself in the third person. “That is Father’s tactic, the natural subjugation of the American government and population.”
In September 1987, conservative columnist Andrew Ferguson cited some of Moon’s anti-American sentiments as cause for concern, despite his appealing anticommunism.
“There is little else in Unificationism that American conservatives will find compelling,” except, of course, the money, Ferguson wrote in the American Spectator. “They’re the best in town as far as putting their money with their mouth is,” Ferguson quoted one Washington-based conservative as saying.
Though Moon’s money sources remained shrouded in secrecy, his cash undeniably gave the Right an edge over its political adversaries.
After the Iran-Contra scandal exploded in fall 1986, the Washington Times and other Moon-related organizations rushed to the battlements to defend Reagan’s White House and Oliver North.
Ronald S. Godwin, who was a link between Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority and Moon’s Washington Times, raised funds for North through a group called the Interamerican Partnership, which was a forerunner to North’s own Freedom Alliance. [See Common Cause Magazine, Fall 1993]
Another Moon-connected group, the American Freedom Coalition, went to bat for North. According to Andrew Leigh, who worked for a Moon front called Global Image Associates, AFC broadcast a pro-North video, “Ollie North: Fight for Freedom,” more than 600 times on more than 100 TV stations.
Leigh quoted one AFC official as saying that AFC received $5 million to $6 million from business interests associated with Moon. AFC also bragged that it helped put George H.W. Bush into the White House in 1988 by distributing 30 million pieces of political literature. [Washington Post, Oct. 15, 1989]
When Vice President Bush was struggling in his 1988 presidential campaign against Democratic nominee, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, Moon’s Washington Times came to the rescue again publishing a slanted story about Dukakis’s mental health.
Times reporter Gene Grabowski had interviewed a Dukakis relative and asked whether Dukakis had ever sought psychiatric help during a low period in his life. “It’s possible, but I doubt it,” the relative responded.
Grabowski’s editors, however, snipped out the phrase “but I doubt it” while keeping the phrase “it’s possible” and then spotlighting the story under a headline, “Dukakis Kin Hints at Sessions.”
Dukakis’s supposedly questionable mental health became an important theme for the Republicans. President Reagan personally underscored the message by referring to Dukakis as a “cripple,” which forced more mainstream publications to reprise the suspicions about the suspected psychiatric treatment.
The story spread doubts among the electorate about Dukakis’s fitness for office. For his part, Grabowski, a former Associated Press reporter, resigned in protest of the distortion, but by then the damage to Dukakis was done.
Weird BehaviorBut even as Moon consolidated his influence in Washington during the 12-year Reagan-Bush reign, Moon’s weird behavior was splitting the church leadership and making some American conservatives nervous.
In 1989, published reports disclosed that Moon had declared that one of his sons, Heung Jin Moon who died in a car crash in 1984, had come back to life in the body of a church member from Zimbabwe.
The muscular African – known inside the church as the “black Heung Jin” – then compelled church leaders to stand before him and engage in humiliating self-criticisms, sometimes making them sing songs.
Commenting on the beating of Pak, former Washington Times editor William P. Cheshire wrote, “Where the Moonies are concerned, it seems clear, we are dealing with something besides just an exotic cult. The Pak beating smacks strongly of Jonestown [the site of a mass murder-suicide by a religious cult].
“And with Moon lavishing hundreds of millions of dollars a year on newspapers, magazines and political-action groups in this country and abroad, such occult and aggressive practices give rise to secular apprehensions. If the ‘reincarnation’ doesn’t rock those conservative shops that have been taking money from Moon, not even fire-breathing dragons would disturb them.” [San Diego Union-Tribune, April 9, 1989]
But Moon’s organization had proved itself too valuable to be cast aside, regardless of the strange behavior and the questionable sources of money. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Washington Times was the daily billboard where conservatives placed their messages to each other and to the outside world.
In 1991, when conservative commentator Wesley Pruden was named the new editor of the Washington Times, President George H.W. Bush invited Pruden to a private White House lunch. The purpose, Bush explained, was “just to tell you how valuable the Times has become in Washington, where we read it every day.” [Washington Times, May 17, 1992]
Government documents showed that the Reagan-Bush team was shielding Moon’s operation from investigations at the same time Moon’s newspaper was doing the same for the administration.
According to Justice Department documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, federal authorities were rebuffing hundreds of requests – many from common citizens – for examination of Moon’s foreign ties and money sources.
