We Can’t Let Politics Trump Security

Bobby Thompson was welcomed into the Oval Office in October 2008 using a stolen ID and while being wanted by the FBI.

If there is one thing we should admit as a nation, it’s that we are weakening from our wounds.

America has suffered cuts before. But this week, Lady Liberty had a wound ripped into a seeping gash.  And this time, there is no way to hide the injury or rationally believe the wound can heal itself. The very attack on the capitol that caused the damage demonstrates why we need triage, fast.

We have drifted so far apart as a nation that a sizable minority of Americans believe Wednesday’s invasion was staged by imposters meant to impune the conservative right. They remain convinced despite copious video footage (that had been streamed live) and an Internet trail detailing maruaders’ vows to “take the country back.”  A wound constantly pulled apart can never heal.

The only similarity both sides share seems to be in questioning how this happened: Why were the Capitol Police not better prepared? Why was there not a call for backup sooner? And even though it may not be mentioned as often, there remains the all important question of could this happen again?

That’s the question that frightens me the most. I have spent much of the last decade studying the greatest breach in White House history and the mastermind behind it. Its an obsession that started when I was a senior investigator for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office assigned to what was the office’s largest fraud case ever; my intrigue grew over eight years of research and analysis which ultimately led to a book.

And its clear that the attack on the capitol shares the same foreboding warning unless we agree to collectively get answers.  Let me explain why.

In 2008, a man by the name of Lt. Commander Bobby Thompson was welcomed into the Oval Office along with other major political donors, for a gathering with President George W. Bush.  The reception was a private soiree not even noted in the President’s daily log. The event could have remained a secret if the commander hadn’t grown more brazen in time.

Commander Thompson was the face of the U.S. Navy Veterans Association, a nationwide charity for veterans that touted itself as the best value for donors because they are run by volunteers and use the funds as direct aid.  The pitch worked. The charity collected more than $100 million in the first decade of this century. A crack about the association’s claims only appeared after a Florida reporter noticed the charity had made an illegal political donation.

Instead of contrition for the illegality, the commander waged a war on the newspaper while the reporter discovered that not only was the commander an imposter, the charitable association was a complete sham as well. Veterans received the equivalent of pennies.

Attorney generals from all over the country scrambled to figure out how they not only allowed, but approved a facade to collect in their state. As they did, the commander disappeared. He left behind a mountain of paperwork from detailing the scam, but nothing hinting at who the commander really was or where he could be headed.

And states struggled in vain to solve those mysteries. The case was so complex, investigators were betting the commander would never be caught.  They lost the bet when a task force assembled by the U.S. Marshals became hellbent on putting the fake commander behind bars.

It was only after the commander was arrested that U.S. Marshal Pete Elliott was able to figure out who this culprit really was. The commander’s real name was John Donald Cody – a former military spy who was also wanted by the FBI.  Elliott found Cody’s wanted posted attached to a story about the largest white-collar criminals at large; the bureau was offering $50,000 for his arrest, saying that in addition to be a charged suspect in several frauds, Cody was also wanted in connection with questioning on espionage.

After his identity was exposed, Cody claimed the charity was orchestrated by the CIA; and he claimed his work with the CIA started in the 1970s when he was a military spy.  Prosecutors dismissed the claims and convicted Cody to 28 years in prison – a veritable life term for a man who was already in his 60s.

From what American’s could see, Cody’s case revealed the most significant breach in White House history — a man who used a stolen ID and wanted in questioning for espionage had been allowed in the Oval Office.

The U.S. Secret Service never commented on the breach and went so far as to conceal it later. Just two weeks before Cody was arrested in 2012, it became public that the agency had an internal investigation concerning agents allowing prostitutes in their room while they prepared for a presidential visit.  And Congress quickly demanded answers; what other breaches exist legislators wanted to know.

When the report was issued three years later, no one noticed that Cody’s breach hadn’t been included. The Secret Service did share other previously unknown incidents, but all paled in comparison to someone wanted for questioning in espionage using a stolen ID to get into the White House.

