John Meier-The Age of Secrets

A Look Inside the Age of Secrets

CRITICAL COMMENTS

“John Meier’s story is really interesting and, I believe, important. I’ve spent a number of years studying the American cryptocracy and there is no question in my mind that Meier is dead-right when he says that the CIA was running the Hughes empire. So, too, with Intertel. I was the first journalist to write about the firm (in Harper’s), and it’s apparent to me, as it is to Meier, that its business plan was drawn up in Langley.

That said, this is complicated stuff. The way I see it, American politics from 1954-74 is a continuum defined by the struggle between the Richard Nixon apparat and the Kennedy machine, with the Howard Hughes empire serving as a fulcrum in what amounted to a secret war for the country’s soul. CIA spooks, mobsters on three coasts and a coven of Texas oligarchs built the “magic box”. *

John Meier’s story is a fungible one in the sense that it could serve as the basis for a rock-’em-sock-’em tv series, motion picture or documentary about the Deep State. By that, I mean the cryptocracy that has evolved since the Cold War along a political continuum defined by assassination, surveillance and cover-up.

The Howard Hughes organization, with its ties to Texas oil, Las Vegas gambling, Hollywood and the CIA was the secret fulcrum of that continuum, mediating a political struggle that, by turns, saw the Kennedy’s devastated by murder and the Nixon camp destroyed by what looks, increasingly, like a soft coup d’etat. In this, John Meier was a Zelig-like figure, at once a witness and a participant, so well-connected – and so deeply involved – that it could only have ended in exile or a grave.

The focal point of that tale, from which everything else proceeds, is obviously the secret war for the Hughes empire.

If it were a film, it would be as exciting as The Bourne Identity, and I think it would pull in the same audience (and for many of the same reasons) that both The Bourne Identity and JFK did.”

-New York Times Bestselling Author Jim Hougan

Edit Note:* In international political terms, a MAGIC BOX is a “cover” organization used by a nation’s spy apparatus. A MAGIC BOX allows its inhabitants to hide anything they possess or do, regardless of the importance of what is being done or hidden. The Hughes Organization supplied the CIA with a very special MAGIC BOX. It is from within this MAGIC BOX that the CIA and its corporate and political friends operate. When John Meier opted out of the MAGIC BOX, he became an impediment to its continued existence.

AGE OF SECRETS

The Conspiracy that Toppled Richard Nixon

and the Hidden Death of Howard Hughes

Written By Gerald Bellett

Copyright © January 2015 John Meier All rights reserved.

Second Edition

No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording or any information storage and retrieval system without permission in writing from the publisher.

ISBN: 978-1-936759-39-2

John Meier’s e-mail address: john.meier@meier.com

Las Vegas Free Press LLC

Design by Blake Whiteside

Print Production Specialist Berry Hess

Printed in the United States of America

CONTENTS

Preface

1. Beginnings of Intrigue

2. Dialogues with the Great Enigma

3. The Atomic Energy Commission

4. The CIA Takes Notice

5. Hughes Cleans House

6. The Jennifer Project

7. Flight

8. The Bait

9. Hoax

10. The Plumbers

11. Hear No Evil

12. Damage Control

13. International Intrigue

14. The Gonzales Affidavit

15. The Secret of Cay Sal

16. The Canada Files

17. Trouble in Tonga

18. Canada Sells Out

19. Presumed Guilty

20. Framed For Murder

21. In Search of Justice

22. The Elusive John Ross

Afterword

Notes

Glossary-Index

About Author

Excerpt from John Meier’s diary

on the Robert F. Kennedy Assassination

PREFACE

Under a government which imprisons any unjustly the true place for a just man is also a prison.

-Henry David Thoreau

The Watergate burglary can only be understood if one knows the actual target being sought by that group of CIA mercenaries captured inside the offices of the Democratic National Committee. Without this information the unprecedented fall of a presidency would simply appear as a scandal caused by a petty act of breaking and entering.

Identifying the prize worth risking the ruin of America’s highest official would undoubtedly settle the greatest unresolved issue: did Nixon know of and approve the operation? Did he act as a political mastermind, dispatching a gang of thieves into the night while sitting in the Oval Office awaiting the haul?

No single event in American political history has prompted such scrutiny as the Watergate burglary. It has inspired books by the score, articles and newspaper stories by the thousands. The televised inquisition of its cast of characters held a nation spellbound. One by one the guilty went to prison, leaving behind a host of riddles and no satisfactory answer to one of the greatest whodunits in modern politics. It was a symphony with no finale. It has remained so for twenty-two years.

In Cold War days, while the Soviet Empire still existed, Western democracies perpetuated the image of communist bloc governments as sufficiently hostile to human freedom to pit the apparatus of the State against dissenting individuals. Heroes have been made out of Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov for their fortitude in resisting.

Ironically, in the United States of America — for many a symbol of freedom — the government marshalled equally sweeping forces to crush dissent.

Where openly repressive regimes silenced their dissidents through committal to psychiatric wards and banishment, the American way led to more subtle forms of harassment by government agencies and ruin through the courts. If one method was cruder, it was only because it operated in a climate in which there was no need to maintain an illusion of freedom while punishing enemies of the state. John Herbert Meier’s story is the shocking account of what happened to one American dissenter.

Meier was no trivial opponent of Nixon’s, as were most of those on the infamous Enemies List; he was not crushed because of petty acts against the presidency — the effects of his actions were monumental. From 1966 to 1970 he was Howard Hughes’ most trusted courtier, a paladin who undertook strange and marvelous missions, many into Nixon’s camp. From this ease of entry would arise the means to subvert Richard Nixon, the 37th President of the United States. Meier led Nixon into the folly of Watergate, destroyed his second term and was responsible for his downfall. Even before Nixon fell — disgraced, with his aides and advisors jailed almost en masse — Meier was singled out for punishment. Nixon’s resignation brought no relief, as the tailings of his supporters were still powerfully placed in government. Also seeking vengeance were the CIA and the enigmatic Howard Hughes organization.

Watergate was a set-up, a classic ploy as old as espionage itself. In its favor it had simplicity of execution, an irresistible bait and a spy on the inside. It was flawless. So completely were the anti-Nixon conspirators in control, that they knew an intrusion into the Democratic Party’s national headquarters was being plotted yet did nothing to prevent it. Indeed, the odor of entrapment was so strong in the aftermath of the arrests that most of those who went to jail did so feeling betrayed. As for the burglary’s masterminds, they melted away, sharing with their enemies an unwillingness to disclose their part in the affair.

Because of this silence, gaps remain in the record of Watergate. Not only is the target of the burglary mysteriously obscured but also absent is one crucial participant in the drama. Watergate had a cast of hundreds, but only three stars — Richard Nixon, Howard Hughes and John Meier. For the past twenty years John Meier has been the missing man.

