Category Archives: Investigative Report
In December, 1991, the unthinkable happened as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) dissolved into fifteen separate countries. Known informally as the Soviet Union, the USSR seemed at times indestructible to those viewing the union from abroad. But within dissension had been brewing for many years in the wake of the tyrannical reign of Joseph Stalin (1878-1953). His successors embarked on a period of de-Stalinization that thrived under the administration of Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev (1894-1971). The Soviet Union remained a superpower and in direct competition with arch-rival the United States. It dissolution shocked the world and left the future of the former Soviet republics in limbo. In the aftermath of the monumental and historic collapse, the individual republics established their own rights to self-governance and in some cases, completely rejected Russian rule. Tensions between many of the nations continues to this day. Currently, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin serves as the President of Russia, and is as much of a controversial figure as many of his predecessors. His appointment by late President Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin (1931-2007) gave many Russians hope that a new direction was in store for the beloved country. Today, as we look back at the time that has passed since he was chosen to lead Russia, we can see a tortured nation still suffering from systematic oppression and what is rightly described in this book as totalitarianism.
In 2017, Gessen was hired by The New Yorker magazine as a stiff writer and she continues to be a leading voice for LGBT causes in her homeland of Russia. She hails from Moscow and is acutely aware of the persecution that she and many others face because of their sexual orientation. In Russia, the government embarked on a crusade against the LGBT community that began to flourish in the 1990s with the passing legislation against “homosexual propaganda”. The change in society which gave license to open discrimination of LGBT citizens is nothing short of barbaric. The murder of Vladislav Tornovoy marked a point of no return and although outrage at the crime was widespread, homophobia continued to increase. There are many ugly truths to be told and this phenomenal book that reveals the dark side behind the Iron Curtain, we can see first hand how Russia missed its opportunity to move away from the iron grip of Leninism and embrace democratic ideas. Some Russians undoubtedly wish to return to the Soviet days while younger Russians wish to move forward and transform Russia into a country of which they can be proud. To understand life in the Soviet Union and in new Russian society, Gessen interviewed several individuals, each with their own story to tell that will prove to be riveting to readers. Their names are Lyosha, Masha, Seryozha, and Zhanna and they each devoted a year of their time to tell Gessen about the Russia they know and in some cases, have left. Zhanna may be familiar to some readers as the daughter of Boris Yefimovich Nemtsov (1959-2015) who served as the First Deputy Prime Minister of Russia under Boris Yeltsin.
Gessen takes up deep inside their lives in post-Cold War Russia as Perestroika becomes of the official policy of Moscow. It is cited as one of the reasons of the fall of the USSR and a major factor in the resurgence of totalitarianism. The debate will continue for years but what is clearly apparent is that life in the Soviet Union was one of hardship, poverty and the loss of hope. These stories should remove any illusions readers may have of a high quality of life for the average Russian citizen. This is a sobering look at the daily struggles Russians face and the relentless abolition of individual liberties. Homosexuals became easy scapegoats and in the book, we follow Lyosha and his struggle to maintain a stable life in the midst of fierce homophobia supported and encouraged by official government policy. Masha and Zhanna would later become voices for the opposition while Seryozha would come to learn about the privileges attached to his family’s residence in “Czar Village”. Each faced their own struggles and their anecdotes reveal the dark transformation of Russian society as the departing Boris Yeltsin hands over the reigns to the former director of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB). Putin wasted no time as President of Russia and has placed the country in a vice grip, showing no signs of relinquishing his hold on power.
Where this book truly excels, is the author’s clarity in explaining the failures of Moscow post-Stalin and the importance of neighboring Crimea and Ukraine. Both territories have become hotbed issues during Putin’s presidency and increased tensions between Moscow and Washington, with the latter establishing punishing sanctions. The promise of hope, which existed for a brief time in Russia, seems to be receding on a regular basis as the Kremlin extends its totalitarian grip as far as it possibly can. Many have fled Russia, making a home in other parts of Europe and Brighton Beach, a small enclave in my hometown of Brooklyn, New York. As the author points out, Seryozha stopped responding to her messages in 2015, but the others have each made the tough decision to leave the places they called home in search of a better life, free from the grip of Putin’s regime. Slander, political oppression and even assassination, are hallmarks of Putin’s tactics to stifle the voices of perceived enemies of the state. Large numbers of expats will not return to Russia as long as Vladimir Putin remains determined to keep the men and women of their homeland held firmly in subjugation. Gessen has dared to speak out, risking persecution that has plagued other brave voices that have done their best to expose the facade created to cover the realities of Russian society. Opposition of any kind is not tolerated and the descriptions in the book of the actions towards those who dared to speak out have the markings of the classic police state.
Many misconceptions about Russia exist, mainly due to incorrect reporting and propaganda released by the Kremlin. But as we can see through Gessen’s work, life in Russia is quite different from the image the has been projected by officials. Persecution, oppression and famine are just some of the daily factors that make life in Russia a hard one to live. Deception and mistrust have become widespread and are eerily similar to the climate of suspicion created the Third Reich. The Soviet Union is long gone and in spite of Putin’s agenda, it will never again rise to the heights that it reached during the Cold War. And as the younger generation of Russians continue to find ways to make their voices heard, Russia will be faced again with a moment of monumental change. But in order for it to move forward, the people will have to ask what kind of Russia do they want for future generations? Do they want a true democracy or do they wish to endure several decades of rule by Vladimir Putin? The voices in the book have made their positions clear. It remains to be seen if anyone truly listens. They know the Russia that you and I have only read about. The Russia they know is a cold place, mostly closed off from the outside world and a nation that can never shake the ghost of Joseph Stalin and his mentor Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (1870-1924), known to the world as Vladimir Lenin. But if Russia chooses to listen, the message is loud and clear that the future is history.
