This article that mentions John Meier throughout, is included to show how less mainstream articles compliment the more mainstream ones such as the Playboy article. This article appeared in the January-February 1996 edition of Probe and is written by long time information activist and researcher Lisa Pease, whose work includes being one of the writers and editors of the book The Assassinations, which received high praise from a U.S. Governor.
John Meier, Don Nixon
& the CIA
By Lisa Pease
The story of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes has been so shrouded in secrecy that the truth is quite difficult to find.
There have been stories, some wilder than others, some true, some fabricated, and sorting through the morass becomes especially treacherous as one realizes that many of the only sources on who Howard Hughes was and what his last years of life included come from employees of the Central Intelligence Agency. Even so, we attempt here to outline some of the more substantial information about the Hughes-CIA connection, the part Hughes money played in the career of Richard Nixon and probably Watergate, and the curious facts surrounding his sudden disappearance and ultimate death.
Getting off the Ground
Howard Hughes inherited from his father one of the single most important inventions of all time: the oil drill bit. Since the Hughes Tool Company (Toolco), of which Hughes had sole ownership, held the single patent to this incredible device, oil companies from around the world had little choice but to buy this bit from Hughes in order to develop their holdings. This made Hughes wealthy beyond ordinary imagination. It also made Hughes of extreme interest to the newly formed CIA. Ever interested in resource recovery, by teaming with Hughes, the CIA knew as quickly as anyone in the world where new oil was suspected, as a bit would be purchased and used. Over a ten year period from the mid sixties to the mid seventies, the collaboration would lead to at least six billion dollars in secret CIA contracts. One of these projects, leaked at a time when the CIA was under severe attack and needed a good plug, was the Hughes-CIA joint venture of the Glomar Explorer, a ship purportedly built for deep sea mining, but instead built to recover a sunken Soviet submarine. Other projects included building sophisticated satellite systems designed for intelligence gathering purposes.
Hughes’ empire also came in handy for the CIA by providing cover for many agents. Relative to the Watergate story in this issue (see page 12), G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt traveled a considerable amount during 1971 and 1972, claiming to represent Hughes Toolco, although neither of them ever worked there.
Hughes himself was a world-class flier, and his interest in aviation led him to develop planes. Hughes formed Hughes Aircraft (HAC) to build racing planes, and won some contracts from the military, but failed to deliver on any, causing a congressional investigation. Hughes managed to forestall the committee’s concerns about poor oversight by turning all the HAC operations over to the control and management of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HMI). Hughes also managed enormous tax savings by deeding Hughes Toolco over to HMI. But who had sole ownership and control of HMI? Howard R. Hughes. Well not quite. Howard Hughes, and the CIA. A former Pentagon official was quoted in ‘Time magazine as saying that HAC, solely owned by HMI, was “a captive company of the CIA. Their interests are completely merged.” Hughes’ love for planes would cause him to buy a large portion of TWA. When he was eventually divorced from this company by government intervention, Hughes cast about looking for another airline to purchase.
In 1956, Hughes met a bright young man named John Meier, whose father had prepared the celebratory banquet upon Hughes’s return from his famous flight around the world in 1938. Hughes hired Meier immediately to work for HAC. Meier was lured eventually to work for Bill Gay at Hughes Dynamics, a firm which Meier later found out Gay had set up without Hughes’ knowledge or consent. Bill Gay rose from being manager of a car pool for Hughes to a senior vice presidency. Hughes Dynamics prepared studies on the computerization for police departments and the U.S. Postal Service. It also stored genealogical records for the Mormon Church, of which Bill Gay was a member. When Hughes found out about Hughes Dynamics, he furiously fired the entire staff within 24 hours. The favored Meier, however, was transferred back to HAC.
The CIA’s Politicians of Choice
Meier found out about the CIA’s involvement with Hughes when a clumsy agent told Meier how grateful “the Company” was for all his help. Meier assumed he meant the Hughes company, until the agent added that if it weren’t for “us in the CIA”, the world would be taken over by communists. Suddenly Meier realized what was going on. The same clumsy agent later made a more egregious error, handing Meier a sheet of politicians’ names and telling him these were the congressmen the CIA wanted aided with a Hughes donation. The directive was dated September 2, 1968, and the list included Gerald Ford, James Eastland, Strom Thurmond, John Tower, and Wallace Bennett (Robert Bennett’s father). Meier later turned the list over to Playboy, which published it in a landmark piece about Hughes and the CIA, entitled “The Puppet and the Puppetmasters” (September, 1976. )
Fighting the AEC with John Meier
During the Cuban missile crisis, Hughes took a new interest in the awesome power of the atom, and was particularly concerned about the Atomic Energy Commission’s (AEC) tests at the Nevada test site. Later, when Hughes moved to Nevada (to escape California’s state income tax), his interest was stronger than ever in stopping the tests. He was convinced, as was Meier, that more radioactivity was being leaked than the government would publicly admit. He asked Meier to work with scientists to stop the tests. People who knew of Hughes’ virulent anti-Communism couldn’t understand how he was suddenly teaming up with anti-nuclear activists, but then, Hughes was never one to be pigeonholed.
