Monday, March 29, 2010

The Interplay Between Truth and Fiction: Ian Fleming and Goldfinger

Ben Macintyre wrote an interesting piece for the London Times about the origins of Ian Fleming's fictional characters James Bond and Auric Goldfinger, and the plot of his great thriller, Goldfinger.

Fleming, seen in above photo, published Goldfinger in 1959. The original book jacket for Goldfinger is seen below:

In light of the upcoming BBC 4 radio adaptation of Goldfinger, with Ian McKellen as the gold-obsessed megalomaniac arch-criminal, Macintyre explains how Fleming came up with the name Goldfinger and the plot of the novel, which was made into a classic 1964 film with Sean Connery as James Bond and Gert Frobe as Goldfinger.

Macintyre, who is the author of the true World War II espionage story, Operation Mincement, and For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond, a book that celebrated the Fleming centenary celebration, notes that Fleming was fascinated by the interplay between truth and fiction.

"Everything I write has a precedent in truth," Fleming said.

Macintyre notes that in World War II a Nazi agent planned to rob the Bank of England, and perhaps this gave Fleming the idea of Goldfinger palns to rob Fort Knox.

You can read Macintyre's piece via the below link:

Sean Connery is seen in the above photo as James Bond in Goldfinger. Below is a photo of Gert Frobe as Goldfinger.

Below is the link to the opening credits to the film:

And below is the cover of the Signet paperback of Goldfinger in the 1960s and a great passage from Ian Fleming's thriller:

"Goldfinger's eyes were now blank, focused inwards. His voice became low, almost reverential at what he saw," Fleming wrote in Goldfinger.
Goldfinger went on to explain "Operation Grand Slam," his grand criminal enterprise, to his prisoner, James Bond.
"Man has climbed Everest and he has scraped the depths of the ocean. He has fired rockets into outer space and split the atom. He has invented, devised, created in every realm of human endeavour, and everywhere he has triumphed, broken records, achieved miracles. I said in every realm, but there is one that has been neglected, Mr. Bond. That one is the human activity loosely known as crime. The so-called criminal exploits committed by individual humans - I do not of course refer to their idiotic wars, their clumsy destruction of each other -are of miserable dimensions: little bank robberies, tiny swindles, picayune forgeries. And yet, ready to hand, a few hundred miles from here, opportunity for the greatest crime in history stands waiting. The stage is set, the gigantic prize is offered. Only the actors are missing. But the producer is at last here, Mr. Bond" - Goldfinger raised a finger and tapped his chest - "and he has chosen his cast. This very afternoon the script will be read to the leading actors. Then rehearsals will begin and, in one week, the curtain will go up for the single, the unique performance. And then will come applause, the applause for the greatest extra-legal coup of all time. And, Mr. Bond, the world will rock with that applause for centuries."
Bond asked Goldfinger if he planned to rob the end of the rainbow.

"Yes," Goldfinger nodded. "That is exactly what we are going to do. We are going to burgle fifteen billion dollars' worth of gold bullion, approximately half the supply of mined gold in the world. We are going, Mr. Bond, to take Fort Knox."

A Different World: Life Aboard the Aircraft Carrier USS Eisenhower At Sea

Greg Burke and his FOX News crew went aboard the USS Eisenhower (CVN 69) and discovered the world of carrier sailors and air crews.

As I served two years aboard the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CVA 63) during the Vietnam War in 1970-1971, this world is very familiar to me.

One big change since my day is women sailors serving on carriers. There were no women sailors aboard Navy ships in my day.

You can read the report and watch the FOX News video via the below link:

You can view more photos and learn more about the USS Eisenhower by visiting the carrier's web page via the below link:

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Obama: What Me Worry About Approval Ratings? Mad Magazine Cover Says It All

Noel Sheppard wrote an interesting piece at NewsBusters about the clever Mad magazine cover (seen above) that notes Obama's growing public disapproval.

You can read the piece via the below link:

I grew up with Mad magazine and I love their irreverent sense of humor.

Mad magazine also had a clever cover that mocked Obama's "Yes, we can" slogan (see below).

I also enjoyed the Mad magazine that mocked Che t-shirts (see below).

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Philly Mob Scene: Mob Boss Angelo Bruno Murdered This Month 30 Years Ago

Angelo Bruno (seen in handcuffs in the above photo), the so-called "Gentle Don" of the Cosa Nostra crime family in Philadelphia and South Jersey, was murdered in March 30 years ago.

