Saturday, November 15, 2014

Stranger In a Strange Land: The Curious Times of Ronald Stark Part I

Easily one of the most enigmatic figures in the murky history of LSD is a man commonly known as Ronald Hadley Stark. Allegedly born as Ronald Shitsky in New York during September 1938, Stark became the key figure in the illicit LSD trade by 1969 and would remain a force throughout the 1970s. While he was famously involved with the notorious "hippie mafia" known as the Brotherhood of Eternal Love as well as the lesser known but even more prolific British outfit dubbed the "Microdot Gang", Stark's involvement in the manufacturing of LSD began prior to his association with the Brotherhood in '69.

the ever elusive Stark
It is these activities as well as his general involvement in international drug trafficking and revolutionary leftist politics that have typically fascinated alternative researchers and conspiracy theorists though this is but a part of Stark's tangled story. The only online source this researcher has encountered that has offered a thorough account of Stark's life is one offered by Brainsturbator (formerly Skilluminati), to which this series will be greatly indebted. This is a fine account of Stark's involvement in the LSD trade with fringe counterculture groups. My interest, however, in approaching Stark is to address an aspect of his career rarely examined at length: his ties to what is commonly referred to as "Operation Gladio." But to get to that point I most first examine the more known aspects of the man's "career." So let's get on with the show.

Some background on Mr. Stark's early days:
"The official record leaves plenty of room for embroidery and subterfuge. Stark was born in New York in September 1938, as Ronald Shitsky. In adult life he is recorded as being five feet eight inches tall, weighing 210 lb, with brown hair, blue eyes, balding with a scar on his abdomen. In 1962 he was convicted of filing a false application for a government job and became FBI Number 812020E. He failed to abide by the terms of his probation was sent to a federal detention centre, and then to Lewisburg Prison, Pennsylvania. Shitsky was changing identity. He was convicted as Ronald Hadley Clark. When jailed, he was now calling himself. Ronald H. Stark. While in custody he spent a period of time in Bellevue mental hospital. Under the heading of employment, his record merely says 'research laboratory.' In 1967, the record notes he was worth $3000, but the next year in excess of $1 million."
(The Brotherhood of Eternal Love, Stewart Tendler & David May, pg. 137)

Stark's alleged association with Bellevue Hospital Center is most curious. In Acid: A New Secret History of LSD David Black records that Stark describes himself as having studied there rather than having been institutionalized. The legitimacy of either one of these associations, much like everything having to do with Stark's life, is difficult to discern, but such ties open up some interesting possibilities.