Hughes’ campaign against the AEC, embodied in John Meier, was a source of constant aggravation to the CIA. Hughes authorized Meier to hire the law firm in which Larry O’Brien, future target of the Watergate break-in, worked in order to lobby against the AEC’s backers in Washington.
Working for Hughes by this time was Robert Maheu, former FBI and CIA agent and liaison with the mob on the anti-Castro CIA plots. Hughes sent Maheu to offer President Johnson $1 million to stop the AEC’s nuclear testing. Maheu denied making the offer directly, but talked obliquely of how Hughes would like to help Johnson after he left office. Maheu later claimed he had given Hubert Humphrey $100,000 to scuttle the AEC if he became President. Both Humphrey and Meier deny that Humphrey took the bribe. Meier was present through the entire Humphrey/Maheu exchange and says to this day quite positively the bribe was never taken. It seems Hughes believed Meier over Maheu, because the next time he sent someone with a large bribe, it was Meier, not Maheu.
Because of his AEC activities, Hughes began, through Meier, to associate with many in the Kennedy contingent, a fact that no doubt irked the CIA irreparably. Hughes offered assistance to Paul Schrade, Bobby Kennedy’s close friend and a labor leader in his own right, offering to fly Schrade to his Nevada ranch to recuperate after Schrade was wounded in the gunfire which killed Bobby Kennedy. Meier also managed to foil a plot against Ted Kennedy, another fact which no doubt guaranteed his latter day confrontations with the forces of the agency.
After the assassination of Robert Kennedy, Hughes encouraged Meier to make friends in the Nixon camp. Meier befriended Don Nixon, the controversial brother of Richard Milhous Nixon.
Don Nixon’s Infamous Loan
Years earlier, when Richard Nixon was Vice President, and Hughes was being hassled by the IRS regarding his application for tax-exempt status for HMI, Hughes had made a $205,000 “personal loan” to Donald Nixon. The press, when this was uncovered, made much ado about this “payoff.” Nixon attributed his loss in the 1960 Presidential race in part to issue of this loan. The issue resurfaced again in 1962. Nixon specifically blamed an article by James Phelan for rehashing this and again costing him an election, this time in his bid to be Governor of California.
HMI and the $ 1,000,000 Bribe
On March 5, 1969, Howard Hughes called John Meier and asked him to go to Miami to see Ken Wright, President of HMI. “John, I’m arranging to give some financing to Mr. Nixon from the Institute,” Hughes had said. “You go over there and get in touch with Wright.” Ken Wright used to be the chauffeur to Nadine Henley, Hughes’ longtime personal secretary. It was her influence that hoisted Wright from chauffeur to President. Henley went on, with Bill Gay and Chester Davis, to eventually head the Hughes empire after 1970.
On March 8, Meier met with Wright, who told him that HMI was actually a CIA front and that only token amounts of Medical research were performed in order to maintain their cover, as well as the all-important tax-exempt status. (See sidebar at right for more on HMI.)
That night, accompanied by two CIA agents, Wright passed a large briefcase to Meier, which Meier kept overnight. In the morning, Wright, in front of Meier, opened the suitcase. The money was going to Bebe Rebozo, for President Richard Nixon. Meier says Wright told him there was $1 million in the briefcase. Meier figured this was yet another attempt by Hughes to get a president to call off the AEC. The timing also coincided with Hughes’ frustrated (thus far) attempts to buy another airline, Air West. Not long after this, Hughes’ purchase went through.
Why have we never heard of this million? Or have we?
Colson hinted at it. In Colson’s famous interview with Richard Bast, Bast asked whether $100,000 was the only thing hanging over Nixon’s head. Colson replied morosely, “Who knows that that’s the only $100,000.” Haldeman mentioned more too, noting that when Nixon offered to pay legal expenses to soften the blow of his request for the resignations of Haldeman and Ehrlichman he mentioned that $300,000 was available. When Haldeman asked where the money was coming from, Nixon said “Bebe has it.” When Haldeman said he thought Bebe only had $100,000, Nixon assured him there was more.