Details of what happened in Cody’s case have remained so secret that investigators into his nationwide scam were never provided any requested evidence from the visit. The agency’s silence left the fraud investigators to surmise this case was evidence of how politics can trump security. Based on their limited information, investigators believed agents at the White House must have been given a directive along the lines of: the President has significant donors he has invited to the White House; let me know when you have approved their visit.

I believe the Oval Office breach is analogous to Wednesday’s assault as both expose weaknesses in the security of the greatest democracy in the world.

Others may disagree, rationalizing we have learned from our mistakes. We wouldn’t let the same thing happen again. But it took nearly 3,000 people dying on Sept. 11, 2001, before we realized our mistake in ignoring Osama bin Laden’s threats.

We owe it those who gave their lives protecting this great democracy and our children’s children. We cannot discover a potentially fatal flaw as with the White House breach and capitol assault and then look the other way.

Our adversaries now have a playbook showing how easily the White House and Congress can – and have – been breached.

How much more should we give up before we insist on answers?

Need to Write? Trick Your Brain First

One of the first tips you often hear from writers is: start by carving out time to write every day or several times a week. That is critical, but for me, I need to do something else first. I need an environment that tricks my body into unclenching. Every room in my home usually has someone in it, and they are often coming or going. Office space – forgive me as I laugh here – is financially out of reach. My budget is as lean as Michael Phelps in top condition. But after eight years of research, I decided in 2019 that my book was coming out in 2020 no matter what. That meant I had to get creative with my workspace.  I made little changes so I could think big.

This varies for everyone, but I suggest any budding writer start with some variation of these basic steps I live by:

  1. My cellphone goes off or on vibrate.
  2. I stake invisible signs in the floor around me that come with a real, and very stern reminder to family that I am off limits. No exceptions unless you are near death. Cross my invisible line and spoiling my peace has dire consequences (like I may interrupt you working or show embarrassing pictures of you when your friends are over.)
  3. Next, I need to remove everything that can somehow sneak into my peripheral. Bills, day-job work, knick-knacks and any kind of paperwork are put behind me. (Don’t even look at the pile you are creating, otherwise you will be as good for writing as a leash-less dog who spots a squirrel.
  4. Then I get a nice beverage to help me relax. (Ok yes, obvious choices are coffee or tea, though bourbon has been known to appear a time or two.)
  5. And finally, I use lavender oil or burn a candle. The lavender is only a drop on my ear or wrist. And the candles – anything like the kind at Bath and Body Works, which can become addictive. Either way, I find that subtle scent forces me to take relaxing deep breathes because I want more.

All in all, my workspace is not exactly the picturesque retreat on a lake I would prefer, but it redirects my mind to move away from the day’s craziness and steer toward my world of choice for the next several hours.

Then use this trick I picked up years ago as a reporter. I think of this every time I face that ever-intimidating empty screen. I envision that I am talking to a friend. Whatever I think goes on the screen. I know it’s not going to be perfect, but I find I naturally hone on the things a reader would want to know. From there, I choose one point and begin to elaborate. Before I know it, I begin writing sentences I will ultimately keep.

Finally, be realistic and believe in yourself. Writing is a journey. Movie scenes showing writers pulling unblemished pages off a typewriter and adding it to the stack of pages in their book is just that – cinema. I can think of a few hundred writers I have known through my life and the greats I have read about, and no one does that. Your first draft is only that – a draft. Start again tomorrow taking the best from today and move on. Embrace the process and make it work for you.

Ironman Alex – a Solemn, Yet Substantial Teacher

You could tell by how the doctors and nurses responded that the prognosis wasn’t good.

I have never seen a team move so fast to discharge a patient. But the team at Tampa General Hospital understood how valuable time was for my mother. They did their best to soften the blow of the words “brain cancer” but their reaction made it clear her time was limited. Very limited.

Doctors called the cancer Glioblastoma Multiforme, or GBM for short.

Until about a month prior, Sandy J. Andes had been an-outgoing bubbly woman who was incredibly fit for 72.  Then she started to become reclusive and her speech slurred. Seizures were the next signs.  The seizures started small; at first, they seemed to be nothing more than a vein throbbing on her face. Odd maybe, but seemingly harmless.