Deliver Us: Three Decades of Murder and Redemption in the Infamous I-45/Texas Killing Fields – Kathryn Casey
In spite of their infamous reputations, there is something about serial killers that compels society to revisit their crimes and re-live what could best be described as nightmares by the families of victims, survivors of the crimes and law enforcement who worked countless hours in their attempts to bring the killers to justice. Netflix recently premiered Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, allowing viewers to hear Bundy in his own words as we continue to seek explanations for the actions of one of America’s most prolific serial killers. He is far from the only one and is joined in infamy both dozens of other killers whose actions revealed the extremely dark side of human nature. In the State of Texas, between Galveston and Houston, lies Interstate Highway 45 (I-45). Between the years 1971 and 1996, the bodies of 30 women were recovered in what became known as the Texas Killing Fields. Some of the murders were solved but the majority have remained unsolved and currently classified as cold cases. The barbarity of the crimes coupled with the mysterious circumstances surrounding the disappearances of the victims, have cast an ever darker cloud on some of Texas’ worst murders. Author Katheryn Casey has revisited the killing fields and this is her account of what she learned as she stepped back into time and explored the serious of murdered that rocked Texas and caused many to wonder if any young woman was safe.
On Thursday, June 17, 1971, Colette Anise Wilson was a typical thirteen year-old girl in Alvin, Texas, but she could not have known that it would be her last day alive. Her remains were found several months later in November of that year. Her disappearance and murder became a de facto script that would be played out over and over again as more young women met a similar fate, leaving families looking for answers that made sense and detectives under enormous pressure to solve crimes that had never before affected the towns along I-45. The grief that engulfed the families is captured movingly by Casey and reveals the innocence of the young women, robbed of a full life through a chance encounter that had deadly consequences. A common theme that I saw in the book and one that was to be expected, is that none of the families were ever the same again. Each surviving family member handled the grief in their own way with some becoming committed activists in helping other parents of murdered children and others sinking further into misery. In this book, Casey keeps their daughters’ legacies alive and gives the families a voice that needs to heard and remembered.
Readers who are sensitive to this type subject matter should beware that the descriptions of the crimes are graphic. Forensics is crucial to the murders and through Casey, we revisit the crime scenes in order to understand what detectives faced as they came to understand that a deadly epidemic had commenced on the I-45. At certain points in the book, I felt a slight chill come over me as I read the stories of the murders. And what was more chilling, is the anonymity of the killer(s). Authorities have long believed that many of the murders were the work of one person, a serial killer that had picked Texas as his killing field. In truth, we do not know for sure how many killers did in fact roam the I-45. It is quite possible that several claimed the lives of multiple women over the course of more than twenty-five years. Casey does not attempt to answer that question but the narrative does leave the question open.
Towards the end of the book, there was one section that stood out in particular in which Casey recalls a conversation with retired FBI profiler Mark Young. During their discussion about the I-45 murders, he remarked “at any one time, there are about six hundred serial killers in the U.S.. Of those, maybe half are active. The others have aged and stopped killing, or they’ve stopped for other reasons, like sickness, or they’re in prison for other crimes.” Considering the population of the United States is well above 300 million people, that does not add up to significant portion of the population. But I believe that even one serial killer is far too many. But as Casey explores in the book, how do we know who is a serial killer? By her own admission, she might have let Kevin Edison Smith come into her home if he had presented himself in a non-threatening manner. His conviction for the murder of Krystal Jean Baker highlights the fact that we do not know who among us has the capability to be a stone cold killer. Further, there is a chance that at least once in our lives, we have crossed paths with someone who has killed or has the ability to commit premeditated murder.
There is always the possibility that one or more of the I-45 cold cases will one day be solved. However, the passage of time and the loss of critical evidence may prove to be too much for even the most seasoned investigators. But for anyone who is making an effort to understand what did happen during that twenty-five year stretch when the Texas Killing Fields ran red with blood, a blueprint is needed to provide a map of where and when to look. Kathryn Casey has done that and more in this eye-opening and hair-raising account of serial murder in the Lone Star State.
Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program that Brought Nazi Scientists to America – Annie Jacobsen
On April 30, 1945, Adolf Hitler fatally shot his wife Eva Braun and then turned the gun on himself as it became evidently clear that allied forces were closing on the führerbunker. The fear of falling into Russian hands and a subsequent trial for war crimes proved to be too much for the top echelon of the Third Reich that remained in Berlin. Many top-ranking officials had previously fled and others had left Germany after realizing that all hope for a victory in the war had been lost. As allied forces move in and occupied the country, the true horrors of the Nazi reign became clear and soldiers were faced with the grim discoveries of concentration camps, emaciated and dead prisoners. The Final Solution had been revealed for the entire world to see. In the aftermath of the war, several hundred Nazi party members were executed by allied forces. Others were acquitted or had their death sentences commuted to long-term imprisonment. Another group consisting of scientists and doctors, found their way to America with the help of the United States Government in what became known as Operation Paperclip. Their story is the focus of this incredible book by author Annie Jacobsen.