The IRS knew $1,000,000 was missing from Hughes Toolco, which, remember, was owned by HMI. Rebozo even told the Ervin committee that two IRS agents had visited him, saying “What we’re here for is to try to locate $1 million. We’ve searched all over. There’s a million that we feel perhaps, taxes have not been paid on . . .” Rebozo’s lawyer, Kenneth Gemmill, was more explicit, saying “[Rebozo] told me basically that he had been visited by two revenue agents who upon questioning were intelligence agents and that they had told him they were not there investigating him, they were investigating the Hughes Tool Company and Maheu, and I think Meier, if my memory is correct . . . I asked him to tell me what the agents had asked about and he said that they were looking for $1 million and he told them he could tell them where $100,000 was . . . .” The committee’s staff interviewed Meier in an unofficial session, but never called Meier to testify, although his name is sprinkled throughout the report. Was the Ervin committee’s lack of interest in this $1 million a sign that the committee was controlled, as Robert Bennett had boasted to his case officer at CIA? (See the Bennett memorandum starting on page 22.)
Motive for the Watergate Break In?
Meier believes it was his knowledge of this loan that led to the wrath of Nixon’s team against him. Meier believes this was the original reason for a break-in of Larry O’Brien’s office. Meier himself personally baited Don Nixon with hints that he had told O’Brien of the loan. See the story on page 14 called “The Mystery of the Break-In” for a summary of Nixon’s obsession with Larry O’Brien and Hughes.
The last time Meier saw Hughes alive was just before he suddenly ‘vanished’ from Las Vegas. Hughes had been making noises about leaving Las Vegas, but both Meier and Maheu, enemies most of the time, agreed that the disappearance should have been called a kidnapping. Intertel, a private security firm staffed largely by “ex” intelligence officers, sent a team of agents that literally threw Maheu out into the street, changed the locks, and took over the Hughes empire. It was coup, Maheu was sure. The Hughes empire had lost a lot of money during Maheu’s tenure, and the move was swift and sure to remove both his influence and that of Meier’s.
Shortly after, Hughes did what all the people who knew him closely knew he had said he would never do: he sold Hughes Tool Company. The newly formed Summa Corporation was the first not to bear the Hughes name—another indication that Hughes was no longer in control of his empire. Larry O’Brien’s services were dropped and The Mullen Company under Robert Bennett took over the Hughes account.
Dead or Alive?
In 1970, Hughes was very unhealthy. He was reported to be severely underweight, and suffering from anemia andpneumonia. One of the doctors who attended him before he disappeared from Vegas told a policeman Hughes would die if he wasn’t put into an intensive care unit. But no one put Hughes in such a unit. No one ever saw Hughes except a very few members of a tight, secretive inner circle, and speculation seeped into the media that Hughes might really be dead. Tales of vast medical equipment surrounding Hughes persisted. And Meier, in the newly published book Age of Secrets, written by Canadian journalist Gerald Bellett, has the most interesting account of what happened to Hughes to date. Even the IRS prepared to call him legally dead, before his “official” death in 1976. The mystery surrounding his death is a story that will not be attempted here. But to most observers, it became gradually clear that, dead or alive, Hughes was not in control of his empire from 1970 on. His signature was apparently being forged, and he had long ago ceased seeing all but his closest associates. When the Clifford Irving biography was about to be published, the Mullen Company, representing Hughes, issued denials and eventually set the stage for a call in phone interview with Hughes, set up to convince the media Hughes was still alive. If the voice at the other end was Hughes, he had a remarkably spotty memory, going on in great detail on some questions, and unable to sufficiently answer others, all bearing on significant aspects of his life. In the course of this interview, Hughes (or whoever) made derogatory comments about Robert Maheu. Maheu promptly sued, hiring, among others, Charles Appel (see sidebar on page 7).
Hughes’ death brought forth many alleged wills, but none of them ever held up in any court. Without a will, Hughes empire passed completely into the control of the CIA. All holdings belonged either to HMI or Summa by then. Insiders claim the Hughes companies made up the CIA’s biggest proprietary in history.
Hughes officially died in a plane (a poetic touch for the ex-pilot). His body was full of needles that had broken off during his years of being given drugs (willingly or unwillingly.) The body weighed close to 90 pounds, but Hughes had been 6’4″. Some believe the body buried was not Hughes’s. Others say it was Hughes, but he had been dead some time before. Only a few people know the truth. The trick is figuring out which ones they are.
Hughes had always talked of leaving his vast fortune to his medical institute (HMI.) He drafted such a will, but according to Nadine Henley never signed it. Whatever his intentions, the effect was that the CIA grew quite rich by Hughes’ death. And Meier knew where the bodies were, er, kept.
This article that mentions John Meier throughout, is included on this website to show how less mainstream articles compliment the more mainstream ones such as the Playboy article. This article appeared in the January-February 1996 edition of Probe and is written by long time information activist and researcher Lisa Pease, whose work includes being one of the writers and editors of the book The Assassinations, which received high praise from a U.S. Governor.