These trivial indicators quickly escalated.

That is why I was so touched to hear about Ironman Alex.

He is a young man who looks to be about 10, who has a smile that is undoubtedly more powerful than his slender frame.  Just before America was hit with COVID-19, Alex was hit with brain cancer.

Most of us would respond to the news by doing everything we ever wanted. We also might prepare things for our loved ones after we are gone. Then there are those, like my mother who choose to fight like hell. Alex was the same. he was going to give every ounce he had to fighting cancer. I am guessing that’s where the name “Ironman Alex” came from.

But it’s what he did next that literally took my breath away.

He began collecting toys. Not for himself (though who could blame him if wanted to try out new toys in short order.) He was collecting toys for children who don’t have any; specifically, children in hospitals fighting COVID who are forced to be alone in their fight.

The significance of that can be put another way: Ironman Alex was giving his last weeks and months looking out for others. He was helping those less fortunate.

My breath shuttered as I tried to take in air.  And almost just as quick a tear came rolling down my face. I have always wanted to live a life that matters. Who doesn’t, right? But here, this young man was doing it.

He was accomplishing in life what many of us hope we could achieve.

I realized that at the age of 49, I had a lot of catching up to do.

Thank you, Alex for reminding me of the lesson that is more important than anything I could ever write.

If you wish to help Ironman Alex in his quest here is a link to his Go Fund Me page and his Facebook page.

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It’s Not Just Me

What this year has taught me above all else, is to give thanks for those I share my life with day to day. I happily published my first book but it was only because of the hundreds of friends and family who took time to help me through life and spared a few minutes to teach me along the way. My accomplishment is thanks to you in many ways.
This year has also taught me to slow down and truly enjoy life because tomorrow is never how I envision it.
Of course I always knew that, but sometimes you have to struggle in life before you can look back and see the beauty you came through. And yes, I am even thankful for getting past the 2020 election. I am not thankful for the divisiveness, not the anger, and not the lies, but for a collective realization that we have a great nation that no one wants harmed.
So today, no politics, no hatred, and no work.
Just reflection of my thanks for all I truly have and for all of you have collectively contributed to my life.

Getting By in These Silent Nights

Together at last. Elliott and Jean Smith, 1945.

I have a nagging guilt in the back of my head every time I want to complain about trying to #ShelterinPlace.

I have to admit my first thought is not worrying about those who are immune comprised, though it’s never far from mind. I just feel caged and want out.

What stops me in my tracks is thoughts of World War II.

I was among the millions not too long along who celebrated the 75th anniversaries that led to the end of the war. My grandfather proudly served in the Army Air Corps and was based in southern England making bombing runs over Germany. I celebrated them as the Greatest Generation and liked to think that my generation could do the same if needed.

My grandfather was beyond a doubt the patriarch of our family. And he is/was beloved. In his 80s he would still play you in a game of pool, offer you a beer, or share stories of when we all went fishing together when we were young.

But he never talked about the war. At least nothing he endured. He told a few funny stories about the men with him on that B 24, but not combat.

It wasn’t until I heard a sliver of what it was like when he was in his 80s and he sometimes struggled to keep his mind in the here and now. I never will forget him staring off to space with his hand, index finger extended breezing by both sides of his head, one side after another.

“Zoom, zoom” was all he said, until I asked him if he was okay.

It took him a minute before he looked at me and said, “that’s how the bullets were coming at ya.”

It was the first and only time I heard anything about combat.

While he and his brother were serving in the war, his bride-to-be Jean Crockett and his sister, Ocie Smith, helped with towing for the small family business. They tucked their hair under a hat and did the best they could, acknowledging decades later they weren’t great.

And both never forgot being chewed out by a man once who didn’t like the way they tried to get his car out of a ditch. He stopped immediately when the women took off the hats, revealing the beautiful curly locks. Nothing more had to be said; it was clear they were just trying to help with the war effort.

Pearl Harbor was Dec. 7, 1941 and the Japanese didn’t surrender until Aug. 15, 1945. That is more than 3.5 years of sacrifices and worry. Families may not be able to go into the hospital, but they can get word. Can you imagine having to wait months sometimes for word?