George Anastasia, The Philadelphia Inquirer's veteran crime reporter, offers a video that looks back at Bruno's murder and the many murders that followed his death.

You can view the video via the below link:

You can also link to my On Crime & Thrillers column about George Anastasia and his coverage of the Philadelphia mob below:

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sex, Blackmail and Bribery: Soviet Spies' Trade is Treachery, MI5's 1960s-Era Booklet Warns

The British newspaper The Daily Mail reports that an MI5 booklet, originally created in the 1960s to warn British citizens traveling behind the Iron Curtain about the techniques Soviet spies use to ensnare them into espionage, is finally being released to the general public.

In Their Trade is Treachery, sex, blackmail and bribery were listed as some of the espionage techniques used by the Soviets. The 59-page booklet was produced by MI5, the British security service, at the time of the "Profumo Affair."

The scandal involved a call girl, Christine Keeler (seen in above photo), who was discovered to be the mistress of both a Soviet spy and John Profumo, the British Secretary of State for War.

You can read the Daily Mail piece via the below link:

Friday, March 19, 2010

Fess Parker, RIP

I was saddened to read that one of my childhood heroes, Fess Parker, passed away. He was 85.

I just read a nice piece by Leonard Maltin on Fess Parker, which reminded me of how much the man in the coonskin hat meant to me as a kid.

I grew up watching Walt Disney programs on TV and and I loved watching Fess Parker as Davy Crockett, the King of the Wild Frontier.

I loved singing along with the famous Davy Crockett song (I still remember the lyrics), and like most children at the time, I wore a silly coonskin cap.

Many years later I took my wife and 10-year-old stepson to DisneyWorld, and even though there were many wonderful sights to see at the park, I was thrilled to view the authentic Davy Crockett rifle, coonskin cap, coat and knife from the TV show in a glass case. (The case also contained Zorro’s hat, cape and sword, which also pleased me, as I was a big fan of Guy Williams as Zorro as well).

Fess Parker retired from show business and was out of the public view for years, but I was pleased to read that he lived a long and happy life. He deserved to be happy, as he provided so many kids (and some adults) with much joy and happiness when he wore a coonskin cap on TV. 

Thursday, March 18, 2010

My Crime Beat Column: Wiseguys, Goodfellas and Godfathers: Gangsters in Fact and Fiction

I watched the first season of Wiseguy on DVD this past week with my wife.

I enjoyed the TV crime drama during its original run from 1987 to 1990. Produced by television veterans Stephen J. Cannell and Frank Lupo, the program was about an undercover FBI special agent, Vinnie Terranova, played by actor Ken Wahl.

Wiseguy offered “story arcs,” which extended a storyline across 10 to 12 hourly episodes. I found this to be clever and interesting. I especially liked the first story arc, which involved organized crime in Atlantic City.

Terranova, trained by the FBI’s fictional Organized Crime Bureau (OCB), and imprisoned for 18 months to establish his cover as a criminal, befriends the local crime boss in Atlantic City, Sonny Steelgrave. Steelgrave is played with verve and style by actor Ray Sharkey.

Although it was not stated or explained, Wiseguy's Steelgrave must be half-Italian, like the actor himself, as Sharkey played the character with East Coast Italian-American mannerisms. Sharkey, in my view, nailed the young and cocky gangster. He whole-heartedly captured the attitude and swagger of wiseguys.

Being half-Italian and having grown up in South Philly — the hub and breeding ground of the Philadelphia-South Jersey Cosa Nostra — I know wiseguys.

As a kid I went to school with them, hung on the corners with them, and later drank in bars and clubs with them. These days I have far more cop friends than crooks, but I still see a few of the hoods from time to time.

I felt that Sharkey could have come straight from a South Philly corner. Tragically, Sharkey died of AIDS from an intravenous drug habit. I believe he would have matured into an exceptionally fine actor.

Wahl holds his own against Sharkey’s more flamboyant character and Wiseguy also featured several fine supporting actors, including Jonathan Banks as Frank McPike, Terranova’s OCB supervisor and handler. McPike was a disagreeable and cold former undercover officer who often clashed with Terranova.

McPike’s saving grace is his droll and sarcastic sense of humor and his obvious concern for Terranova’s safety. I also like his barely concealed contempt for his bureaucratic bosses.