Meier’s name has cropped up in many books written about Hughes or the Watergate affair: Empire, The Life, Legend and Madness of Howard Hughes; Citizen Hughes; Spooks; Hoax; Howard Hughes in Las Vegas; High Stakes; Confessions of a Secret Agent; Secret Agenda; The Haldeman Diaries; The Hughes Papers and Howard Hughes — The Secret Life. Almost a chapter is devoted to him in John Ehrlichman’s autobiography, Witness To Power — his name is found in dozens of pages of transcripts that record the Senate Watergate Committee deliberations. In April 1992, Robert Maheu’s autobiography Next To Hughes was published with unflattering references to his arch-rival.

Yet none of it describes the part Meier played in Nixon’s downfall. It was Meier who poured the poison into Nixon’s ear which led to Watergate. Meier’s escapades did not stop there. He would, in time, penetrate the heart of one of the greatest secrets that Hughes’ mysterious CIA-infested empire possessed.

Although Meier fled the United States to escape his enemies’ wrath, their retribution followed. He was a gifted entrepreneur who owned a film company, thoroughbreds, a shopping center, an environmental foundation, a computer software company, a food manufacturing business and an electronics company. He had world-wide business interests which were stripped from him piece by piece. In the years since 1972, he was chased out of England, Japan, Australia and Tonga by the CIA — his escapes facilitated by such diverse entities as the British and Cuban intelligence services. He is the only person to be distinguished by two extraditions from Canada. He has been falsely charged with income tax evasion, fraud, obstruction of justice, forgery and murder. His life has been threatened and his family stalked for kidnapping.

Due to its complexity, Meier’s remarkable story could never have been told had it not been for his habit of keeping careful diaries, upon which much of this book is based. His diaries tell what he did but do not record the effects of his actions. Only years later, when the absolute paroxysm of Watergate forced certain documents out of the CIA, the White House and the Hughes organization, and compelled people like Ehrlichman to write their memoirs, could the results be seen. His detractors, and they are legion, have had their turn. In numerous books, newspaper articles and magazines he has been written off as a criminal, a fraud, an historical nonentity who somehow — like the stranger who appears in the wedding photographs — has pushed his way in where he wasn’t invited.

This is his story.

CHAPTER 2

Dialogues With the Great Enigma

Howard Robard Hughes Junior was born on Christmas Eve, 1905, in Houston, Texas. His birth wasn’t registered. His father’s passions were the mining and the oil business and he would, three years after his son’s birth, strike it rich — not by finding some fabulous motherlode or sinking a well into a river of oil but by buying the rights to a new rotary drill bit capable of cutting through the hard rock which was impervious to the bits then in use by the oil industry. So revolutionary was it, that it became the foundation of the Hughes Tool Company, the source of family wealth upon which the younger Hughes would build a $2 billion fortune.

In 1924, when Hughes was in his nineteenth year, his father died and the company passed into his hands. Rather than stay in Texas managing the family firm, Hughes set off for California where he used his wealth to finance movies. He hired Noah Dietrich to handle his business affairs while he produced movies such as Hell’s Angels — an enormous extravaganza in which squadrons of First World War fighters and bombers were assembled to recreate the aerial battles fought over France. But movies were not his biggest passion — flying was. In the age when flying records were being established Hughes sought to place his name alongside Lindbergh’s and Earhart’s. In July 1938, he succeeded, when he broke the record for flying around the globe and received a hero’s welcome upon his return to New York.

He formed Hughes Aircraft to build his own racing aircraft. After the outbreak of the Second World War, the company moved to a new plant in Culver City, California and was awarded government contracts to build a series of experimental aircraft, none of which would go into production. While designing and test flying aircraft Hughes had two spectacular crashes. In 1943 he crashed into Lake Mead in Nevada. In July 1946 he was critically injured when his plane crashed through the roof of a house in Los Angeles. His notorious dependency on codeine probably began during his recovery in hospital.

In 1948 he bought a controlling interest in RKO Pictures, which would produce over 50 movies before he sold out in 1955. He purchased two small regional airlines to create Trans World Airlines, which was eventually taken from him by the courts because of financial mismanagement.

Hughes ignored the modern corporate model in running his business empire. Instead of shareholders, boards of directors and stock options for key executives, Hughes resorted to a sort of industrial feudalism. Nothing stood between him and the managers he appointed to look after his holdings. All of Hughes’ activities were coordinated through a stucco warehouse in Los Angeles that he had bought during his early Hollywood days. Bill Gay was in charge of these headquarters on Romaine Street which began as a storehouse for Hughes’ films, company documents and personal effects. It evolved into a clearing house for messages between Hughes and his executives.

In the 1940s and ‘50s, Hughes experienced a number of mental breakdowns from overwork during which he developed the bizarre and obsessive behavior that created the legends of his being a paranoid hermit with a pathological fear of infection. He devised elaborate written protocols to protect himself from contamination by his environment. For example, everything his aides handled for his use was to be picked up with several thicknesses of paper tissue. Aides were to wash their hands without letting their fingers touch the side of the bowl and were required to set the soap down with great care so that their clean fingers would not touch any part of the sink. In his mind, anything that entered Hughes’ presence from the outside world represented a potential threat.

By the mid-1950s, Hughes was rich almost beyond imagination. In the years to come, government contracts would pile even more wealth upon him as the space race began in earnest and the war in Vietnam pushed along the development of electronic hardware and missiles for which his aircraft company successfully bid.

Hughes was one of America’s great eccentrics — inventor, aviator, industrialist and a playboy with a penchant for Hollywood starlets.

It was in the summer of 1956 that John Meier met Hughes who, always on the lookout for bright young men, had noticed Meier and dispatched Dietrich to invite him to a meeting in a New York hotel room. Meier knew something of Howard Hughes. His father had prepared the celebratory banquet that welcomed Hughes back to New York on his return from his flight around the world in 1938.

In 1956 Hughes was still given to meeting mortals in hotel rooms. Meier found him to be a tall, thin man with the frank and engaging manners of a Texas aristocrat, whose face bore the scars of his spectacular airplane crashes. He wanted to discuss computers and asked Meier to brief him on how they were being used in the insurance business. They talked for hours and it was late in the evening when Meier finally left.

Meier was in bed when the phone rang. It was Dietrich. He said Hughes wanted to give him a job in California at Hughes Aircraft. Meier, though flattered, was not interested in uprooting his family from New York and turned him down. He stayed a couple of years in New York, then joined Chrysler’s computer division in Detroit. His second child, Jeannie, was born in February 1958. One evening in 1959 Hughes called again, and this time Meier impulsively agreed to join him in California.

Packing Jennie and the two children into a Plymouth, Meier drove from Detroit to Los Angeles and took an apartment in Inglewood, close to Hughes Aircraft. From his new management position in the computer division he had an opportunity to observe the workings of the aerospace industry. Occasionally, Hughes would call him at home — usually at night — and direct him to a meeting in his bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel, or more frequently, to a quiet part of Mulholland Boulevard overlooking the city. Hughes used him to confirm information he had received from other sources and most of these early conversations dealt with the plant.