Sports were halted in most cases (of course we did get the birth of women’s baseball) and they rationed. And they lost.

I would love to have people over for a cookout, walk around without a mask making my face sweat, go to a concert or go to see friends in other states. But I won’t. I want others protecting me like I am trying to protect them.

So next time you hear someone complaining about the challenges brought on by COVID-19, just mention World War II.

I don’t want history saying the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the Greatest Generation couldn’t avoid a second wave because they couldn’t be bothered to wear masks or stay home.

And I will remind myself of the same anytime I start to complain.

#InThisTogether

This is a Christmas Card made in 1943 by one of the men who served on the B-24 would my grandfather. I can’t help but think how they prayed for silent nights.

The inside of the card signed by each member of the B -24 crew in 1943 with their positions in the plane.

Just a few of my grandfather’s personal items that survived from the war.

My son, David, displaying my grandfather’s WW II jacket. My sister, Tammy, had it restored to its look in 1945.

Master of Deceit featured in Sunday’s Columbus Dispatch

Master of Deceit was highlighted in The Columbus Dispatch as their Sunday feature today, May 17, 2020.

Dispatch Reporter Nancy Gilson spotlights how the book was eight years in making to show how a con man used a fake charity for veterans to funnel money to politicians and gain access to scores of top Republican politicians, though he was a wanted man. Those donations earned him access to President George W. Bush on multiple occasions, including once in the Oval Office.  No one at the White House or in Secret Service realized the man they welcomed was using a stolen ID or that he was wanted at the time by the FBI.

In the Q & A, Gilson takes a deeper look at the question of whether John Donald Cody was CIA and a glimpse into the dozens of aliases, which kept Cody ahead of law enforcement for more than 15 years.  In questioning the author, Gilson said she found the book “fascinating.

A Woman Unlike Any Other

When my mother was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2017, there were things we never talked about again.

We always had been a close family, but my bond with my mother took on a life of its own after I became a mom.  There were many weeks we would talk everyday.

She and Dad were in Florida most of the time and she wanted any “Andyisms” and “Davidisms” she could get. Those were the terms we used for the priceless things my boys would say when they were young. They would come out of nowhere, as in the time she joked with them that she was afraid of snakes and hated them. That seemed like blasphemy to Andy who was no more than 5 at the time. 

“Grandma if you don’t like snakes, then you don’t like me.”

We were so close, we even took vacations together. (The boys’ father and I divorced when they were 2 & 5.) Me, her, dad and the boys went to places like Washington D.C. and New York City, though Disney was a group favorite. She loved being allowed to be just as much of a kid as the boys; she never wanted to grow up anyway. 

She also was waiting patiently. SJ as she was called, short for Sandra Jean, wanted me to take her to Paris where I had been twice as an exchange student. My father had no interest in going. And she would say, “Someday when its just you and me.”

And when they visited the boys and I in Columbus, Ohio. Mom refused to say good-bye. She would wake at 5 a.m. and get my father up so they could leave without saying good-bye. There were no good-byes. It’s just who she was. 

But when she became diagnosed with Glioblastoma Multiforma we never talked about the future or that planned trip again. GBM as it is called for short, is an unrelenting, fast spreading, rob-you-of-every ability cancer.

I have a dear friend who is an M.D./PhD who researches childhood cancer. He was very honest with me. There is no way to cure it; focus on quality of life. 

Struggling with the four or five tumors in her brain, her spirit remained. This brain cancer was Davy-Jones-nasty and had matching tentacles.  Doctors weren’t sure where one tumor ended and another began.

She had been the consummate Mom,  grandmother and peace keeper her whole life. She always was  thinking of what she could do for someone else. And cancer was not about to rob her of that.

Even when she was in Tampa General Hospital awaiting brain surgery. (Doctors said a sample would help them fight it better.) She adored the neuro-oncology resident surgeon. He was kind, extremely intelligent…and well, dreamy looking.

He probably was in his 30s and acted like any good Christian man should. So, in her mind he was aces and she decided she wanted to help him too. From her bed, she scouted for the perfect nurse he could marry.