Terranova’s lifeline while undercover is a character called “Lifeguard,” a wheelchair-bound agent who mans the phones and the recording devices. Lifeguard was portrayed by country singer and actor Jim Byrnes, who lost his legs in an accident.

There were many other fine supporting actors that portrayed interesting characters in the series, including two gangster characters from South Philly. Wiseguy was a gripping and suspenseful drama and Sharkey’s Steelgrave character went out in homage to Jimmy Cagney’s final moment in White Heat.

But what I truly liked about Wiseguy was the fact that the program, unlike The Sopranoes and many other shows about organized crime, had a protagonist who was a law enforcement officer.

Terranova grows close to Steelgrave. Terranova debated the evils of organized crime with his elderly Italian mother, who explained that there was good in all people, but he should remember that Steelgrave was a criminal and a murderer. Terranova’s brother, a Catholic priest, also gave a speech about the evils of organized crime.

I interviewed legendary FBI Special Agent Joe Pistone, aka Donnie Brasco, who went undercover with the Bonanno crime family in New York for six years. Wiseguy was clearly influenced by Pistone, so I asked Pistone if he watched the TV show and if he felt similar mixed feelings for the mob guys he brought down. Pistone told me that he had watched Wiseguy and he understood the Terranova character’s feelings.

“Yeah, it’s funny,” Pistone said. “I felt that way with Sonny Black Napolitano and even Lefty Ruggiero, who was a hardcore mobster.”

Pistone went on to say that he spent more than 10 hours every day with mob guys and he saw the good side of them, including their love for their children and grandchildren.

“But a half hour later he goes out and whacks a guy he has known for 15 or 20 years,” Pistone added.

Wiseguy, like Donnie Brasco, the film about Pistone’s years undercover in the mob, portrays the FBI special agent as the good guy and the mob guys, despite their human qualities, as the bad guys.

Good and bad are somewhat less defined in The Godfather and other novels, films and TV programs about the mob.

Over the years I’ve heard from a good number of law enforcement officers who complain that books, movies and TV programs glamorize criminals. From The Godfather to The Sopranos, gangsters in fiction are often presented as romantic, tragic and even sympathetic. Told from the criminal’s point of view, the stories are accurate in the sense that many gangsters see themselves in this manner.

Although Mario Puzo’s The Godfather and director Francis Coppola’s film trilogy based on Puzo’s novel are highly romanticized, the novel and films offer a very good fictional study of organized crime history in America. Nearly all of the major events in the novel and film trilogy were based on actual events in history.

Puzo admitted freely that he never knew any mob guys and said he based his novel on research. It is perhaps a testimony to Puzo’s skill as a writer that real mob guys didn’t believe him. They were convinced that Puzo had a highly placed mob source.

Very few Italian-Americans are involved in organized crime, but despite the fact that the novel and films portray criminals, The Godfather is perhaps the best fictional account of the early Italian-American experience. The films are classics, with great acting, writing, music and direction. They can be viewed time and time again, which I and many people do.

On the other hand, Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas offers a far less romanticized view of organized crime. There is little honor or family loyalty in this true crime story. The criminals portrayed here are venal and vicious. Goodfellas is also a classic crime film.

A few years back I interviewed the assistant U.S. Attorney in charge of organized crime in the Philadelphia area. He did not agree with my assessment of Goodfellas, which I described as the most realistic film portrayal of organized crime.

He felt that movie audiences liked actor Joe Pesci, as he was funny and charming, and they failed to realize that he was portraying a psychotic murderer. I countered by saying that in my time I’ve found some of the real mob guys to be funny, charming and even generous. I’ve also seen some of them turn vicious, cold and heartless — just as Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro portrayed them in Goodfellas.

Goodfellas is a stylistic cinematic powerhouse. Based on Nicholas Pileggi’s true crime book, Wiseguy (not to be confused with the TV program), the film chronicles Henry Hill’s low-level, low-life, crime story.

Hill, played by Ray Liotta in the film, was part of a New York crime crew under the leadership of James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke, a notorious thief, hijacker and mob murderer. Burke organized the $6 million dollar robbery of the Lufthansa Air Cargo Terminal at Kennedy Airport in 1978, which at the time was one of the largest robberies in American history.

Burke later murdered many of his cohorts. Robert De Niro’s character Jimmy Conway in Goodfellas is based on Burke.