Meier stayed with Hughes Aircraft for two years before moving to Remington Rand Univac as manager of technical sales. Within two years Bill Gay lured him to Hughes Dynamics, a company which was developing automation and computer equipment capable of transforming the operations of the U.S. postal service, or so Meier was told when he was given an office in the Kirkley Center on Wilshire Boulevard. He had not spoken with Hughes for more than a year and was surprised when he was called out to the old rendezvous on Mulholland.

“What the hell’s going on in the Kirkley Center?” Hughes shouted. Meier, taken aback, didn’t understand. “What’s Hughes Dynamics all about?”

Hughes raved about being deceived and Meier realized that he didn’t know anything about the company which bore his name. Hughes insisted on knowing how Meier had come to be there and what he was doing. Gay, he said, was a Mormon and that was at the root of it. “They set this thing up for the Mormon Church so they can computerize their genealogical research. Well, I’m damn well going to close it down.” And he did.

With the demise of Hughes Dynamics, Meier started a consulting company with Hughes Aircraft as one of his clients. Hughes Aircraft was a major manufacturer of weapons and electronic equipment and had pioneered the development of guided missile systems and the electronic gear necessary to give the United States its first all-weather fighter. Later his company designed the world’s first communications satellite and Surveyor, the first vehicle to soft land on the moon.

Hughes Aircraft was fueling the arms race with its high-tech successes and their military applications. Meier felt misgivings about working with it, especially during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. This crisis caused Meier, and millions of others, to contemplate the unthinkable. He was horrified by the apparent ease with which the world had trundled to the brink of nuclear war. He wasn’t alone. Hughes had also been profoundly shaken by the experience, as Meier discovered during meetings the pair had on Mulholland that year.

Hughes was inquisitive about Meier’s political leanings and his attitude toward nuclear weapons. Meier told him he was a proponent of nuclear disarmament and was surprised to hear Hughes express similar sympathies, particularly after the Kennedy-Khrushchev confrontation over Cuba. Hughes spoke at length about what a nuclear attack would do to Los Angeles; the prospect clearly terrified him.

Previously, Meier was approached by someone from Fund For Survival, a small group of anti-nuclear activists from the Los Angeles area which had attracted a number of celebrities such as comedian Steve Allen and actor Robert Ryan. Meier thought of joining the group and Hughes encouraged him. Hughes later made a modest donation to the fund. The fund was the brainchild of U.S. Mitchell, who gave up his equipment leasing business in order to crusade for the elimination of nuclear weapons. At the height of the Cold War, Mitchell was visiting Germany, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union where his campaigning was reported in such Communist state periodicals as Moscow’s Literary Gazette.

The group’s mandate was simple: to mobilize a peace movement within the United States. Its money would fund advertisements to offset the propaganda of the military and the Atomic Energy Commission. Meier’s hope was that this campaign would arouse such protest from ordinary Americans that the legislators would be forced to negotiate a disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union. The fund did not advocate unilateral disarmament but rather a controlled dismantling of nuclear umbrellas by the United Nations, followed by a conversion of the world’s economies from weapons production to peaceful enterprises.

Given the paranoia of the time it took courage to belong to the fund. It was treated as a radical organization by the government and came under the scrutiny of domestic intelligence organizations. Peace groups were traditionally viewed with suspicion by western intelligence agencies who judged their membership to be infiltrated by Communists. And while many activists were as anticommunist as they were anti-nuclear, the perception of the peace movement in general was that it was made up of well-meaning dupes directed by Moscow.

Howard Hughes was in many ways eccentric, even irrational, but to imagine him a “Red” sympathizer would be ludicrous. Yet here he was encouraging Meier to join the struggle, an indication that Hughes’ fear of the bomb outweighed his reluctance to embrace this activity of the political left.

Meier joined the fund and was named a director. His involvement seemed innocuous enough at the time, but to government agencies interested in monitoring the disarmament movement, the presence of someone with Meier’s connections in Fund For Survival would be of more than passing interest. Before long, government agents began surveillance of those quiet meetings at dusk on Mulholland.

In August 1965, Hughes again sought Meier’s company. August was the month of the Watts riots and Hughes was numbed by the violence that came pouring out of the black ghettos of Los Angeles. Thirty-four people were killed, over 1,000 injured and nearly 4,000 arrested as rioters hooting “get Whitey” and chanting “burn, baby, burn” fire­bombed and looted, exchanged gunfire with police and sniped at firemen.

The riots disturbed Hughes and fueled his racist paranoia. In a meeting with Meier he inveighed against black militants attempting to burn down the city — an exaggeration, as most of the damage was inflicted inside Watts. Meier, a proponent of civil rights, blamed discrimination and poverty for the violence.

Their conflicting beliefs about race relations resurfaced three years later when Meier, who was by then representing Hughes’ Nevada Operations, promised African-Americans equal employment opportunities in Nevada during a speech he made in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Hughes was not impressed with Meier’s comments reported in the Las Vegas press. When the assassination of Martin Luther King provoked nation-wide riots, out came the canary yellow pad Hughes always used in order to fire off a missive to Robert Maheu, the head of the Nevada Operations. In it Hughes equally deplores the violence and the pressure on casino owners to “adopt a more liberal attitude towards… negroes.” He continued:

Now, Bob, I have never made my views known on this subject. And I certainly would not say these things in public. However, I can summarize my attitude about employing more negroes very simply — I think it is a wonderful idea for somebody else, somewhere else… I know this is a hot potato, and I’m not asking you to form another chapter of the K.K.K. Just let’s try to do what you can without too many people getting upset about it. I don’t want to become known as a negro-hater or anything like that. But I am not running for election and therefore we don’t have to curry favor with the NAACP either. I thought I’d better get this to you before somebody — probably John Meier — commits you to head up some pro-negro committee.

CHAPTER 3

The Atomic Energy Commission

In July of 1966, Howard Hughes left California to escape state income tax. Hughes — though he had lived there many years — had claimed he was a Texan and a resident of Houston. However, when he left Los Angeles, he didn’t return to Texas but went to Boston.

What Hughes wanted was a haven for his wealth, safe from tax collectors. He had considered Montreal or the Bahamas, but his xenophobia turned his attention to Nevada. Even this state did not provide a perfect sanctuary, for while there were no taxes, the Atomic Energy Commission routinely tested large nuclear weapons in the desert north of Las Vegas. Hughes’ concern over this possible risk to his health and corporate holdings would grow into an obsession.

While in Boston he dispatched Meier to Nevada to investigate reports that the AEC’s testing program was not as safe as the agency wanted people to believe.

Meier heard rumors in Las Vegas that radiation had been vented into the atmosphere from underground tests but the AEC resolutely denied any emissions had escaped. Though inclined to believe something was amiss, Hughes nevertheless said he intended to move to Las Vegas and would contact Meier once he arrived.