Typical of the responses was a May 18, 1989, letter from Assistant Attorney General Carol T. Crawford rejecting the possibility that Moon’s organization be required to divulge its foreign-funded propaganda under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA).
“With respect to FARA, the Department is faced with First Amendment considerations involving the free exercise of religion,” Crawford said. “As you know, the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom is not limited to the traditional, well-established religions.”
A 1992 PBS documentary about Moon’s political empire and its free-spending habits started another flurry of citizen demands for an investigation, according to the Justice Department files.
One letter from a private citizen to the Justice Department stated, “I write in consternation and disgust at the apparent support, or at least the sheltering, of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, a foreign agent ... who has subverted the American political system for the past 20 years. ... Did Reagan and/or Bush receive financial support from Moon or his agents during any of their election campaigns in violation of federal law?”
Another letter complained that “apparently Moon gave the Bush and Reagan campaigns millions of dollars in support and helped fund the [Nicaraguan] contras as well as sponsoring rallys [sic] in 50 states to support the Persian Gulf war. No wonder the Justice Department turns a blind eye?”
“I feel it is necessary to find out who is financing the operation and why other countries are trying to direct the policies of the United States,” wrote another citizen. “If even one-half of the allegations are true, Moon and his assistants belong in jail rather than being welcomed and supported at the highest level of Washington.”
As public demands mounted for Moon and his front groups to register as foreign agents, the Justice Department added a new argument to its reasons to say no. In an Aug. 19, 1992, letter, Assistant Attorney General Robert S. Mueller dismissed a suggestion that the Moon-backed American Freedom Council should register under FARA because Moon, a South Korean citizen, had obtained U.S. resident-alien status – or a “green card.”
Mueller, who is now FBI director, wrote that “in the absence of a foreign principal, there is no requirement for registration. … The Reverend Sun Myung Moon enjoys the status of permanent resident alien in the United States and therefore does not fall within FARA’s definition of foreign principal. It follows that the Act is not applicable to the [American Freedom] Council because of its association with Reverend Moon.”
Ironically, Mueller, who went out of his way to find reasons not to investigate Moon, touts in his official FBI biography his background investigating and prosecuting “major financial fraud, terrorist and public corruption cases, as well as narcotics conspiracies and international money launderers.”
Hidden MoneySome prominent figures on the American Right went to great lengths to conceal their financial connections to Moon, making sure his assistance passed through several hands before it got to their pockets.
For instance, on Jan. 28, 1995, a beaming Rev. Jerry Falwell told his Old Time Gospel Hour congregation news that seemed heaven sent. The rotund televangelist hailed two Virginia businessmen as financial saviors of debt-ridden Liberty University, the fundamentalist Christian school that Falwell had made the crown jewel of his Religious Right empire.
Reber and Thomas earned Falwell’s public gratitude by excusing the Lynchburg, Virginia, school of about one-half of its $73 million debt. In the late 1980s, that flood of red ink had forced Falwell to abandon his Moral Majority political organization and the debt nearly drowned Liberty University in bankruptcy.
Reber and Thomas came to Falwell’s rescue in the nick of time. Their non-profit Christian Heritage Foundation of Forest, Virginia, snapped up a big chunk of Liberty’s debt for $2.5 million, a fraction of its face value. Thousands of small religious investors who had bought church construction bonds through a Texas company were the big losers.
But Falwell was joyous. He told local reporters that the moment was “the greatest single day of financial advantage” in the school’s history.
Left unmentioned in the happy sermon was the identity of the bigger guardian angel who had appeared at the propitious moment to protect Falwell’s financial interests. Falwell’s secret benefactor was Sun Myung Moon, the self-proclaimed South Korean messiah who is controversial with many fundamentalist Christians because of his strange Biblical interpretations and his alleged brainwashing of thousands of young Americans, often shattering their bonds with their biological families.
Covertly, Moon had helped bail out Liberty University through one of his front groups which funneled $3.5 million to the Reber-Thomas Christian Heritage Foundation, the non-profit that had purchased the school’s debt.
I discovered this Moon-Falwell connection while looking for something else: how much Moon’s Women’s Federation for World Peace had paid former President George H.W. Bush for a series of speeches in Asia in 1995. I obtained the federation’s Internal Revenue Service records but discovered that Bush’s undisclosed speaking fee was buried in a line item of $13.6 million for conference expenses.
There was, however, another listing for a $3.5 million “educational” grant to the Christian Heritage Foundation. A call to the Virginia corporate records office confirmed that the foundation was the one run by Reber and Thomas.