Hill testified against Burke and another of his crime mentors, Paul Vario, a Lucchesse crime family captain. Paul Sorvino’s character Paulie Cicero in Goodfellas is based on Vario.

Although Wiseguy is not as authentic or as well made as Goodfellas, I enjoyed watching Ken Wahl and Ray Sharkey mix it up again. And in Wiseguy, the good guys win.  

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ernest Hemingway's Key West Home Designated a Literary Landmark

Ernest Hemingway's Key West home, where he lived for nine years in the 1930s, has been designated a literary landmark.

You can read about the home and the literary designation via the below link:

I visited Hemingway's home on my first trip to the Florida Keys in the late 1970s. As I've been a Hemingway fan since I was a teenager, I was eager to see where Hemingway wrote some of his greatest works.

Below is a photo of Hemingway at his Key West Home:

Below is a photo of Hemingway's study in his Key West home:

Below is a good photo of a Key West beach. One can see why I love the Keys.

My On Crime & Security Column: Funny Money: How to Detect Counterfeit Money

The online small business magazine published my On Crime & Security column today.

The column covers the crime of counterfeiting explains how one can detect bogus bills.

You can read the column here 

Saturday, March 13, 2010

On Espionage: Philip Knightly's History of the Honey Trap

Philip Knightly, author of The Second Oldest Profession: Spies and Spying in the Twentieth Century, has written an interesting piece on espionage "honey traps" for Foreign Policy.

You can read the piece via the below link:,0

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Monty's Double: The World War II Hoax that Duped the Nazis

With the British security service, MI5, recently revealing new details about a great true World War II spy story, The Times of London published Ben Macintyre's piece on how a failed Australian actor named Meyrick Clinton James posed as British General Montgomery (seen in above photo) and fooled the Nazis about the general's whereabouts on the eve of the D-Day invasion in World War II.

James (seen in the above photo on the left) later made a film about the story, staring as himself and Montgomery, along with actor James Mills (seen in the above photo on the right).

You can read Macintyre's story via the below link:

Macintyre is the author of Agent Zigzag, another WWII true spy story. Zigzag is about the criminal-turned-spy Eddie Chapman. I interviewed Macintyre (seen in above photo) for

You can read my three-part interview with Macintyre via the below links:

Macintyre also has a new book on yet another World War II British deception story, Operation Mincemeat. The story, better known as The Man Who Never Was, is a fascinating true spy story.

You can read about the new book via the below link:

Monday, March 8, 2010

From Criminals to Terrorists, 60 Years of the FBI's Most Wanted Fugitives

The FBI began its "Most Wanted" list of dangerous criminal fugitives in 1950. Today that list includes terrorists like Osama bin Laden.

You can read about the 60 years of the FBI's Most Wanted via the below link:

Friday, March 5, 2010

T-Force, An Elite Military Unit that Inspired Ian Fleming in WWII, is Recognised for Bravery

T-Force, an elite British World War II unit which inspired James Bond creator Ian Fleming (seen above in photo) has been officially recognised for bravery against the Nazis, 65 years after they were last in action, the British newspaper The Daily Mail reported.

You can read the story via the below link:

Thursday, March 4, 2010

My Crime Beat Column: Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan

Jake Adlestein, an American reporter working the police beat for a Japanese newspaper, begins his true crime story with a meeting he took with two members of the yakuza, Japan’s organized crime group.

“Either erase the story, or we will erase you. And maybe your family. But we’ll do them first, so you learn your lesson before you die,” one of the yakuza members said to Adelstein.

Adelstein writes that this seemed like a straightforward proposition.

“Walk away from the story and walk away from your job, and it’ll be like it never happened. Write the article, and there is nowhere in this country that we will not hunt you down. Understand?”

Adelstein understood. In Tokyo Vice, Adelstein notes that it is never a smart idea to get on the wrong side of the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest organized crime group. With about forty thousand members, Adelstein writes that it’s a lot of people to piss off.

The yakuza, Adelstein explains, are the Japanese mafia and one can call themselves yakuza, but many of them like to call themselves gokudo, meaning literally “the ultimate path.”

“The Yamaguchi-gumi is the top of the gokudo-heap,” Adelstein tells us. “And among the many subgroups that make up the Yamaguchi-gumi, the Goto-gumi, with more than nine hundred members, is the nastiest. They slash the faces of film directors, they throw people from hotel balconies, they drive bulldozers into people’s houses. Stuff like that.”