Legalized gambling had come to Nevada in 1931 as a means to raise state revenue during the Depression. Las Vegas was the town the mob built. It provided organized crime with a place where it could flourish, practicing a way of life denied elsewhere. It was founded by Benjamin (Bugsy) Siegel — gunman, gangster, gambler and visionary — the mobster who built the Flamingo hotel-casino and, in so doing, gave root to the most garish place on earth. While large casinos had been built in northern Nevada, in and around Reno, Siegel wanted no competition. He picked a patch of sand on Las Vegas Boulevard South, now known as the Strip — and planted a seed which has since blossomed into a jungle, kept thriving on neon and kilowatts, that flowers day and night and knows no season. One piece of Las Vegas folklore says that Siegel once became so incensed with an employee, Abe Schiller, that in front of a poolside full of horrified guests, he pulled a .38 from his cummerbund and took aim at Schiller’s head. He forced him down on all fours and made him crawl around the pool, while aiming shots over his head which splashed in the water. When Siegel died as violently as he had lived, his casino passed into the hands of like-minded entrepreneurs. Organized crime has had a proprietary interest in Las Vegas ever since.

Here the Sicilian crime bosses, the capi mafiosi, set up a society in their own image pandering to every human weakness and exploiting human folly on a scale never before imagined. They derived profits from gambling, prostitution and narcotics, and their natural by-products — extortion and blackmail.

Nevada has tolerated the presence of the most depraved and infamous of mobsters; as a result, local and state government became the most corrupt in the nation. Green Felt Jungle, written by Ed Reid and Ovid Demairs in 1964, lifted up the rock from Las Vegas and showed what was crawling beneath.

The arrival of Howard Hughes was greeted with almost messianic enthusiasm by those Las Vegans desperately waiting to be redeemed from the stigma of Siegel and his heirs. Las Vegas Sun publisher Herman (Hank) Greenspun’s joy spilled all over his front page in praise of Hughes — and all his money stood for. Greenspun, perhaps more than anyone else in town, had earned the right to welcome Hughes. Although Greenspun had once worked for Siegel, toiling as a flack for the gangster at his Fabulous Flamingo, he had been a thorn in the mob’s side for years.

Hughes represented wealth devoid of violence. His was legitimate money, in contrast to the illicit fortunes which everyone knew lay behind the glitter of those luxury casinos, the “carpet joints” of local idiom. The greatest of American eccentrics had arrived in this most eccentric state.

The Atomic Energy Commission had been operating there since 1951 and for the first eleven years had been blithely exploding nuclear devices above ground while reassuring the public that there was no danger. It is impossible to know how many deaths were caused or how many people were contaminated by fallout. The practice was revoked by international treaty in 1963 when the Soviet Union and the United States finally admitted it to be dangerous. Consequently, all tests went underground. Were they safe? The AEC, naturally, said they were — but the AEC had said that about atmospheric testing.

Ordinary people would have to accept the AEC’s word; Howard Hughes had the resources to find out for himself. He had barely settled into the Desert Inn when the AEC set off an atomic device codenamed Project Greeley beneath the Pahute Mesa. The explosion rocked buildings in Las Vegas, including Hughes’ penthouse suite, for more than a minute. As usual, the AEC announced there had been no radiation leaks but a month later, in January, there was yet another nuclear explosion which cracked open the desert floor leaving a 4,000-foot long trench. People were justified in wondering how radiation could be prevented from escaping when the earth was being ruptured.

Hughes panicked and called Meier in Los Angeles. Like many people, Hughes had an inadequate understanding of radiation. The fatal effects of radiation hardly seemed important if — as many expected — they would be vaporized during a nuclear attack. Hughes wanted to know the insidious and invisible effects created by the detonation of a thermonuclear device and the physical consequences of being exposed to radiation. Meier abandoned all other projects as Hughes impatiently demanded the information. Meier gathered whatever information he could get from his friends in Fund For Survival and scientific journals at the University of California.

On February 2, 1967, he handed the report to Bob Maheu, who would soon become the head of Hughes’ Nevada operations. It was Meier’s first meeting with Maheu. These men — destined to become enemies — would perform varied clandestine tasks for Hughes until the moment of Hughes’ mysterious disappearance from Las Vegas in 1970.

Meier’s report, with its references to mutations, leukemia, cancer, the effects of exposure on cells and body tissues — how German girls employed in factories painting radium dials on watches died horrible deaths from cancer of the mouth — scared Hughes witless. A week later, Meier was summoned to the Desert Inn where he was paged to pick up the house phone.

“John, this is really shocking,” said Hughes of his report. “I just never imagined that radiation affected the body this way. We’ve got to do something to stop these underground tests. What we need is information to show they’re unsafe. If we get this we can put pressure on the AEC to stop. I’d like you to work on it.”

The AEC was a powerful government entity intimately tied to the military and defense interests of the nation. How could anyone — even Howard Hughes — think he could hustle the AEC out of Nevada? Many Americans regarded the AEC’s very existence as the country’s main deterrent to Communist aggression and its secrets were considered among the nation’s most valued possessions. Meier argued that such a campaign would consume all his time and that he had his other businesses to consider. “I’ve got to eat too,” he protested.

“Well, you can come and work for me. I’d like you to be my scientific advisor,” said Hughes.

There could be no more stalling. Hughes proposed to have Meier placed on Maheu’s payroll. When he demurred, Hughes hastily added that he would prefer this arrangement as his campaign against the AEC might provoke a violent reaction from the government. He wished to shield his companies, especially Hughes Aircraft, from official retribution.

“Frankly, John, I want to be able to deny you if things get too hot. Better if you appear to be with Bob.”

After accepting Hughes’ commission, Meier returned to Los Angeles and began dismantling his business affairs. He returned to Las Vegas on weekends posing as an out­-of-state businessman who was considering a move to the state but worried about radioactive contamination.

He needed information showing the AEC’s testing program was flawed. He visited newsrooms, the AEC and other government offices.

The press was skeptical about the AEC’s routine assurances and a number of reporters said they were convinced something was wrong. Workers at the test site had given them information of leaks but no proof was available. The AEC’s Las Vegas office gave him leaflets and tolerant smiles and told him that his fears, while natural, were groundless.

Meier travelled to the small towns ringing the test site. He visited all the settlements which housed AEC personnel: Beatty, Indian Springs and Parump.

Meier stalked his quarry in bars. There he would sit nursing a coke, lying in wait for AEC workers with a story to tell. He would engage them in small talk, buy them drinks, joke and try to tease from them anything that smacked of a cover-up. Finally, his perseverance was rewarded.

Earlier, Meier had met two AEC workers in the Exchange Club in Beatty. They chatted and drank but neither was ready to volunteer information about radiation leaks. When he arrived this time, they were sitting in the saloon with a companion; Meier was welcomed with all the bonhomie that comes from booze and dim lights, loud music and commotion — the euphoria that rises on the vapors of happy hour. Keeping up a steady flow of liquor to the table, Meier was soon deep in conversation with the third party.

The man was an AEC engineer but was quitting the test site because he was terrified by the unsafe conditions. The AEC, he said, was protecting neither its employees nor the public from radiation leaks. There had been serious venting of radioactive gases into the atmosphere and contamination of subterranean water systems in the desert. The engineer took out a pencil to draw diagrams on a table napkin showing how radiation was being spread through ground water. He said the AEC knew the water table was being contaminated but counted on it taking hundreds of years to work its way to Las Vegas, by which time those responsible would have the grave between them and retribution. When he had queried the amounts of radioactivity being vented into the atmosphere, he was told not to concern himself — the wind was blowing it over to Europe and the Soviet Union.