Government files regarding the secret operation had been marked classified and would have remained hidden if not for the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) which gave Americans a tool to learn the truth about many of the Government’s secrets. This tool was thoroughly employed by Jacobsen in discovering the truth of this story that was first disclosed by the New York Times. Jacobsen explains herself that some of her FOIA requests are still pending and it is unknown if or when they will be answered. Nevertheless, she has written the story that will shock anyone who decides to open the pages of this book. Her focus is on selected former doctors and scientists of the Reich who had worked on the V-2 rocket program at Nordhausen and concentration camps in which medical and biological experiments had been conducted, with Auschwitz and Ravensbrück being high on the list. I warn readers that this book is not for the faint at heart . The atrocities that are revealed defy logic and reveal the very dark side of human nature. And as the book progresses, the names of the former scientist and doctors will be seared into the reader’s memory as a reminder of the many secrets the Third Reich tried to hide as the military collapsed. As horrible as the actions of the Reich were, the crux of the book is the courting and resettlement of former Nazis by the United States Government through a program that will cause consternation, shock and even anger in some readers.
The book begins as the German military collapses in defeat and allied forces are scouring Berlin and other parts of Germany on intelligence missions to discover the secrets of the Reich. Britain and Russia are also conducting their own intelligence missions and a race against time develops as the three nations each seek to obtain as much information as they can from their defeated enemy. As the author explains, the Cold War was looming in the distance and in the name of “national security”, government officials were more than willing to recruit former Nazis out of fears they would be recruited and resettled in the Soviet Union. The V-2 rocket and nerve agents Tabun and Sarin, became hot items as superpowers prepared for the next world war which they believed would include the use of biological weapons. The United States spared no expense and would not let Joseph Stalin have the upper hand. The brilliant German minds behind innovations that exceeded allied capacity were to be recruited at all costs, even at the expense of morality. Annie Jacobsen has captured the emotion and tense battles that raged as the State Department battled the military over a program that it found to be appalling. The American public slowly became aware of this nefarious program and mounting opposition forced the Government to act in what could described as a war against itself.
The main focus is rightly on the secret intelligence operation but the author also includes a stead stream of facts about other members of the Reich and actions that were being taken behind the scenes throughout Germany as the tide of the war changed and defeat became a stark reality. The entire cast of characters makes an appearance in the story. Some would escape Germany, fleeing to South America and others took their own lives rather than be tried, convicted and executed in a military trial. Before the collapse of the Reich, officials went to great lengths to hide as much information as possible from the allied forces. Today there is a strong possibility that secret tombs exist containing secrets of the Reich are still hidden across Germany. Time will tell if all of them will be discovered or if they will continue to fade from public consciousness.
The amount of research that was conducted in order to produce this book is staggering. Yet, there is still much we do not know about Operation paperclip as the Government claims files were lost or destroyed. Some are still classified with no release date on the horizon. At some point in time, someone will find out the truth about what truly did happened in the wake of World War II as America embraced German talent. By then, anyone who participated in World War II will be long gone, rendering any type of prosecution or accountability null. But the public will finally know just how complicit American officials and the White House were in recruiting war criminals for the technological advancement of the United States. Jacobsen has given us a detailed roadmap with which to start and this book will undoubtedly stand the test of times as one of the finest works on the Third Reich. My only complaint about this book is that I wished it had never ended. I found myself glued to the book from the beginning and was unable to put it down. The is the true story of Operation Paperclip, one of World War II’s darkest secrets.
On July 21, 1979, the bodies of fourteen year-old Edward Smith and thirteen year-old Alfred Evans were found in Southwest Atlanta. Both had been murdered and authorities struggled to find a motive for the senseless killings. Over the course of the next two years, more than twenty children, adolescents and adults were found murdered in Atlanta. The homicides were dubbed by the media as the Atlanta Child Murders. Today, the crimes are a distant memory for many Americans but Atlantans will vividly recall the time period in which the primarily African-American areas of the city lived in fear as a killer was on the loose, preying upon young children, teens and adults. Less than forty years ago, a homicidal maniac terrorized the famed Southern Georgia city that served as the home of the 1996 Olympic Games.
When Wayne Bertram Williams was arrested on June 21,1981, the City of Atlanta breathed a collective sigh of relief. It now seemed as if Atlanta’s children could once again venture outdoors without fear of death. Authorities had been watching Williams for some time before taking him into custody and officially charging him with the murders of Nathaniel Cater and Jimmy Payne, both of whom were adults at the time of their deaths. Williams was later convicted and sentenced to life in prison. To this day he continues to profess his innocence with defiant statements and baseless theories as to how the murders occurred. Eerily, prosecutors knew that their chances of convicting him on all of the murders were nearly impossible and to this day, some of them are technically unresolved. Williams was the main suspect but because he was never convicted of them, there is no formal sense of closure to those open homicides. Authorities had suspected Williams had help but were never able to prove it conclusively. Myths and rumors have plagued the Atlanta Child Murders nearly from the beginning, clouding the truth. But author Jack Rosewood has sought out to dis-spell these myths, telling the true story of Wayne Williams and the deaths in the City of Atlanta between 1979 and 1981.
The book is more a compendium than a biography of Williams or detailed examination of his trial and subsequent conviction. Rosewood’s purpose is strictly to relate what is fact and discard what is fiction. And the result is a chronological examination of the case from start to finish, giving readers the most complete picture of what really happened. The authors spares the reader from any bias and ridiculous fodder for gossip. The presentation in the book is streamlined with a steady but not too quick pace, keeping the reader engaged as the story picks up pace and Williams enters the cross-hairs of the Atlanta Police Department. Those who decide to make notes will find that the paragraphs are formatted perfectly for highlighting information to be retained for a later date. Rosewood covers each victim, not just as another number but as young kid or adult, driving home the savageness of the murders.
Major crimes have the tendency to cause speculation among investigators and citizens alike. All sorts of theories arose as to who was responsible for the murders. Rosewood covers those theories, as outlandish as they were and still are, and breaks them down until they no longer have any semblance of reality. Race has always had a large role in Atlanta, a city which was at one time was a hotbed of Ku Klux Clan activity. The city’s dark racial history reared its head again, becoming a political pawn in the mission to bring the killer to justice. And even today, the murders continue to bring up discussions about race, politics and law enforcement in Atlanta. Rosewood handles the subject perfectly and clears up any misconceptions that may exist.