And of course, she loved to joke with him – well flirt is a truer word. Dad didn’t care. They had been together more than 50 years at that point and he knew she did it for fun.

So when a team of these neuro-oncology doctors circled around her bed the day before surgery, she noticed this young doc was among the crowd, standing at the end of her hospital bed.

“McDreamy!” she said, a reference to a gorgeous doctor in Grey’s Anatomy.

His face took on a level of red I had never seen before in a doctor, and had a winced look of “Ohhh;” he knew he would never hear the end of this.

Meanwhile the head neuro-oncologist – who was treated like somewhat of a god – shot me a look like what is this about.  I shook my head as if to say its nothing. And the family explained that she was just being herself.

My mom had a strong life-long belief in God and Jesus Christ. She knew where she was going ultimately. She just didn’t want to talk about it. She wanted to stay true to who she really was.

And for a year she fought, trying every treatment the doctors could think of. Even when we had to call in hospice, she remained positive. She made us promise we could cancel them once she got better; that was the only way they were setting foot in her house. 

She never once complained. And only my sister, Tammy, saw her angry. And that was just once. It was before the diagnosis when she didn’t understand why she couldn’t get her hands to work right; she decided it was time that bottle of fabric softener in her hands deserved to take flight.

She was true to herself till she left this earth. And I find myself wanting to share her story. As I see it, we all could learn a lesson from her today.

Be kind.

Keep fighting no matter what.

Take care of others.

And live in a way you never want to say good-bye.

Until we see you again, SJ. 

 

 

 

Attempts to Sway Elections Are Nothing New

FBI wanted Poster on John D Cody

Mueller’s investigation into whether the President or members of his team colluded with Russians during the 2016 election is unprecedented on many levels.

However, attempts to sway American elections, is unfortunately, not.

There is a little-known case of where the American public was defrauded for more than a decade so elections could be influenced. In 2013, a man known as Lt. Cmdr. Bobby Thompson was convicted in Cleveland, Ohio, on list of money laundering, stolen identity, and theft charges.

Thompson was his cover – a stolen identity he used to conceal his real name and background as a former American spy; “Thompson” was born John Donald Cody, who became a former U.S. Army Military Intelligence Officer and Harvard Law School graduate. His military record, though, omits much about his career – including which federal agency he worked for and the units he worked with.

For more than 10 years, Cody used the Thompson ID and to scam through a charity called the U.S. Navy Veterans Association. It was as fake as he was. This group claimed to care for American’s veterans and military; meanwhile Americans donated more than $100 million, mostly from $10 – $25 donations at a time.

The money never made it to veterans.

Instead, the money was funneled to Republican politicians and “Thompson” reaped the benefits. He was pictured with a parade of national Republican leaders and was even welcomed into the White House for a private gathering in the Oval Office with 43 – President George W. Bush.

It wasn’t until months after his arrest in 2012 when federal officials realized that “Thompson” who was wanted for questioning by the FBI on espionage and other crimes had been allowed to buddy up next to the President.

Thompson/Cody’s conviction gained brief national attention on TV shows like “American Greed” and in the national press before fading into history. But a book being considered by publishers about Cody/Thompson’s life and crimes provides a reminder on why history shouldn’t be ignored.

The book, Master of Deceit, examines Cody’s claims that he was a former CIA officer. Prosecutors with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office brushed aside the claims but Master of Deceit, raises new reasons why Cody’s claims may be believed.

The book doesn’t defend Cody’s crimes. Rather it lays out facts discovered about Cody’s military history, his crimes and questions why the investigation never extended beyond John Donald Cody.

National lawyer Mark Zaid whose work has focused on free speech and government corruption is assisting in efforts to force the release of additional federal records which may shine light on Cody’s past. Thus far, the FBI and CIA have refused to comment on Cody or release records.

Zaid’s work has garnered national attention in the past including a successful lawsuit against Libya for the 1988 bombing of flight Pam Am 103 and in gaining a court-ordered injunction which shut down the Department of
Defense’s mandatory anthrax vaccination program for two years.