Meier was on the brink of discovering perhaps the most perfidious display of government callousness to the rights and health of a free people in the modern era. Although the AEC never officially admitted it, some underground nuclear tests in Nevada are known to have vented enormous quantities of radiation into the atmosphere. The AEC dissembled and deceived, swearing mighty oaths that its program caused no harmful effects. As a consequence, clouds hot with radiation passed over the heads of an unsuspecting and unprotected populace.

Meier’s report triggered an immediate and enduring state of hostility between Hughes and the AEC. For the next three years, the AEC would find itself engaged in a battle royal. It was a contest without precedent. This was not a political movement mobilized against a government agency by the usual bunch of ragtag protesters and dissidents; this was a single, wealthy man up against an enormously powerful bureaucracy which had the unchecked support of the entire federal government. Hughes would eventually disrupt the AEC’s program and at times force the agency into a strategic retreat.

Hughes told Meier he was not only convinced that nuclear testing placed the population at risk but also that it was responsible for causing earthquakes which had undermined buildings in Las Vegas and might conceivably threaten the stability of the Hoover Dam. This dam, located between Nevada and Arizona, is 1,244 feet long, 726 feet high and holds 10 trillion gallons of water in its 247 square miles of reservoir. He constantly reminded Meier of the 1928 disaster at Santa Paula, California when the St. Francis Dam collapsed killing 450 people.

By 1967, the tests were becoming bigger and bigger: Hughes’ apprehension rose with the megatonnage. In late March, shortly after Hughes bought the Desert Inn, Meier was introduced to the press as Hughes’ scientific advisor.

Within weeks of being coaxed by Hughes into the mad scheme of forcing the AEC from its Nevada testing grounds, Meier made the disturbing discovery that his services were not to be confined to the physical world. Meier was expected to deal with the occult.

Legend portrays Hughes in his glory days as an ice-cold entrepreneur fearlessly hacking his way through the industrial jungle guided by an infallible inner compass. In reality, Hughes was not loath to seeking assistance from the supernatural. To his bemusement, Meier soon found himself carrying sealed packages between Hughes’ penthouse and his psychic, Peter Hurkos.

Hurkos described himself as a psychometrist — one who could make psychic pronouncements after handling an object belonging to the person seeking his advice. Once Meier escorted him up the back stairs to the Desert Inn penthouse through the guards and into Hughes’ suite. Hughes was waiting behind a one-way glass which permitted him to see Hurkos without being visible himself. Hughes’ intensified use of the psychic when considering major business decisions showed his mental and emotional deterioration. Meier was not privy to Hughes’ discussions with the psychic but on occasion he did have to listen in respectful silence to Hughes’ ramblings on life and death.

Hughes was at this time 61 years old, in failing health, and obsessed with his mortality. One night, he speculated about the possibility of cheating death by using an experimental procedure called cryonics, the process of freezing the newly deceased until science would be advanced enough to resuscitate the frozen body and prolong life. Meier was reduced to shocked silence. It was the beginning of the most esoteric assignment he ever undertook for Hughes.

Howard Hughes did not want to molder in the grave. He was one of the richest men living. In death he would have nothing, his power would be extinguished and his wealth surrendered to governments and distant relatives he cared nothing for. Hughes demanded that Meier gather whatever literature was available on cryonics and send it to the penthouse.

For the next two years Meier diligently searched libraries and clipped periodicals and newspapers. He obtained two copies of Robert C.W. Ettinger’s The Prospect of Immortality in which the author enthusiastically promised the frozen dead would be brought back to life, although he couldn’t promise when.

Ettinger’s fanciful theory was based on little more than a belief that sooner or later science would be able to accomplish anything. According to Ettinger, the procedure was to drain the blood from a body, replace it with glycerol and then store it in liquid nitrogen at temperatures hundreds of degrees below zero. At these temperatures the corpse was supposed to remain viable until Ettinger’s future supermen were technically able to perform their miracles, perhaps in 1,000, 2,000, or 30,000 years. If the “resuscitees” didn’t like the era in which they’d been revived, they could hop into the deep-freeze and wait a thousand more years until a more genial age arrived. Ettinger visualized a lot of hopping in and out — a sort of time travel in a freezer. Here is the prophet Ettinger speaking through his book to Hughes, setting the scene for immortality:

The tired old man then, will close his eyes and he can think of his impending temporary death as another period under anaesthesia in the hospital. Centuries may pass, but to him there will be only a moment of sleep without dreams. After awakening, he may be already young again and virile, having been rejuvenated while unconscious; or he may be gradually renovated through treatment after awakening. In any case he will have the physique of a Charles Atlas if he wants it, and his weary and faded wife, if she chooses, may rival Miss Universe. Much more important, they will be gradually improved in mentality and personality. They will not find themselves idiot strangers in a lonely and baffling world… you and I, the frozen resuscitees, will not merely be revived and cured, but enlarged and improved, made fit to work, play and perhaps fight, on a grand scale and in a grand style…

To the cynics and gamblers he addressed the following:

Clearly the freezer is more attractive than the grave, even if one has doubts about the future capabilities of science. With bad luck, frozen people will simply remain dead, as they would have in the grave. But with good luck, the manifest destiny of science will be realized, and the resuscitees will drink the wine of centuries unborn. The likely prize is so enormous that even slender odds would be worth embracing.

Hughes agreed. He demanded lists of doctors who had expertise in cryonics or were involved in cryogenic research. He wanted Meier to find out what machines were being manufactured to keep bodies permanently frozen. And most significantly, he made a will seeking to keep his treasure on earth intact so that when he returned, it would all be waiting for him. His assets were to go into the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, of which he was the only trustee. This will was placed in a Texas bank. Meier found the best equipment was being designed in Germany and he placed an order for Hughes’ high-tech coffin to be purchased with funds from Hughes’ Swiss bank account.

Hughes’ phobia of disease has been regarded as the root of his refusal to see anybody but his body servants and on rare occasions, a few intimates such as Meier. He lived in the Desert Inn penthouse, attended by “nursemaids” who were solicitous to his every whim. Legends have been made of his many idiosyncrasies and phobias; his fear of germs and human contact; his deranged insistence on controlling everything within his immediate environment and the absurd lengths his nursemaids would go to satisfy him.

To that part of the Hughes mythology, Meier can add little. However, between 1966 and 1970 he saw no sign of demented behavior or the long fingernails, flowing hair and beard of popular imagination.