Bellevue Hospital was the long time base of operation for the well known child neuropsychiatrist Dr. Lauretta Bender. At Bellevue Hospital and nearby facilities Bender and associations conducted a host of bizarre experiments beginning by at least the 1940s. Some of them involved children. Bender would later go on to develop close links with several of the doctors involved in the CIA/Pentagon behavior modification experiments conducted under auspices of MK-Ultra, Artichoke and other such projects.
"Not a great deal is known about experimental activities conducted in New York on children because the CIA, in 1973, destroyed all its files related to such experiments under the rationale that 'the public would be too outraged over such activities and would not appreciate the Agency's objectives behind such work,' but what is known is shocking. Experiments appear to have initially started in New York City, at Bellevue Hospital from early 1940 to 1956. There, Dr. Lauretta Bender, a highly respected child neuropsychiatrist, experimented extensively with electroshock therapy on children who had been diagnosed, some incorrectly, with 'autistic schizophrenia.'
"In all, it has been reported in several medical journals, as well as in at least two medical texts written by Dr. Bender, that she administered electroconvulsive therapy to about 100 children ranging in age from 3 years old to 13 years, with additional reports indicating the total may be twice that number. One source reports that, inclusive of Dr. Bender's work, electroconvulsive treatment was used on more than 500 children at Bellevue Hospital from 1942 to 1956, and then at Creedmoor State Hospital Children's Service from 1956 to 1969...
"Interesting to note, is that Dr. Bender's work at Bellevue Hospital involving children followed earlier 'depatterning' electroconvulsive experiments conducted at the hospital, then termed 'annihilation' therapy. The so-called therapy began in the mid-1940s and followed earlier efforts using insulin and Metrazol shock therapy practiced on well over 500 adult patients and an undetermined number of children at several New York hospitals. In January 1937, Dr. Bender as part of a large contingent of Bellevue hospital physicians, including Drs. Joseph Wortis and Karl Bowman, accompanied by Dr. Harold E. Himwich, from Albany Medical College, attended a joint meeting of the New York Neurological Society and the psychiatric branch of the New York Academy of Medicine. The gathering featured a virtual who's-who of practitioners of insulin and Metrazol shock therapy, supposed cures for mental illness that, following sound discrediting of both techniques triggered a stampede towards electroshock therapy as a credible technique.
"Also attending this joint meeting as a presenter was Dr. D. Ewen Cameron, who, according to historian Dr. David Healy, 'in March 1936, introduced insulin coma at Worcester State Hospital in Massachusetts.' Cameron, who would eventually head up infamous MK/ULTRA Subproject 68 in Montréal, also conducted extensive experiments at Worcester Hospital with a seizure-inducing drug called Metrazol, as did physicians at Bellevue Hospital and the U.S. Army's Edgewood Arsenal, where Dr. Howard E. Himwich served as research director. It is unknown how many, if any, children were subjects in these experiments, but funding for Cameron's Worcester activities was provided by the Child Neurology Research, which was part of the Friedsam Foundation."
(A Secret Order, H.P. Albarelli, pgs. 36-37)
Dr. Bender
This researcher has found no reference to Stark being linked to Bellevue until 1962, after these barbaric experiments on children had ceased at that facility (at least officially). There has been some speculation that Stark received his first dose of LSD at Bellevue during this period, but there is no solid evidence for this. As noted above, Stark was born in New York in 1938, and thus would have been at an ideal age by the time the experiments at Bellevue were in full swing, but again, there is no evidence of an association before 1962. Still, this is one of the most compelling aspects of Mr. Stark's official background that has never really received the attention that it deserves. But moving along.