Master of Deceit raises many of the same questions about Cody/Thompson that are being raised in Mueller’s investigation now. Did Bobby Thompson’s efforts influence the election? Who was working with him? How can the nation prevent breaches like this from happening again?

The nation never learned from Cody.

States went on regulating charities much the same way they always had before learning that more than 40 states approved of the completely fake U.S. Navy Veterans. National security didn’t change even though Cody – a spy wanted for questioning in espionage and other crimes had been given access to the President on multiple occasions.

In fact, more national scrutiny was given to when a couple – the Tareq and Michaele Salahi – crashed a White House state dinner than when a wanted spy was allowed into the Oval Office.

Winston Churchill famously said, those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Isn’t time we learned?

Most Mysterious Man Alive

John Donald Cody is the only man ever known to gain entry into the Oval Office using a stolen identity – and did so while being sought by the FBI for espionage. His is a bizarre little-known tale of intrigue that includes U.S. veterans being defrauded of more than $100 million.

And it is a case in which the U.S. government still refuses to provide answers.

Cody’s story began to unfold when he was finally arrested in 2013 after more than 25 years on the run.

Cody started his career with the Army in Military Intelligence after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1972. His military records detail that he was had top secret clearance and was loaned to a “proponent federal agency,” which is never named. And though military records show he served in the Reserves, the records don’t show him ever serving active duty, other than boot camp.

Still, it wasn’t until after his honorable discharge in 1985 when the intrigue truly began.

That’s when Cody began using stolen identities and scamming Americans. His biggest thefts came while he used the alias Lt. Commander Bobby Thompson. “Thompson” claimed to run an organization called the U.S. Navy Veterans that turned out to be as fake as he was.

Of course, Americans didn’t know this and in a post 9–11 world, donated generously. The association collected more than $100 million in 10 years, largely from $15 and $25 donations at a time.

Veterans never saw the money. Thompson instead funneled it to Republican politicians while he lived in one of Tampa, Fla.’s poorest neighborhoods in an apartment that lacked any modern-day basic amenities including air conditioning.

Thompson’s on the books and off the book donations gained him access to the nation’s top Republican leaders, including President George W. Bush several times.

His story is being told in a book before publishers now called Master of Deceit. The book reveals many new facts, including reasons why Cody’s CIA claims could be believed. The book also shares new details as the author is the only person to interview Cody.

Federal records show the FBI had been looking into Cody by the year 2000. The FBI began asking for the public’s help in 2003 to locate Cody offering $50,000 saying he was wanted to be questioned for espionage.

Yet the bureau never had Cody’s fingerprints added to the national database, greatly reducing the chances of him ever being caught. This allowed Cody to continue using the Thompson alias, scam Americans in the name of veterans and have continued access to our nation’s leaders.

Interestingly, though, the FBI wasn’t the only federal agency familiar with Cody. The CIA collected records on him as early as 1973. One document, declassified by the CIA in 2001, refers to settlement from an auto accident. The parties of the crash are redacted, but the document is saved under Cody’s name.

The document offers no explanation of why this was kept, though it does show Cody as a partner in the law firm that handled the claim. (It’s worth noting, though, that no other partners in the firm can be shown to have a CIA file.)

The FBI and CIA refuse to comment or release any records. That only heightens the mysteries surrounding Cody.

Consider, what espionage acts would Cody have taken part in for the FBI to lead a public campaign to find him? And if the government feared he was spying against our country why weren’t his fingerprints in the national database to help ensure he could one day be caught?

And why after the U.S. Navy Veterans Association scam was discovered and Cody’s White House access discovered, were security protocols changed?

More security changes can be linked to reaction from when Tareq and Michaele Salahi breached a White House state dinner than when Cody – a wanted spy – was welcomed into the Oval Office.

Our nation has enough unknown threats and security risks -to ignore those we know exist.

Yet, other than the efforts from the state of Ohio started by former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray to punish Cody for defrauding Ohioans, no one looked into why he was sought, who worked with him, and if he was being protected.

Getting answers to these questions is the reason for the book and why I think Cody is – at least for now – the most mysterious man to have lived.