Towards the end of the book, Rosewood gives interesting descriptions of other notable or perhaps forgotten African-American serial killers in the United States. Their names will undoubtedly be unfamiliar to many readers. And for others, the idea of black serial killer seems too surreal to believe. But Rosewood has done his homework and these killers are just as deadly or even more so than Williams. Curiously, after he was arrested, tried and convicted, the murders stopped. The cessation of the homicides led many to firmly believe that Williams was the right man. He has never admitted to killing anyone and will surely go this grave professing his innocence. But forensic evidence, damning witness testimony and Williams’ own implosion on the witness stand, sealed his fate and led to his confinement for life behind bars. His appeals have been exhausted and it is nearly certain that Wayne Williams will spend the rest of his life in prison. History may one day absolve him of some of the crimes attributed to him, but until then, the Atlanta Child Murders lays squarely on the shoulders of Wayne Williams.
Britain is steadily moving towards the anticipated and dreaded exit from the European Union on March 29, 2019. For Ireland, the move comes with a mix of emotions, including fears of the re-ignition of a conflict that resulted in several thousands deaths over the span of several decades. The IRA has long been recognized as the extreme group responsible for dozens of bombs and acts of terrorism across Norther Ireland and London. But the reality is that many groups were involved in one of the world’s deadliest conflicts. I have been following Brexit since the referendum was held on June 23, 2016. The vote to leave the European Union sent shock waves throughout the world and left many wondering what would happen to both England and Ireland in its wake? I wanted to know more about the conflict in Northern Ireland and decided on this book by author Peter Taylor. And what I found inside its pages, has opened my eyes to a feud that would have dire consequences should it commence again.
Taylor explains early in the book that his first challenge was to decide on where to begin. He decides on 1916, when Patrick Pearse and his “Irish Volunteers” laid siege on the General Post Office in Dublin, proclaiming the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic. Their philosophy was modeled after Sinn Fein, created in 1905 by Arthur Griffith, a journalist in Dublin. Six days of fighting ensued before Pearse gave orders to surrender. On May 3, 2016, he was executed at the age of thirty-six. His life and legacy continue to live on after his death but I do not believe even he could have predicted the events that followed in Northern Ireland.
Taylor is beyond reproach in telling the story of the rise of the Catholic movement for Irish independence from British Rule. In 1919, the Irish Volunteers became the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the name it carries to this day and in 2910, the Government of Ireland Act of 1920 officially partitioned the country into Norther Ireland and Southern Ireland, allotting six counties to the north and the remain twenty-six to the south. In the north, Protestants are the majority and live comfortably under British rule. The Catholics are the minority and seek to be free of the control by the Government in London. Discrimination becomes a tool of the trade, relegating the Catholics the lowest level in society. Tensions begin to build and it is not long before both sides engage in violence. Fianna Fail was established in 1927 after breaking away from Sinn Fein and in 1996, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) was created in response to the growing threat from the IRA. London soon realizes that Northern Ireland is a powder keg and sends in British troops to restore order. These various groups became entangled in a battle that was nothing short of all out war. And as we see through Taylor’s words, it nearly tore the entire country apart.
I warn the reader that violence is prevalent in the book. However, no story about the IRA, UVF and British Army conflict can be told without discussing it. Here, Taylor does not mince words and the acts of violence might even disturb the most hardened of readers. What I found to be even more shocking aside from the acts alone, were the ages of the young men and women involved, some of whom were no more than twenty years old. But they believed in their causes and were determined to fight to the death in support. As an American, it is with some difficulty that I was able to put myself in their position. I have visited Ireland, seeing the General Post Office in Dublin while embracing all that the Irish have to offer. But this story is not about the Irish breakfast or a pint of Guinness. This is the bloody story of sectarianism in its most violent form.
Many of the fighters on all sides are no longer alive having succumbed to death, old age and in some cases a hunger strike, as was the case in 1981 at Long Kesh, now known as HM Prison Maze. But in this excellent account of the conflict, their stories come back to life allowing the reader to go deep inside the mindset of the IRA and its followers. In hindsight, we have the privilege of examining the actions of all involved. But at the time, all believed that they were acting in good faith. And even in some of the interviews that Taylor conducts, the soldiers and activists stand firm in their convictions. The tense atmosphere, intimidation and fear that engulfed a nation is captured brilliantly by the author.
The British Government plays a huge role in the story for obvious reasons. And although London is slow to react to the building tension, but once it does, the story picks up pace and its intervention adds another layer of tension of the already explosive conflict. The administrations of Harold Wilson (1916-1995), Edward Heath (1916-2005), James Callaghan (1912-2005) and Margaret Thatcher (1923-2013) all tried their hand at moving the conflict towards peace. Thatcher would prove why she had been nicknamed the “Iron Lady” following the hunger strikes at Long Kesh in which Provisional IRA member Bobby Sands (1954-1981) died after being on strike for sixty-six days. The failures of London and the eventual success at achieving peace are covered extensively by Taylor in full detail, putting together all the pieces of a tragic story. One of the highlights of the book is that in his interviews, he was not afraid to ask the difficult questions of the interviewed. His approach and the unfiltered answers, give the book even more authenticity as Taylor takes us back in time, recounting a story that should never be forgotten.