Stark was still living in New York City during the mid-1960s and already indulging in a curious lifestyle.
"Friends in New York in the mid-1960s remembered him as living in a tenement in the centre of the Little Italy area of the city. They thought he was a biochemist or something at Cornell University. 'He was short and fat. The kind of guy who could pass as ethnic anything and aged between 25 and 45. He was an interesting guy', said one acquaintance. Stark also seemed a little eccentric. He had a six-room apartment, but lived in only two of them, throwing his garbage into the other four rooms. When the place filled up, he left. The friends understood he got his money from a breakthrough in his research, and they saw documents would seemed to back up the story. One of the friends tried to get hold of Stark at his Cornell laboratory, used by Noble Prize winner, but no one had heard of him.
"Stark's explanation of his wealth to friends in the drug world revolved around his connections with the Whitney family, one of America's richest clans. Calling himself, George Ronald Hadley Whitney Stark, he claimed to have been born into an Austrian branch of the family. He was given money from the family's trust funds which he put to good use and increased. Stark said he was at Harvard at the time of President Kennedy's election and, on graduating, joined the administration, like many other young Harvard men recruited by the Kennedys. He served under McNamara in the Defense Department on work which was secret but the (unspecified) tasks eventually so disgusted him that he resigned. His break with the American establishment was completed in the mid-1960s, when he first took LSD.
"The conversion to LSD was omitted when Stark spoke to his lawyers. The story here was that his father had been a biochemist in Europe during the 1930s who had moved his funds from Nazi Germany to Switzerland. Stark inherited the funds because his mother wanted nothing to do with anything connected with the Nazis and in 1968 Stark sold patents, implying that they might have been his father's, to a Californian corporation for $900,000, plus an annual royalty payment guaranteed at never less than $24,000. A graduate of Harvard, the Rockefeller University, and in New York teaching hospital, Stark took his PhD in biochemistry and his MD and, with his new fortune, moved into the international business community.
"In Accra, capital of Ghana, in 1967 Stark again claimed connections with the Whitneys. He acquired a genuine 40 per-cent holding in the Ghanaian state pharmaceutical house, in the hope of eventually buying out the government. While there, he enlisted the aid of an economic specialist at the US embassy to press his bid. Entertained at the diplomat's home, he boasted of his collection of large, fast cars and houses in Rome, Paris, and other capital cities. Further along the coast in Nigeria, he claimed to be an important member of a company called West Africa Services and talked of plans to open a pharmaceutical company. His business card announced him as part of Interbiochem Ghana – which the card said it had replaced the state pharmaceutical house.
"In fact, he was never a graduate of Harvard – or of anywhere else, for that matter. The firm to which he is supposed to sold his patents says merely that they had some dealings with him in the mid-1960s, and did not wish to comment further..."
(The Brotherhood of Eternal Love, Stewart Tendler & David May, pgs. 137-139)
William Collins Whitney, patriarch of the prominent American dynasty to which Stark claimed a relation
At this point let us pause and briefly consider one of Stark's accounts of how he acquired his wealth: from patents his father smuggled into Switzerland from Nazi Germany during the 1930s, or possibly later. This account is compelling. Every year more and more information comes out revealing the disturbing extent to which Nazis and their capital departed Germany as the war went sour. The highly controversial "Red House Report" raises some very unsettling possibilities as to what the motivations were behind these departures. Of it rogue historian Peter Levenda notes:
"The Red House Report was only one indication that the Nazis were planning for their survival almost a year before the surrender in May of 1945. They had ample time to move gold and valuables out by truck and submarine to points all around the world, and the evidence shows that they did. They had a network of agents in the Americas, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East who would facilitate these transfers, as well as the transfer of personnel, and these networks were all in place before the end of 1944...
"... The flight of Nazis to South America, especially to Argentina, has become something of a clich̩ and the subject of novels, films, documentaries, and academic research and reportage. However, one aspect of the Nazi post-war strategy that often has been overlooked by popularizers and Hollywood screenwriters is the flight of capital. This is an essential aspect of the Nazi exit strategy Рas evidenced by the Red House Report Рand the ready availability of cash meant that the Nazi underground could continue to function without worrying about how they would finance their operations. The amount of gold and other treasure that was taken out of Europe has yet to be adequately calculated, but it was enough to ensure Рwith careful planning and investments, legal and illegal Рan operating fund that was the equal of the budgets of small countries.
"Due to the complexity of international trade and finance and the obscurity of offshore accounts, encoded wire transfers, and foreign currency transactions – as well as the involvement in the trafficking of Nazi gold by other members of the Axis powers and sympathizers, including Argentina, Chile, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland and most notably Japan – this aspect of the ODESSA story resists all attempts to accurate accounting..."
(The Hitler Legacy, Peter Levenda, pgs. 120-122)
the controversial "Red House Report"
According to Levenda, Switzerland was especially important to the financial aspect of the post-war Nazi International.
"In Switzerland, however, plans for salvaging Germany's wealth had been in motion long before the invasion and the subsequent assassination attempt on Hitler. This was at the offices of the Bank of International Settlements (BIS), a financial institution that was the brainchild of Hjalmar Schacht, ostensibly as a device for handling Germany's World War One reparations as required by the Treaty of Versailles.
"BIS was created by Bank of England chairman Montagu Norman in collaboration with Schacht; the first, tumultuous meetings that finally gave the BIS its formal blessing involved American financier Charles G. Dawes and American industrialist Owen D. Young. Dawes was chairman of the board of City National Bank and Trust of Chicago, and had been a director of the US Bureau of the Budget, involved with German reparations arrangements after World War One. Young was the founder of the RCA Corporation and chairman of General Electric. The idea was to create a kind of clearinghouse for the funds. The Germany would pay (to the tune of over 130 million gold marks per year, as per the Versailles Treaty, a sum that increased to more than 500 million marks per year as the discussions evolved) as reparations to those countries that had lost blood and treasure in the war. BIS would be 'the central banker's central bank,' a kind of super-bank, whose members included representatives from Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom. It would be immune from any country's laws and politics, the luggage of its members not subject to search by the police forces of any nation. The members of BIS were and are economic and financial diplomats, whose loyalty is not to the countries that sired them, but to the Bank itself. Until 1977, in fact, the location of its headquarters in the Swiss town of Basel, hidden behind a chocolate shop, was a secret known only to a few. Outsiders were – and are – not permitted to observe meetings, or even to view the rooms were meetings were held. Its deliberations are secret, save for the annual reports, which presumably have been sanitized of any incriminating evidence.
"Schacht, as president of the Reichsbank at the time of the founding of BIS (January 20, 1930), was deeply involved in its inspiration and creation. He saw BIS as a tool that could be used to move money around discretely, paying off Germany's war debts in the kind of sleight-of-hand for which Schacht was understandably famous...
"For all intents and purposes, BIS was the Nazi bank during the war years – essentially the foreign branch of the Reichsbank, where deals could be cut in safety and secrecy with the heads of other central banks, including the consortium of American banks that were represented by Thomas H. McKittrick.
"In 1944, meetings were being held at the highest level at the BIS headquarters in Basel to determine how to best allow the Nazi machine to survival what was seen as its inevitable defeat on the battlefield. It was a surreal composition, and if the documentation did not support it, we would have a difficult time believing it. The bankers present at these meetings included representatives from countries that were currently at war with each other, discussing how to hide and move Nazi gold to ensure the continuity of the German economy in the post-war period. Indeed, according to US Treasury Secretary Morgenthau – a devoted anti-Nazi – at the 1944 Bretton Woods meeting that created the International Monetary Fund, there was a total of fourteen BIS directors, of which twelve were Nazis or members of regimes controlled by the Nazis (such as the Czechs who had to surrender all their gold to the Reich's accounts at BIS). Morgenthau's efforts to shut down the BIS were doomed to failure when the Swiss bankers threaten to walk out of the conference."
(The Hitler Legacy, Peter Levenda, pgs. 129-131)
the modern BIS
Levenda notes that besides personnel and gold, technical know-how and scientific research was also smuggled out of Nazi Germany during the war years. Is it possible the patents Stark claimed his father had acquired during the 1930s in Nazi Germany were such contraband? As outlandish as this possibility may sound, Stark would appear to move rather comfortably amongst neo-fascist sects in Italy and beyond by the 1970s despite years of rubbing shoulders with and enabling radical leftists. But more on that latter. Suffice to say, however, the patents do seem to be real and the company that acquired them was not anxious to offer any real details on them. Unfortunately, little information is available concerning this mysterious company.