Because Hughes was so inaccessible, civic and state officials had to direct whatever warmth they would have lavished upon him to his lieutenants. Meier quickly found himself a celebrity. He was besieged with requests to join service clubs, give speeches and take up charitable causes. In 1966, he was named Aerospace Man of the Year and while in Las Vegas he became a trustee for the Nevada Essential Development Surveys Foundation; became a member of the Child Welfare Advisory Committee; sat on the Impact Priority Committee; joined the Governor’s Gaming Task Force and was an advisor to the Inter-Agency Water Pollution Control committee. In setting Meier the task of forcing the AEC out of Nevada, Hughes chose a lieutenant whose scientific credentials were nonexistent. Rather, Meier had a rough and ready education in business and his acumen soon forced the AEC to take notice. He possessed a tidy and precise mind, was a fast learner, articulate, and displayed a flair for deviousness which Hughes — a master of that himself — put to good use.

Meier’s first move was to investigate whether the engineer at the Exchange Club was correct: that the ground water near the test sites was contaminated. He decided it would be necessary to set up a monitoring system to check for traces of tritium (radioactive water) in the water table and hired George Roth, a man of eclectic taste and education, as his assistant. Roth engaged a number of scientists. At the same time, Meier began a public relations blitz to dispute the AEC’s repeated assurances that all was safe. For the first time, the AEC had to defend itself, not against leftists and long-haired environmentalists who could be summarily dismissed as un-American, but against a true blue capitalist, Howard Hughes, one of the bulwarks of the American way.

Hughes’ interest could hardly have arisen at a more inauspicious time for the government. With the civil rights and the anti-war movements, civil disobedience in America was at its height. Now Hughes was threatening to incite the anti-nuclear lobby. While Hughes would hardly have regarded himself as having anything in common with the great demagogues who were stirring up Americans against the evils of war and racism, he would later threaten to lead the anti-nuclear campaign. In a memo sent in April of 1968 he tells Maheu to let the AEC know that after the “fears and curiosity of the public has (sic) been aroused the entire situation, not only in Nevada but throughout the nation, is going to prove highly explosive. It will only require a leader. I could easily be that leader…”1

As the pressure on the AEC increased, the commission singled out its most troublesome critic for a crude display of its secret resources. Meier was invited to visit the AEC’s headquarters in Las Vegas, ostensibly for a meeting with Robert Miller, the director of the AEC’s Nevada program.

When he entered Miller’s office he found the director seated at a desk flanked by two men who stared at him with focused hostility. Stuffed as they were into black suits, they evoked the presence of government muscle.

The director quickly cut Meier’s questions short. Miller intimated that the Hughes organization was inflicting damage on national interests. He demanded that Meier put a stop to it. When Meier refused, the interview deteriorated into a nasty row, with Meier claiming the AEC was covering up radiation leaks. Miller finally blurted what was uppermost on his mind — it wasn’t Hughes who wanted the testing stopped, it was John Meier.

The accusation caught Meier by surprise. “Yes, it’s true I’m opposed to nuclear arms testing,” he said finally. “But so is Mr. Hughes and you’re mistaken if you think he’s indifferent.”

“Bullshit!” growled one of the men behind Miller. He slammed down a brown concertina file on the desk so hard that a pile of photographs flew out.

Meier was astounded to see pictures of himself and Mitchell and, most startling, photographs of his meetings with Hughes on Mulholland. Meier stood up and began collecting his papers. One of the men shouted “Forget the whole goddamned thing. It’s national security and you don’t know what you’re meddling with. Just back off.”

Meier phoned Hughes and reported the gist of the AEC’s theory about who was really behind the campaign. At first Hughes merely snorted, but the realization that his elaborate rituals to escape attention during the meetings on Mulholland had been in vain made him almost apoplectic.

“I’ll spend every dime I have to stop those bastards,” he ranted. “Every dime I have.” He authorized Meier to hire anyone he wished to fight the AEC, including Washington lobbyists to foment trouble for the agency on Capitol Hill. Meier chose Joseph Napolitan and Associates, a firm close to the Democratic Party whose executives, such as Larry O’Brien, exercised high political influence within party ranks.

In April 1968, the AEC announced it would detonate its largest underground nuclear device to date. This bomb, called Boxcar, exploded with the force of a million tons of TNT. Buildings shook in Las Vegas as Boxcar’s shockwave caused the ground to heave for 250 miles around. An immense cloud of dust rose hundreds of feet over the firing point. Although the bomb had been buried almost 4,000 feet below the surface, the desert floor leapt 20 feet in the air. Seismic instruments recorded the explosion in New York and Alaska.

Hughes had pleaded with the AEC for a ninety day postponement of Boxcar until an independent panel of scientists could study its effects. He made the same request of President Lyndon Johnson. Both requests were ignored. As the chandeliers in the gaming parlors swayed to the rhythm of the shockwaves rippling Las Vegas’ foundations, Hughes examined all his options.

This was a tumultuous and confusing time in America. The country was divided into those eager to save the military’s honor in Vietnam by any means and those demanding an armistice. President Johnson had grown weary of the turmoil. Senator Eugene McCarthy was preparing to oppose him for the presidential nomination in the Chicago convention. Robert Kennedy entered the race in the middle of March. Two weeks later, Johnson announced his political retirement, leaving Vice President Hubert Humphrey free to announce his candidacy.

Meier had first met Humphrey through Milton Polland, a canny political advisor with whom he was in business. Meier met the Vice President on many occasions, both socially and while conducting Hughes’ business. Hughes ordered cash overtures to be made to both Johnson and Humphrey to stop the AEC’s operations in Nevada. Much has been written about these incidents and Humphrey went to the grave bearing the stigma of a bought man. According to John Meier, Humphrey was unjustly maligned.

Hughes hoped to persuade Johnson to stop the AEC before the end of his administration. He sent Maheu to offer Johnson “$1 million after he left the office of the presidency if he would stop the atomic testing before he left.” Maheu met with Johnson at the LBJ Ranch but denied ever delivering the offer. He instead talked obliquely of Hughes’ interest in the President’s future and how he would like to help him once he left office. Johnson is said to have replied that he would be happy if Hughes would make a donation to the Johnson Library which was to be built in Austin.

The Humphrey matter was entirely different. Immediately upon hearing of his decision to seek the presidency, Hughes moved to buy him and instructed Maheu to tell Humphrey that he could have the campaign money necessary to win the White House if he would dismantle the AEC once President.

Maheu has testified that on May 10, 1968, he met Humphrey at the Denver Hilton. There Humphrey promised to scuttle the AEC for a $100,000 campaign contribution. The first installment of $50,000 was allegedly delivered to him that July in Los Angeles.

Meier’s account is different. Maheu, who did not know Humphrey, asked Meier to arrange a meeting with the Vice President in order to receive Humphrey’s undertaking that, if elected, he would stop underground testing in Nevada. Meier argued that it was unnecessary. “Humphrey’s behind us one hundred percent on this. I don’t see why we need to meet him.”

Finally at Maheu’s insistence, Meier flew with him to Denver. After listening to Humphrey’s campaign speech in the Denver Hilton, Meier introduced Maheu to Humphrey, who suggested they come to his room.

When they entered, they found Humphrey relaxing in his shirt sleeves, his necktie loosened and his shoes off. He was sitting on a sofa in front of a small table. He beckoned them to take the chairs opposite. Maheu placed his briefcase on the table.