Today, Ireland seems peaceful but beneath the surface, old tensions exist and in Northern Ireland, sharp divisions remain between Protestant and Catholic. Time will tell if the old rivalries will be resurrected and the IRA and UVF re-engage in deadly conflict. The hope is that calm prevails and he world can breathe a sigh of relief in a united Ireland. What is certain, is that a willingness to maintain peace will be needed by all sides. Wisdom and foresight will prove to be invaluable tools along with unwavering patience. The people of Ireland face an uncertain future but I remain confident that peace will prevail in the hope that all involved do not wish to see a return to the past. For anyone who is trying to understand the Northern Ireland conflict, this is a great book to start with.
Theranos was supposed to the company that changed health care forever. The Silicon Valley startup had issued a bold proclamation that it had developed technology that could analyze a person’s blood and screen it against a multitude of known conditions, thereby providing early detection of sometimes fatal conditions. The startup attracted attention and investments from big name players, all highly interested in the potential of what promised to be a revolutionary product. Today, Theranos is gone, having officially become defunct in September, 2018. Its proposed device nicknamed “Edison”, never materialized into the product it was designed to be and the fall of Theranos left many with shock, frustration and anger. But why did a small company with such a game-changing idea, fail to live up to its potential? John Carreyrou is a journalist with the Wall Street Journal who received a tip about an obscure Silicon Valley startup plagued by internal problems and using deception as a tactic to accumulate investors. His investigation has resulted in this best-selling account of the rise and fall of Theranos.
The central figure in the story is Elizabeth Holmes, the wide-eyed young lady with bright blonde hair who envisioned a product that would project her to stardom in the male dominated world of information technology. Although she only completed two years at Stanford, she was able to launch the startup with the help of very wealthy investors. Interest into the product accumulated and in a short amount of time, the money rolled in. But as time went on, investors began to realize that little return was being shown. And as the facade slowly crumbled, the truth was revealed for the world to see. And even then, many on the outside of Theranos had no idea about what really transpired behind the scenes.
Former employees agreed to talk to Carreyrou, even in the face of legal threats from Theranos’s counsel. A widow also talked, even as she mourned the suicide of her husband, once one of the company’s best technicians. The picture that has come together is a web of secrets and lies that doomed the company from the start. This inside story is nothing short of mind-boggling and it is surreal that the startup existed for as long as it did. During its prime, it claimed as members of its Board of Directors, Henry Kissinger and Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis. Investors such as the savvy Rupert Murdoch also put their money into the startup, believing it truly did have an innovative concept that would change the world. The ability of Holmes to sway investors towards Theranos and finalize deals with major carriers such as Walgreens, highlighted the ambition behind her vision that carried a win at all costs mindset. But that same mindset would later prove to be her downfall and that of Theranos.
Interesting, Carreyrou does not enter the story until about midway. Prior to that, we learn about Holmes’s life and the foundation of Theranos. Contacts are reached and employees soon fill the roster of a promising young company. But as they would soon learn, there was far more than meets the eye and no one would come away unscathed. Leadership that evolved into tyranny cast a dark cloud over the startup and a revolving door of employees ensues. Carreyrou tells each of their unbelievable stories while covering the progress of Theranos step by step. But over time, optimism faded and former employees could no longer ignore the many illegalities and outright lies purported by the company. And as Carreyrou is beginning to learn about the startup, he finds assistance and guidance in the voices of those who were once on the inside. At this point in the book, the story picks up the pace and the battle between Theranos and the media, in particular the Wall Street Journal, is nothing short of a slug-fest.
The investigation by the Wall Street Journal, in addition with anonymous tips to the Center for Medicaid and Medicare services, combined to seal the fate of Theranos. And despite threats of litigation to the paper from Theranos’s legal counsel, the Wall Street Journal moved forward publishing a series of articles that opened the eyes of many to a deception that had gone unnoticed by even the sharpest of eyes. By the time the end came and the company was a shell of its former self, nearly all of the major players and investors were gone but the memory of Theranos remains firmly implanted in their minds.
Silicon Valley is full of startups, bristling with activity in the belief that it might by the next big thing in technology. But sometimes, a company can move too fast too soon, never stopping to evaluate itself and its motives. Haste of that nature combined with ego and vindictiveness, can combine to form a nexus of nefarious behavior that can only lead to defeat and in some cases, total destruction. This is the unbelievable story of the mysterious and ultimately disappointing, Theranos.
America often has an uncomfortable relationship with its past. The dark moments in the founding of the nation are sometimes left out of history books and never discussed in conversation. Native Americans are either viewed with empathy or disgust, typically depending on the observer’s knowledge of history. Alcoholism, depression and economic instability have continued to plague Native American reservations, given as a token gesture by the United States Government. In Hollywood, they have often been presented as wild savages determined to murder Americans, only to be repelled by heroic soldiers and cowboys seeking to preserve the union. The reality however, is that there is much about the Native Americans of North America that remains largely unknown. In the State of New York where I reside, virtually nothing is taught about the Lenape Indians who owned what is today the Tri-State area, in addition to other vast territories. In the South, the once mighty Cherokee nation owned land, lived under their own rules and were content with life before the arrival of new nation, created following the independence of 13 colonies from British imperialism. Today the Cherokees are an afterthought for most, but at one time, they ruled large parts of what became the future United States of America. This is their story and that of the infamous “Trail of Tears”, that would permanently change the lives the Cherokee Indians.
John Ehle takes us back in time to the late 1700s as George Washington takes his post as the first Commander-in-Chief. The new colonies need land and expansion is their answer. But the land they seek is owned by Native Americans who have no desire to leave the only homes that they have ever known. New settlers become engaged with native tribes and the stage is set for some of the bloodiest conflicts in United States history. The Creeks, Choctaw, Sioux and Iroquois are just a few of the dozens of tribes that composed North America. Their removal and partial extinction is similar and relevant to the current story. And I assure you that after you have finished this book, you will look at American history quite differently. Further, there is more to the story than just the seizure of land and it is a story that proved to be more than I had anticipated as I began to read this book.