In a subsequent interview, the Women Federation’s vice president Susan Fefferman confirmed that the $3.5 million grant had gone to “Mr. Falwell’s people” for the benefit of Liberty University. “It was Dan Reber,” she said. But she could not recall much else about the grant, even though it was by far the largest single grant awarded by the federation that year.
For details on the grant, Fefferman referred me to Keith Cooperrider, the federation’s treasurer. Cooperrider was also the chief financial officer of Moon’s Washington Times and a longtime Unification Church functionary.
“If the American Atheists Society or Saddam Hussein himself ever sent an unrestricted gift to any of my ministries,” Falwell said, “be assured I will operate on Billy Sunday’s philosophy: The Devil’s had it long enough, and quickly cash the check.” [See “Moon-Related Funds Filter to Evangelicals,” Christianity Today, posted on Web, Feb. 9, 1998]
But the public record also reveals that Falwell solicited Moon’s help in bailing out Liberty University. In a lawsuit filed in the Circuit Court of Bedford County – a community in southwestern Virginia – two of Reber’s former business associates alleged that Reber and Falwell flew to South Korea on Jan. 9, 1994, on a seven-day “secret trip” to meet “with representatives of the Unification Church.”
The court document states that Reber and Falwell were accompanied to South Korea by Ronald S. Godwin, who had been executive director of Falwell’s Moral Majority before signing on as vice president of Moon’s Washington Times.
According to Bedford County court records, Reber, Falwell and Godwin also had discussions at Liberty University in 1993 with Dong Moon Joo, one of Moon’s right-hand men and president of the Washington Times.
Though Reber was queried about the purposes of the Moon-connected meetings in the court papers, he settled the business dispute before responding to interrogatories or submitting to a deposition. He denied any legal wrongdoing.
But Moon’s secret financial ties to Falwell raised some sensitive political questions since the bail-out came at a time when Falwell was collaborating with other conservatives who were producing videos that accused President Bill Clinton of murder and cocaine trafficking.
The videos – “Circle of Power” and “The Clinton Chronicles” – were produced by Pat Matrisciana and Larry Nichols and were distributed nationwide by Falwell’s Liberty Alliance.
Reaching hundreds of thousands of viewers, the videos helped stoke the fires of the “Clinton scandals,” which kept the Clinton administration on the political defensive for much of its eight years and helped create the hostile environment that made the Clinton impeachment possible in 1998.
Did the $3.5 million from Moon’s front group give Falwell the means to become a national pitchman for the conspiracy videos? Did Moon help bankroll the scandal mongering as part of a design to cripple the Clinton Presidency and pave the way for an administration more to Moon’s liking?
Although the most serious allegations in the videos lacked any credible evidence, the Christian Right’s Citizens for Honest Government continued to peddle the allegations of Clinton-connected cocaine smuggling through the Mena, Arkansas, airport in another video, “The Mena Cover-up.”
In a promotional letter, the group’s president, Pat Matrisciana, declared that “with Bill Clinton in the White House, it is entirely possible – even probable – that U.S. government policy at the highest levels is being controlled by the narcotics kingpins in Colombia.”
The irony of the allegation, however, was that Falwell’s financial angel – Sun Myung Moon – was the one with mysterious connections to South American drug lords dating back at least to his cozy relations with Bolivia’s Cocaine Coup in the early 1980s.
Moon, whose history also included close ties to the Asian yakuza crime organization and longstanding allegations of money laundering, had achieved extraordinary influence at the highest levels of the U.S. government by funneling billions of dollars into conservative and Republican causes.
Still, the Mena accusations against Clinton were kept alive through the 1990s by right-wingers although a two-year investigation by the Republican-controlled House Banking Committee failed to turn up any incriminating evidence.
“We haven’t come up with anything to support these allegations concerning then-Governor Clinton,” committee spokesman David Runkel told me. But the Republican-controlled committee held off on publishing a long-promised report that would have formally cleared Clinton.
Falwell reached a conclusion, too, that the “Clinton Chronicles” may have been unfair, but he still refused to apologize to Clinton. On CNBC’s “Rivera Live” on March 25, 1998, Falwell said, “If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t do it, and I’m sorry I did.”
But he immediately sought to push the blame back onto Clinton: “The fact is the President has over these last five years, there’s just a continual cloud. And – I would think that he himself would want to get this behind him and deal with it forthrightly.”
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.' This article is republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.
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This story was published on December 27, 2006.