“Okay, what is it you boys want to talk about?” asked Humphrey, his mobile features arranged into that patented smile. Before Meier could say anything, Maheu reached over and unclipped the catches of his briefcase with all the adroitness of a brush salesman. Stacked neatly inside was a considerable sum of money. Meier almost choked as the famous grin froze on the Vice President’s face. Maheu, unabashed, said the money was Humphrey’s in return for promising to stop the AEC in Nevada.

Humphrey looked venomously at Meier, who was shaking his head to signal his innocence — then he reached over and grabbed Maheu by the lapels. Humphrey was not a small man and in his fury he almost pulled Maheu right over the table. “What kind of a son-of-a-bitch do you think I am?” he yelled, as Maheu hung halfway across the table being jerked this way and that.

Maheu pulled himself free, grabbed his briefcase and cleared out.

Meier stayed to apologize. He had had no inkling of what Maheu was planning and begged Humphrey not to let it influence him against Hughes’ position. Humphrey quickly cooled down, but allowed that the only reason he didn’t “kill the son-of-a-bitch” was because Meier had brought him.

A week later Meier and Roth met a group of scientists from MIT and Harvard who agreed to assess the environmental data their consultants had collected which challenged the AEC’s perennial assertion that its nuclear testing was perfectly harmless.

Hughes, a notorious insomniac, phoned to wake Meier at three in the morning for a briefing. Meier reported that a scientific panel was examining their data and was confident Johnson would commission an independent study, as Humphrey was solidly behind the initiative and would urge him on. The mention of the Vice President’s name provided the opening Hughes sought.

“Well, the reason I’m calling, John, is to check what Bob has been telling me about the progress we’re making.”

Meier said he had no idea what Maheu was reporting.

“Well, at least we’ve got the Vice President in our hip pocket,” said Hughes.

Not quite sure what that meant, Meier said that Humphrey — like Hughes himself — believed the AEC was covering up the risks involved in testing.

“No, John,” said Hughes testily, “I mean once a man takes a bribe we’ve got him.”

“What bribe?” asked Meier.

“What do you mean? You were there when Bob took care of him.”

“Mr. Hughes — there was no bribe.”

“But you saw Humphrey take the money,” Hughes persisted.

“No, he didn’t take any money. In fact it was a very embarrassing meeting.”

Hughes fell silent for a moment. “Well, I guess I must have been mistaken. Bob probably meant he did it privately with the Vice President.”

But for once Meier refused to let Hughes have the last word.

“Mr. Hughes, I was there the whole time. He didn’t see him alone.”

It was a conversation of considerable importance for Meier, since Hughes came to believe his version of events. When the time came again for Hughes to offer a bribe — this time an enormous one — it would be Meier, not Maheu, who was assigned to monitor the transaction.

Although a personal friend of Humphrey’s, and at the time a Republican, Meier nonetheless supported Robert Kennedy from the moment he entered the race for the Democratic nomination. Unlike Meier’s employer, who was making enormous profits from the Vietnam War, Meier was opposed to it and saw in Kennedy a President who would stop it.

On June 4, Meier phoned Kennedy and arranged to meet him in Los Angeles two days later to discuss ending the underground nuclear testing program. Kennedy then gave the phone to Paul Schrade. Schrade, a highly influential official of the United Auto Workers union, and a close friend of Meier’s, said the California primary was in the bag and that they were all on their way to the White House.

On the night of June 5, Kennedy, as predicted, swept the primary in California. In what would be his final speech, Kennedy thanked Schrade for his help in delivering the labor vote. After that, Schrade followed Kennedy and his entourage into the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel where Sirhan Sirhan waited with a .22 calibre pistol. Schrade remembers a burst of gunfire, stars filling his eyes and his body trembling violently.

Kennedy, who was shot in the head, fell to the ground. His appalled entourage heard him whisper: “Is Paul all right?”

Meier cut himself while shaving in preparation for his meeting with Kennedy the next morning when the news of the shooting came over the radio. He was unable to reach any of his friends in the Kennedy entourage for details. He phoned a Los Angeles radio station and a reporter told him Kennedy was not expected to live and that Schrade’s chances were equally bleak.

Later Hughes called to say they should do whatever they could for Schrade. “He helped us, John, and I’m grateful.” Hughes was remembering Schrade’s assistance in organizing the auto workers, whose union had tried to interfere with the firing of the Boxcar test earlier that year. He said if Schrade survived he would fly him to Nevada for recuperation at Spring Mountain Ranch.

Meier was devastated by the shooting. Kennedy had held such great promise for liberal America and the assassination left his supporters completely demoralized. What made Meier’s loss even more bitter was that instead of meeting with Kennedy on June 6, he was now meeting with Don Nixon, brother of Richard whose political star was now in the ascendant, as Hughes was quick to point out.

While common decency should have kept even Kennedy’s most virulent political foes from gloating over such a tragedy, it did not constrain Don Nixon, who was literally rubbing his hands with delight when he met Meier. The brothers Nixon didn’t care about Hubert Humphrey but feared Kennedy.

Nixon’s glee, insufferable as it was, had to be borne by Meier without outward signs of distress. Kennedy died in the early morning of June 7 and the assassination violently threw the scales against the Democrats’ chances of remaining in power. For Meier, it was a nightmare. After Kennedy’s death, Meier quietly switched allegiance to Humphrey, as did most of Kennedy’s supporters.

While his political loyalty was with Humphrey, he nevertheless met Don and Edward Nixon and Bebe Rebozo, Richard Nixon’s confidant, in New York on July 8. By then, it was obvious that Nixon would win the Republican nomination in Miami. Hughes had instructed Meier to make his position clear to Nixon’s camp concerning the AEC. Meier was assured Hughes’ position would be conveyed to Nixon.

Meier was under orders to hire Thomas E. Murray Jr. to join what was becoming a sort of mercenary army — Hughes’ Legion — marshalled against the AEC. Hughes remembered Thomas E. Murray Sr. as a former director of the AEC during the Truman administration. The senior Murray was in an airforce observation plane near Eniwetok Atoll on November 16, 1952 when the world’s first hydrogen bomb was exploded.

Hughes hoped that with Murray Jr., who had all the right contacts in Washington, he might be able to get to the AEC from within. Hughes hoped to gain access to weak spots in the commission which had so far displayed an unexpected resistance to his money and influence.

Fresh from his meeting with the Nixons, Meier met Murray and explained how Hughes wanted to use his expertise in Washington. He didn’t want a lobbyist — they had to be registered, and Hughes characteristically didn’t want it known that Murray was working for him. He was to keep Hughes informed and use his influence to advance Hughes’ opposition to the AEC — but quietly.

When they met the next day Murray was still undecided and asked for a little more time. Just as Meier was leaving Murray playfully asked if Hughes would like to buy an airline. It was a question Meier could not ignore as he knew Hughes was passionate about the airline industry. Murray told him that Air West was for sale and that David Grace, the airline’s executive chairman and second largest shareholder, was his friend.