The early parts of the book are detailed with the many skirmishes that occur as the two opposing forces become entangled in conflict. Reminiscent of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant, released in 2015, relations between White settlers, French settlers and Native Americans were at times fragile and the battles deadly. Ehle provides detailed and sometimes graphic descriptions of the brutal conflicts that developed which break down the facade of the glorious creation of America. In fact, I warn readers easily upset that this part of the book might prove to be challenging to read. The words are uncomfortable but so is the truth and the author minces no words.
The story has its central characters and it becomes slightly difficult to follow as they each make an appearance. Major Ridge, John Ridge and John Ross become the power players at the top of the Cherokee command. The United States is represented through President Andrew Jackson and Georgia Governor John Forsyth, among others. Their names and actions often intersect and the story may seem a little confusing at first but once the government’s position is established, the narrative becomes highly focused as Georgia and Washington put the official plan into action, and the removal of thousands of Native Americans commences. It is here through the Treaty of New Echota in 1935, that the “Trail of Tears” is born and the story takes a dark and regrettable turn.
Earlier I mentioned that there was more to the story and there is one aspect of Cherokee life that is largely unknown and never acknowledge and that is its relationship with slavery in America. It came as a surprise to me and I am sure that many Americans never learned this in school. But it is relevant to their story and a part of history that we must understand as we continue to revisit the legacy of the United States.
Predictably, the latter part of the book is focused on the Trail of Tears itself and the deadly impact it had upon the Cherokees and African slaves, forced to march mainly by foot, from Georgia and other parts of the South, out west to Oklahoma, the territory designated for them by Washington. The full number of people who made the journey is still up for debate but it is quite possible that up to 100,000 were forced from their homes and ordered to move west. The number of Cherokee deaths ranges anywhere from several thousand to as high as 16,0000. Harsh winters, disease and famine combined to produce a deadly plague that took the lives of many. And for those that did survive the journey, their lives were never the same again. And to this day, they have never reclaimed the lives they once had.
In recent years, more U.S. States have taken the bold step of renaming Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day, recognizing the complicated and violent history America has with its Native American citizens. And if we are going to continue to move forward while acknowledging wrongdoing and correcting it, then we must first learn the true history of America’s birth.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea remains one of the most secluded nations on earth. To some, it is the best example of the society George Orwell described in his masterpiece, 1984. Documentaries, photographs and videos taken in North Korea have given the rest of the world glimpses into a nation ruled by an iron fist, where individuality and personal expression are as forbidden as foreign literature and films. Every living moment of North Korean life is in service to the State under the tutelage and patronage of the “Dear Leader”. The ideology of the North Korean Republic known as “Juche” was made famous by the late Kim il Sung (1912-1994) and has been carried forward by his son Kim Jong il (1941-2011) and currently his grandson, Kim Jong Un. Portraits of the leaders can be found on the walls of nearly ever building in the country, reinforcing the demand for subservience by the government of its citizens. The threat of American Invasion and moral corruption of young Koreans by foreigner influence are used by the State as justification for its seclusion from most of the world. But for some citizens, the smoke and mirrors become clear as nothing more than propaganda used to keep society in line. and curiosity of the outside world creeps steadily in. Their awakening results in a mix of emotions, one of which is defection to South Korea typically by way of China.
Barbara Demick is the former Beijing bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times and spent five years in Seoul interviewing defectors from North Korea. This book tells the story of several individuals who made the difficult decision to leave the only place they have called home. I think it is fair to say that anyone outside of North Korea is aware of the totalitarian regime imposed upon the people of that nation. Journalists have lifted the carefully guarded veil constructed by Pyongyang. But what is contained in the pages of this book might surprise even the most knowledgeable readers. In fact, descriptions of their daily lives will stun some but in order to understand their desire to learn about the outside world, escape a suppressive regime and find peace and happiness, we must learn their stories and the challenging lives they were born into. Their names are Kim Hyuck, Mi-Ran, Jun-Sang, Oak Hee, her mother Song Hee Suk and Dr. Kim Ji-eun. Their stories are different but they are all united in the defection to South Korea, leaving behind family members and friends. But what they witnessed will remain with them for the rest of their days. Those events which we learn about in this book are more than any of us would want to endure. I guarantee that for American readers, after you have finished this book, you will have a greater appreciation for the privilege of living in the country that is perhaps the most powerful nation on earth.
For those readers new to literature about North Korea and/or its defectors, the author provides a good history about the Japanese occupation of North Korea and its liberation following World War II. Kim il-Sung would rise as the leader of the new Soviet backed North Korea while Syngman Rhee (1875-1965) established him as the leader of the U.S. backed South Korea. The establishment of the 38th Parallel also known as the DMZ, as the dividing line between the two countries, remains firmly in place as the line that separates two very different countries and different worlds. Sung’s goal to create a new version of Communism, resulted in a regime that ranks among the most brutal anywhere in the world and seemingly stuck several decades behind the rest of the modern world. And as the nation endured periods of famine and near economic collapse, increasing numbers of North Koreans, including those in this book, made their way south by any means necessary.