But on with Stark's early years:
"... Department of Defense records in Washington do not go back further than 1973. There is a Ronald Harry Stark living a perfectly ordinary life in the Midwest. The Stark has genuine connections to various forms of research; somewhere, although he cannot remember anyone like his 'namesake,' the fictitious Stark discovered him and his useful identity. The two men are the same age, the same build and the real Mr. Stark says he has never been out of the United States. 'Stark's' mother is still alive and living in New York, but neither she nor his lawyer would comment about the background of her son.
"In all the autobiographies Stark issued, one thing was missing which could have explained more about his wealth: Stark was a very successful LSD entrepreneur. At some point he worked for a corporation which sold erotamine tartrate in the United States – a company for which Druce once acted as agent and the one Stark is supposed to have sold his patents to – and a comparison of street prices for LSD and the wholesale price of ergotamine would have made interesting reading for a man out to make a fortune. Or, while at Bellevue, did Stark received his first LSD as part of a course of treatment? The story about the squalor of his New York apartment is interesting when compared with Sand's early career in similar circumstances. Perhaps Stark tried to make his own LSD and the squalor was either a cover or the result.
"Exactly when he moved into large-scale production abroad, or why, is not known; but several sources independent of each other report a production run in Rome at the time when he suddenly became wealthy. By the late 1960s, Stark had again moved, to France, embellishing his operations with legitimate chemical companies as a front. He was established in the thirteenth arrondissement of Paris with two other Americans, working at night after the regular staff had gone."
(The Brotherhood of Eternal Love, Stewart Tendler & David May, pgs. 139-140)