Air West was having trouble with the Civil Aeronautics Board. Although cash poor with aging equipment, it had good routes.

In 1966 the courts had dispossessed Hughes of Trans World Airlines due to financial mismanagement and ordered him to sell the company for $546 million — money he was now busily spending in Nevada. Meier knew Hughes would seize any opportunity to get back into the airline business if for no other reason than to prove the banks, the courts and the airline industry wrong.

When Meier informed him about Air West, Hughes was elated at the prospect of picking up another airline and promised Murray a finder’s fee of ten percent. Given the price paid for Air West, Murray’s fee should have been $800,000. Murray, however, would never see a penny. The job of handling Murray and of negotiating with Grace for Air West was given to Maheu.

Three weeks later, on July 29, Meier accompanied Maheu to Los Angeles where Maheu introduced him to a number of men he thought should be employed by Hughes Aircraft. Maheu needed Meier’s help in getting these men hired, as the rancor that existed between himself and those running Hughes Aircraft precluded his making any such request, and Meier had friends in the company from years past. What Maheu failed to tell Meier was that they were all CIA operatives looking to use the company as a cover for activities abroad. Meier ensured that the men were found jobs.

What else did or didn’t happen that day — July 29 — in Los Angeles is critical to the good name and reputation of Hubert Humphrey. Maheu would say that on that day, he delivered a $50,000 bribe to Humphrey after climbing into the back of the Vice President’s limousine as it drove away from a Los Angeles hotel. Humphrey, the conscience of American liberal politics, was according to Maheu, apparently bought and paid for in the back of a black limo.

Meier is certain Humphrey wasn’t, for he was with Maheu all that day. They were discussing the Air West situation and Maheu was on his way east to meet with Grace. There was no contact with Humphrey’s party.

Humphrey, too, would deny ever accepting a bribe from Maheu or seeing Maheu in his limousine. Further, if the object of the bribe was to assure Humphrey’s assistance against the AEC, it would have been money wasted. Without any bribery Humphrey had already convinced Johnson to commission a presidential panel to study Meier’s data.

The President had rejected the scientists recommended by Meier because they were regarded as being too anti-AEC. Instead, a more hawkish group was assembled to consider Meier and Roth’s data. It didn’t take them long to reach a conclusion. When Meier heard that the President had received their report he went to Washington to obtain a copy. He was in the Vice President’s White House office when Humphrey called Johnson and asked to see the report. Meier listened to the exchange over a speaker phone.

“No, you can’t have a copy, Hubert,” he heard Johnson say.

“But Lyndon, I’m the Vice President.”

“I don’t give a goddamn who you are. It’s national security and you’re not getting it. You’d only give it to Meier and he’ll give it to Hughes.”

Johnson’s hawks had done the unexpected. Instead of clearing the AEC, they had found something disturbing. Humphrey and Meier wondered just how bad it could be if Johnson was so adamantly opposed to their seeing it.

CHAPTER 4

The CIA Takes Notice

As his glee at Robert Kennedy’s assassination showed, Don Nixon was a ruthless supporter of his brother. He knew Meier’s political leanings were incompatible with his own but was dazzled by the prospect of using Meier’s position with Hughes for his own purposes. He could not afford to let political differences sour their relationship. Meier’s motives for working with Nixon were equally calculated. Hughes wanted Don Nixon kept happy and it was Meier’s duty to oblige.

Don Nixon regarded himself as one of his brother’s greatest assets as John Ehrlichman, Richard Nixon’s domestic affairs advisor, noted in his autobiography Witness to Power. Ehrlichman admitted that Nixon’s professional campaigners showed little enthusiasm for Don’s help. Don Nixon was convinced that Meier was his precious pipeline into the highest echelons of the Democratic Party through which he could keep his brother informed on his political enemy’s plans, a singular service which Ehrlichman and all the rest could never match. Even though the polls suggested Nixon enjoyed an insurmountable lead over the Vice President, Don Nixon began quizzing Meier about Humphrey within days of the Democratic Party leadership convention in Chicago. Don meant his partisan interest in Humphrey to appear innocuous but he was far from discreet and before long Meier told the Vice President about his probing.

Humphrey saw this as a unique opportunity to feed misinformation to Richard Nixon. Meier’s opportunity arrived when Don began questioning him about Humphrey’s thoughts concerning national issues — the war, civil unrest — and what he might do if elected. It was an obvious attempt to discover Humphrey’s agenda through gossip. Meier said he didn’t know but sometimes he received advance copies of Humphrey’s proposed speeches and that it probably wouldn’t do any harm if he let Don have them, provided he didn’t tell anyone. Nixon swore he wouldn’t. With Humphrey’s approval, Meier turned over a number of speeches which Humphrey delivered verbatim some days later.

Emboldened by these little triumphs, Don began asking if Meier had any information from Humphrey’s pollsters. Meier grew evasive. All he knew was that his friend Napolitan had conducted a poll but it was being closely guarded by Humphrey’s campaign team, led by Larry O’Brien.

It was through George Clifford, a journalist, that Meier and Humphrey found a way to subvert Richard Nixon. Meier first met Clifford through Bill Haddad, a backroom political power broker he had enlisted against the AEC. One of columnist Jack Anderson’s confederates, Clifford had a career as rich in intrigue as Meier’s. He infiltrated radical organizations such as the Nazi Party and was one of the first American reporters to interview Fidel Castro in the mountains. Clifford loathed Richard Nixon with an intensity surpassing even Meier’s.

Meier told Clifford of Don Nixon’s barefaced enquiries and of Humphrey’s plan to let him trawl in a couple of mines along with the catch. Clifford pounced on the opportunity. He said that Meier should convince Humphrey to let him have a copy of the poll and he would produce a counterfeit that could be fed to the Nixons. If they fell for it, this might influence their strategy to their own disadvantage. Humphrey was amused by the notion.

“Sure,” he said when Meier told him of Clifford’s plan. “What harm can it do. I’m so far behind in the polls anyway, what does it matter?”

Humphrey had a copy delivered to Clifford in Washington, who went to work on it immediately. The finished article was brought to Meier in Las Vegas.

The poll given to Clifford was the most extensive sampling of public opinion undertaken by the Democrats in the campaign and truly top secret. It contained an exhaustive study of both Humphrey’s and Nixon’s strengths and weaknesses, state by state, and issue by issue. It recommended how the Democrats should structure their resources and campaign funds, which states were safe, which hung in the balance, which to abandon and which to fight for.

Clifford’s brushwork was exquisite. Not only did he create a dreamscape of how the Democrats visualized the country — gilding the dreary and darkening the hopeful — but also he pastelled new portraits of Humphrey and Nixon, creating subtlety of character and psychology that existed in his fertile imagination only, but which were purported to be a synthesis of the country’s feelings towards the candidates.

Within a few days of the document’s arrival in Meier’s office in the Frontier Hotel, Don Nixon entered to find twelve bound copies of the poll spread across the desk. Large letters on the outside plainly marked

(Purposely shortened)