When we first meet our characters, their lives are typical of North Korea, far removed from any knowledge of or influence by the western world. Allegiance to the “Dear Leader” is mandatory and all seem to stay in line willingly. But over time the facade wears away and the death of Kim il-Sung on July 8, 1994, would provide the catalyst for many to open their eyes to the truth about life in North Korea. Radio programs and even television from South Korea began to infiltrate the nation as growing numbers of citizens began to question all that they had been taught from a young age. For figures in the story at hand, the moment of revelation of a life outside of North Korea proved to be too seductive to ignore and once the decision was made, the next step was to act which they did under the most intuitive of ways. And in stark contrast to the idea of communist citizens all falling in line without thought, each of the characters prove to be as sharp and clever as anyone determined to seek asylum in the hope of a better life. Their successful defections to the South are not without complications and their adjustment to life in Seoul, also shows the complicated efforts that exist to undo many years of indoctrination and seclusion.
Throughout the book, a constant theme is the possible collapse of North Korea and even the author remarks that it has been predicted for many years. In spite of conditions that should cause the downfall of any government, North Korea continues to maintain its position as the rogue nation that issues threats to neighboring countries while preparing for a believed conflict with the United States. The government operates on a system of dysfunction and in some cases hypocrisy. While those at the top enjoy American cars, films and imported goods, millions of North Korea endure malnutrition and destitution. Time will tell if the regime will collapse but what we do know, not just from news reports but also from the stories in this book, is that outside of Pyongyang, life for millions of North Koreans is marked by famine, poverty and fear of the State. Defectors have survived the roughest of ordeals and no longer live in the fear that grips North Korea. However, their hearts are still with those left behind and they do believe in the dream that one day Korea may once again be unified. Until then, the number of defectors may continue to rise and people seek to move away from scavenging for food and praising the Dear Leader to having a full meal, talking freely and being able to watch any show they prefer on television. Their stories may give others inspiration that there is a life outside of North Korea and for some, it is worth dying for. But it is hoped that they are able to escape and enjoy the many privileges that so many of us take for granted.
This book has caused me to really think about the concept of freedom and how precious is truly is. I have seen and accomplished things that most North Koreans either have no knowledge of or ability to do. I am grateful for the life that I have and the author is correct when she says that life in North Korea is nothing to envy.
June 5, 1968 – Senator Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968) (D-New York) concludes his speech at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California after scoring a critical primary victory in his quest for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. As he walked through the pantry while exiting the hotel, he was shot and mortally wounded. Twenty-six hours later in the early morning hours of June 6, 1968, his life and the dream he inspired came to a tragic conclusion. He is survived by his widow Ethel and eleven children, the youngest of whom was born after his death. Her name is Kerry Kennedy and along with brother Robert, Jr., she keeps her father’s memory alive and well. Her book Robert F. Kennedy: Ripples of Hope: Kerry Kennedy in Conversation with Heads of State, Business Leaders, Influencers, and Activists about Her Father’s Impact on Their Live is a fitting tribute to her late father’s life and is yet another testament to the profound influence he had on those who knew him and even those who never met him. His alleged murderer Sirhan Sirhan, remains incarcerated at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego County, California. The official narrative paints a picture of Sirhan being a deranged lunatic determined to murder Kennedy at all costs. He was initially sentenced to life in prison after his conviction but several years later, his sentence was commuted to life. In the eyes of many, he is the man who killed Kennedy in an open and shut case. But there have always been questions surrounding Sirhan’s actions that night that cause many to pause before proclaiming his guilt. Did Sirhan Sirhan really act alone and did he fire the shots that took Kennedy’s life?
Tim Tate and Brad Johnson have taken another look at one of America’s most tragic murders fifty years after Kennedy gave his last speech, examining the crime from start to finish. And in the process they have raised many questions which have never been answered by the Los Angeles Police Department (“LAPD”) or the State of California. In fact, what we can see very clearly, is an investigation full of missteps, inaction and disturbingly, outright deceit by law enforcement. The investigation became a mixture of destruction of evidence, stonewalling and witness intimidation as the LAPD focused its attention on Sirhan with the intention of convicting him at all costs. But as Tate and Johnson show, there were many reason to doubt Sirhan’s guilt and proof that more than one gunman was in the pantry area that night. While they do not provide a smoking gun as to who the shooter may be, they do establish that there was more that occurred that night than police were willing to admit. And Sirhan may not have been the person he has been portrayed to be. We know that he did discharge a gun that night, but the authors have given reasons to believe here, that none of his bullets struck Kennedy.
As I read through the book, at times I could not believe my eyes. Similar to the murder of John F. Kennedy (1917-1963), Bobby’s death became shrouded in controversy as rumors swirled of a conspiracy. At the center of the many conspiracies is the infamous woman in the polka dot dress. The authors examine her role in the matter and give a strong explanation regarding her possible identity. Readers curious about the mystery woman will find Fernando Faura’s The Polka Dot File on the Robert Kennedy Killing: Paris Peace Talks Connection a good read regarding this infamous figure who official remains unidentified and ignored by supporters of Sirhan’s guilt. However, the authors have shown that not only did multiple witnesses see the woman, some had personal encounters with her, including Sandra Serrano, a worker in Kennedy’s campaign. Her experience with LAPD investigators is one of the most bizarre parts of the story but also reveals an important clue about the department’s motives in streamlining the investigation. We may never know who the woman in the polka dot dress is or was, but what is clear is that she was not a figment of anyone’s imagination.
Previously, I had read material on Kennedy’s murder but this assessment of the assassination, revealed many things which I did not have prior knowledge of. Sirhan’s trial was an easy win for prosecutors as they successful painted Sirhan with the image of a lone gunman with a deadly fixation on Kennedy. As the shadow of Dallas hung over the trial, authorities made sure Sirhan was tried and convicted as expeditiously as possible. However, there was one aspect of the trial that no one could completely put to rest which would come back to haunt the case until this very day. Sirhan’s claim of having no memory of the shooting was at first dismissed but as the authors show, there was and is strong evidence to support this theory. And at this point in the book, the story kicks into high gear as a cast of characters appear including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). And we are forced to ask, was Sirhan a “Manchurian Candidate”? To some, the idea sounds like another crack pot theory. But as Tate and Johnson show, the CIA actively engaged in mind control through several different programs it admitted to conducting, the most well-known being MK ULTRA. I would like to stress the fact that the authors never claim to have a smoking gun regarding Kennedy’s death. However, they do succeed in providing ample evidence provides a strong basis for a new investigation into the murder of Robert Francis Kennedy.
