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?

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.

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.