Despite seemingly being one of the world's first "LSD entrepreneurs" Stark's mythos did not begin in earnest until 1969 when he hooked up with the legendary Brotherhood of Eternal Love. An in depth examination of the Brotherhood is far beyond the scope of this series, but in brief: Founded in 1966 by "Farmer" John Griggs and members of an Anaheim "car club" (and not a motorcycle gang, as is commonly claimed), the Brotherhood would become the largest LSD smuggling network in the world by the late 1960s.

"Farmer" John (right) with Timothy Leary (center)
 The origins of the Brotherhood began with an acid trip Griggs took that inspired him to travel across the country, to Millbrook, New York, and consult with Timothy Leary there. At the time Leary was holed up at an estate in the area owned by William Mellon Hitchcock, a relation of the wealthy and intelligence-connected Mellon dynasty. Grigg's conversations with Leary inspired Griggs to found the Brotherhood upon his return to California.

Hitchcock to the right
After the arrest of the legendary Augustus Owsley "Bear" Stanley III, the grandson of a US Senator from Kentucky, the Brotherhood moved to fill the void with the assistance of Hitchcock. Hitchcock provided the Brotherhood with the capital as well as two chemists, Tim Scully (a former assistant to Owsley) and Nick Sand, to begin a new LSD production ring. I've written much more about Hitchcock's dealings with the Brotherhood as well as the mysterious Mellon clan before here.

By 1969 Hitchcock began to distance himself from the Brotherhood once law enforcement began to take notice of his more curious business ventures. It was at this point that Stark entered the picture.
"It was at this point that a mysterious figure named Ronald Hadley Stark appeared on the scene. The first time anyone heard of Stark was when one of his emissaries turned up in New York to see Hitchcock. The man claimed to represent a large French LSD operation. He was seeking to unload his product through covert channels. Hitchcock, who was then trying to distance himself from the drug trade, directed his visitor to the Brotherhood ranch. A few weeks later, Stark and his assistant travel to Idylwild.
"The Brothers were hesitant initially, but after some verbal sparring Stark proved his sincerity by showing them a kilo of pure LSD. This is a rather impressive credential, to say the least. None of the Brothers had ever seen that much acid in one place before. Stark informed them that he had discovered a new quick process of making high-quality LSD. He laid out his plan to turn on the world – not just the West, but the Soviet Union and the communist countries as well. Stark had business contacts with the Japanese Mafia, and they could smuggle drugs into the Chinese mainland. He also knew a high-placed Tibetan close to the Dalai Lama. Why not offer him enough LSD to does all the Chinese troops occupying Tibet? The CIA was training Tibetan exiles for guerrilla action in their former homeland, and the hallucinogen could come in handy. The Brothers dug his rap. 'We were definitely very gullible in believing the stuff he told us,' Scully said."
(Acid Dreams, Martin A. Lee & Bruce Shalin, pgs. 248-249)
And it is here that I shall wrap things up for now. In the next installment I shall consider Stark's alleged revolutionary inspiration, the fate of the Brothers and the ties Stark had with the Microdot Gang. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

  1. Does anyone know if Hjalmar Schacht is a relative of Dr. Lawrence Schacht of Jonestown fame? It was Scacht who brought the cyanide into Jonestown then tested it on pigs to come up the correct dosage for humans.