Kermit Roosevelt, Noam Chomsky & the East Side Monthly

Poets & spies... the links go back a long way (to Christopher Marlowe, if not before). The recent turmoil in Iran, and the sense that the Iranian Revolution may be coming full circle, got me digging around in my old cardboard files - since the Iran hostage crisis of 1979 set the stage for my own slight, indirect (& comical) brush with cloak-&-dagger.

In 1979 I was hanging around Providence after graduation from Brown, running a food coop & trying to write. One day I was behind the counter at Kneecap (the storefront coop) when I was approached by one of our volunteer members, a grad student and film maker. He told me he had been working as a graduate assistant for one of the elder professors at Brown (possibly in the Poli Sci or History depts, I can't remember which) - a professor who had retired previously from a long career with the CIA.

The student told me that the professor had received the proofs of an unpublished book from one of his former colleagues, a career CIA man named Kermit Roosevelt (the grandson of Theodore). The book was titled Countercoup. The book was ready for publication and distribution when the hostage crisis suddenly erupted, in November 1979. At that point, publication was halted : the copies were warehoused. Roosevelt's story of his role in the overthrow of the Mossadegh government, and the installation of the Shah, while not completely new and unknown, was explosive.

Anyway, this student told me he had surreptitiously made a copy of the proof version of Roosevelt's book, and he would relay it to me. We both felt at the time that the truth should come out, though in retrospect our motives seem naive and self-interested (grandstanding, in a situation where hostage lives were endangered). I felt like I was playing an exciting bit part in a spy drama.

After receiving the xerox copy of the proofs, I read through the book and wrote a long "expose" in the local neighborhood paper (probably one of the most unusual articles which the very parochial East Side Monthly has published in its 40-yr history). I also contacted Noam Chomsky, and eventually sent him a copy of the ms. I have Chomsky's correspondence with me from that time : in retrospect he seems prudent (warning against doing something rash in that overheated situation).

That, I think, is the extent of my spy experience, at least up to now... (I suppose it was also the last time the elderly Brown prof - ex-Company man - was himself the object of an espionage attack...)

p.s. on 2nd thought, maybe I'm being too hard on myself & the young grad student. At the time, we thought the Kermit Roosevelt book might simply be deep-sixed, shredded. That's why he passed it to me in the 1st place. & that's why I wrote the whistleblowing article for the East Side Monthly. "Shout it from the rooftops". God is Great. Death to the Dictator.

(p.p.s. I'm reading old Graham Greene novels these days. A high school favorite. My father's favorite movie : Our Man in Havana (reading that now). He's great... so much better than John le Carre...)

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