If you are curious about Kennedy’s murder or have studied it previously, then this book is a must have. To say it is mind-blowing is an understatement. The authors pull no punches, leaving the reader with chills as they show the side of the investigation police never intended for the public to see. Highly recommended.
December 10 will mark twelve years since Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte (1915-2006) died from the effects of a heart attack in his native Chile. For many Chileans, he is the epitome of evil and a ruthless tyrant whose regime persecuted thousands of citizens, many of whom were “disappeared”. He also has his supporters, known simply as “pinochetistas”. His rise to power after the CIA- backed coup that overthrew the government of Salvador Allende (1908-1973), resulted in a new level of human rights violations across Latin America. Allende’s removal and death has become known as the other September 11th and a day that no Chilean can ever forget.
Washington’s involvement in the coup and the destabilization of Chilean politics was initially kept hidden from the American Public through the efforts of President Richard M. Nixon (1913-1994) and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (b. 1923). The true story of the Nixon Administration’s interference in Chile might have remained a carefully guarded secret if not for the efforts of famed reporter Seymour Hersh who broke the story of what was known as Track II and the CIA efforts to bring down Allende’s government, through a published article in the New York Times. But what Hersh did not know at the time, was that the relationship between Washington and Pinochet was much darker and uglier than anyone could have imagined. It is here in this look at the Pinochet file, that author Peter Kornbluh goes deep inside the story of what became Chile’s worst nightmare.
I warn the reader that this a book you will not want to put down once you have started. From the beginning, it pulls the reader in with an iron grip as Kornbluh opens our eyes to what really happened in the 1970s as Chile was on the verge of taking a different course from the one approved of in Washington. As an American citizen, I found myself overcome with a range of emotions from shock to anger and eventually regret. Declassified documents serve as the backbone of the book and what is contained in those files is simply astonishing. As a nice supplement, Kornbluh includes copies of the documents for the reader’s reference. Some readers, particularly Americans, may find the story hard to believe at first. But I assure you that this is not fiction. Similar to Jacobo Arbenz (1913-1971) and Mohammed Mossadegh (1882-1967), Allende found himself on the wrong side of Washington foreign policy as he embraced a left-leaning government, believed by many to be a possible pawn of the Soviet Union. The beliefs were unfounded but the suspicion was enough for the Nixon Administration to set in motion, a deadly chain of events that gave rise to one of Latin America’s worst dictators.
In a cruel twist of fate, the rise of Pinochet and its aftermath was not confined to Chile. Other rulers seeking to emulate Pinochet’s style, began their own campaigns of oppression and through the Pinochet inspired “Operation Condor”, they would embark on a campaign of extermination of exiled citizens designated as “Enemies of the State”. The wave of terror spread across several continents including the United States, culminating with the assassination of Orlando Letelier (1932-1976) on September 21, 1976. The attack also claimed the life of Ronni Karpen Moffitt (1951-1976), the wife of Letelier´s assistant, Michael. The attack in broad daylight, sent shock waves around the world causing anger and outrage across the nation. Operation Condor had reached American soil but the U.S. Government´s response is one of the darkest moments in its history with Chile. There is far more to the story of Operation Condor and Kornbluh does a masterful job of explaining it, in all its mind-blowing detail.
Kornbluh takes us on a carefully guided timeline from start to finish where we witness the downfall of the Pinochet regime. On October 5, 1988, Patricio Aylwin (1918-2016) was elected the next leader of Chile in a landslide victory after U.S. Officials warned Pinochet not to interfere. Aylwin served four years and was succeeded by Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle. Although out of office, Pinochet still maintained a presence in Chilean politics. But as Washington threw its support behind the newly elected government, Pinochet’s star began to fade and while in London recuperating from back surgery, he was arrested by British Agents and held for over a year before being returned to Chile where he was indicted more than a dozen times for a multitude of crimes. At the time of his death, convictions and imprisonment loomed on the horizon and his departure allowed him to escape justice. But his dark legacy remains a reminder to Chileans of a past which should never return.
This book is simply incredible and the amount of research that went into is nothing short of monumental. Kornbluh has given us a gift that will continue to give as more learn about a ruler that controlled a country with an iron fist used in conjunction with murder, arrests and other acts of violence. They will learn about the many American citizens in Chile, also murdered at the hands of the Pinochet regime and their own government’s inaction and indifference. For the families of Charles Horman, Boris Weisfeiler and Frank Teruggi, Pinochet escaped the fate that laid before him. But their efforts and help with this book have resulted in the full story of his murderous reign. The Chilean government long denied any involvement in Operation Condor, Letelier’s murder and other deaths that occurred as Pinochet expanded his power and used the Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA), under the rule of the infamous Manuel Contreras (1929-2015), as his own personal group of enforcers. But as we now know and can see here with our own eyes, there was far more than meets the eye. Pinochet had support from many places and some of them will certainly surprise the reader. I firmly believe that every American should read this book, to understand what was done in the name of our country and why it should never happen again.
If you find that you enjoy this book, I highly recommend Pamela A. Constable and Arturo Valenzeula’s “A Nation of Enemies: Chile Under Pinochet“.