Although the history of the yakuza is murky, Adelstein explains that there are two major types:

“There are the tekiya, who are essentially street merchants and small-time con artists, and bukuto, originally gamblers but now including loan sharks, protection money collectors, pimps, and corporate raiders. Another large faction is made up of dowa, the former untouchable caste of Japan that handled butchering animals, making leather goods, and doing other “unclean” jobs.”

Adelstein writes that the Japanese National Police Agency estimates that there are 86,000 gangsters in the country’s crime syndicates, making the yakuza much larger than the Cosa Nostra or any other crime group in America.

Adelstein writes that the yakuza are organized as a neo-family, with each organization having a pyramid structure. The modern-day yakuza have moved into securities trading, and they have infected hundreds of Japan’s listed companies.

“Goldman Sachs with guns,” is how Adelstein describes them.

Although the Japanese were my father’s brutal enemy in World War II, he was forgiving, and he maintained a lifelong interest in all things Japanese. Like my father, I’ve long been interested in Japan.

I visited Sasebo and Nagasaki many years ago when I was in the Navy, and I have fond memories of my time in Japan. Although I am hardly an expert on all things Japanese, I’ve long been interested in Japanese history, literature, films and music and my personal library has many books on Japan. And over the years, I’ve talked to a good number of Japanese men and women who have visited here. 

And as a student of crime and a crime reporter and columnist, I’ve long been interested in the yakuzaTokyo Vice is a good addition to my library.

Tokyo Vice reads like a crime thriller, with Adelstein narrating the tale in a noir-style voice. The book also contains a good bit of self-deprecating humor. He is very open about his personal life, although parts of which I could have done without knowing about.

Adelstein tells an interesting story about a nice Jewish boy from Missouri who travels to Japan to study Buddhism and the martial arts and becomes the only American to write for the Yomiuri Shimbun, a major Japanese newspaper.

Adelstein’s father was a county coroner, so he was always interested in crime and what he calls the dark side of the human condition. This interest led to his becoming a reporter covering Japan’s world of crime.

Adelstein covered many stories about murder, prostitution, the sex slave trade, drugs, and assorted crimes. He befriended a Japanese police officer who guided him through Japan’s complicated culture and the ways of the yakuza.

I found his stories about the Japanese cops, who lack the authority American cops have in fighting organized crime, to be the most interesting part of the book. His mentoring cop friend accompanied him to his meeting with the yakuza who threatened his life.

The story that led to his being threatened was a case concerning a yakuza boss named Tadamasa Goto. In Tokyo Vice we learn that this boss informed on his own organization to the FBI in order to receive a liver transplant in America, jumping ahead of American citizens on the waiting list.

(So much for Japan’s universal health care. Look at the lengths a powerful crime boss went to come to America for our health care system).

Adelstein wisely did not publish the story in the Japanese press, but he left Japan and published Tokyo Vice in America.

Tokyo Vice is a fascinating book and I recommend it if you’re interested in Japan, Japanese organized crime, and a very good crime story.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

My On Crime & Security Column: Beware of Fraudulent Census Takers

The online small business magazine published my On Crime & Security column yesterday.

The column covered the fraudulent Census takers that are operating out there during this year's Census. You can read the column via the below link:

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Weapons of Mass Disruption: My Piece On The Cyber Warfare Discussion At The International Spy Museum

Counterterrorism, The Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International, a quarterly magazine for law enforcement, government and the military worldwide, published my piece on the deadly serious subject of cyber warfare.

I attended the opening of the International Spy Museum's Weapons of Mass Disruption gallery (seen in above photo) in Washington D.C. and I heard former intelligence officials and experts in the cyber technology field discuss the threat of cyber warfare.

The speakers included Philip Reitinger, the Deputy Under Secretary of National Protection and Programs Directorate in the Department of Homeland Security, Admiral Mike McConnell, former Director of National Intelligence, R. James Woolsey, former CIA Director, and several others.

The gallery illustrates how spies, terrorists and criminals can turn electrical power lines into battle lines. Cyber warfare can bring a nation to its knees by someone, as Spy Museum Chairman Milton Maltz put it, with a weapon no more sinister than a common laptop computer.

You can read my piece below:

You can also learn about the history of cyber warfare by reading my Q&A with Spy Museum historian Thomas Boghardt (seen in above photo). You can read the interview via below: