Category Archives: Human behavior

Blast from the past: Bugging Marilyn Monroe


Plus mafiosi, celebrity buggers, JFK, and so much more. . .

First up, a post from 18 July 2010:

Marilyn Monroe’s bugs and a .22-caliber killer

Marilyn Monroe, perhaps the most emblematic Old Hollywood screen star, is in the news again, this time because the last house she owned — and the one where she died — is up for sale again. Asking price: $3.6 million.

The New York Daily News report included this in the concluding paragraphs offers this:

One of the more elaborate: when actress Veronica Hamel  reportedly bought the home in 1972, she discovered a telephone tapping and eavesdropping system while remodeling, according to Hamel’s IMDB.com  biography. This ignited the far-fetched rumors that the Mafia may have been responsible for Monroe’s death.

The home was built in 1929 and still has much of its original details, but has been remodeled several times.

First, some background. During esnl‘s years at the Santa Monica Evening Outlook, he spent a fair amount of time looking into organized crime. Two sources had interesting stories to tell about the wiring found in the crawlspace at 12305 St. Helena Drive in Brentwood.

I had two sources: the late Marion Phillips [previously] and a corporate security officer who had once worked as as CIA officer. They told me the same story six years after the discovery of the wires.

The wiring was discovered during renovation work, and both law enforcement and corporate phone security officers examined the find. What they found was two different sets of wires.

Covert operators who install bugs and wiretaps have distinct “signatures” readily discernible to the cognoscenti, involving both the specific types of wires used and the way the wires are installed, ranging from the brand of connectors used to the types of knots, the manner of soldering, and the way the wires are secured.

One set of wires was instantly recognizable as an FBI installation because of the distinct coating of the wires, which was reserved for law enforcement use. The signature of the second set, installed after the FBI wires, was also instantly recognizable.

The second wire man was Bernard Bates Spindel, the tap and bug expert hired out by both law enforcement and organized crime. One of his major clients was mobbed-up Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa, who had ample reason to fear illegal bugs.

Robert Kennedy, appointed Attorney General by his presidential brother John, had been waging a relentless “Get Hoffa” campaign as part of his overall attack on organized crime. It was a dangerous and thoroughly illegal war, since it was waged before federal law allowed the FBI to install bugs. FBI bugs exposed the inner workings of the Chicago Outfit, the old Capone gang.

The double-edged sword posed by the bugs was the harsh reality that John F. Kennedy had shared two mistresses with Outfit boss Sam Giancana. The first was Judith Campbell Exner, and the the second was the woman the tabloids dubbed the “Blonde Bombshell.”

Giancana had another tie to the Kennedy administration as well, and to the subsequent administration of Lyndon Johnson: The CIA was paying him, through front man Johnny Roselli, to carry out a “contract” on Fidel Castro.

Just what the feds and Spindel captured on their tapes at the Monroe house

remains a mystery. The actress allegedly killed herself there on 5 August 1962 after returning from the Cal-Neva Lodge at Lake Tahoe, a gambling resort jointly owned by Frank Sinatra and Giancana, and allegations have surfaced that Giancana beat her at his private cabin shortly before she fled back to Brentwood.

Sinatra’s ties to Giancana cost the crooner his gambling license, though a fawning Nevada Gaming Commission would later restore it two decades later, despite massive evidence that Old Blue Eyes always danced to the wise guy’s tune.

Gianana proved a high-profile and somewhat inept mob boss, and few shed tears when he was whacked in the basement of his Oak Park, Illinois, home on the night of 19 June 1975.

In a final twist of fate for esnl, Giancana was killed as as he whipping up a batch of his legendary sausage and peppers. The weapon was a silenced .22-caliber Colt Woodsman semiautomatic pistol modified and fitted out with a custom made silencer by a St. Louis armorer who provided an identical pistol to George Patrick McKinney, the killer whose trial first brought esnl into the Santa Monica courtroom of Judge Lawrence J. Rittenband, the jurist who would besmirch himself 10 months later with his handling of the Roman Polanski case.

Back to Marilyn’s curious bugs

An FBI report dated 2 September 1961 offers some insight into the bugs at Monroe’s house.

Fred Otash, a disgraced Los Angeles Police Detective turned private eye, spent his latter years publishing a trashy Hollywood tabloid, making more money from what he didn’t print that what actually appeared on paper. Otash, Lt. Phillips told me, specialized in digging up dirt on celebrities, then withholding it in return to hefty payoffs.

BLOG Otash

One of the reasons Freddie was able to thrive as a bottom-feeder was the classic con’s dodge, playing snitch in return for a blind eye from law enforcement.

On 16 August 1961, Otash reported in to his FBI handler to report that he’d been contacted in New York by Spindel, who “made known the fact that Hoffa was about to ‘bury the Kennedys’ and in doing so they were attempting to use every means possible which included the setting up of electronic listening devices on the Kennedys wherever possible.

Spindel’s approach was to determine whether informant would be interested in handling such work for Hoffa on the West Coast, such as developing information concerning the identity of any prostitutes knowqn to have any association whatsoever with either the Attorney General or the President and Spindel was of the belief thois [sic] information could be developed through [name redacted] or Peter Lawford

. . .Spindel indicated they were compiling all possible information for this so-called ‘hate campaign’ and contemplated inclusion of this material in the [Teamsters] Union magazine.

The report concludes: “There is no indication on the part of the informant of emotional instability, unreliability or the furnishing of false information.”

Otash would later play the role of supporting cast in the L.A. noir crime novels of James Elroy, and was featured in this interview by Mike Wallace in 1957.

And an subsequent post from 3 June 2012:

More confirmation: The bugs in Marilyn’s house

Three years ago we wrote about the two sets of covert microphone installations in Marilyn Monroe’s house — one installed by freelance wireman Bernard Bates Spindel on behalf of Jimmy Hoffa and the other by J. Edgar Hoover’s boys, and both eager to dig up the dirt on the Kennedys, Jack and Bobby.

Another player in the game was Freddie Otash, a corrupt ex-LAPD vice cop who made a tidy living digging up dirt for Hollywood gossip magazines and for the increasingly paranoid Howard Hughes.

Now comes a new twist, reported by the Irish Independent:

Otash, who inspired the character of private investigator Jake Gittes (played by Jack Nicholson) in the 1974 film Chinatown, was a notorious Hollywood gumshoe during the 1950s and 1960s, who snooped on – and on behalf of – a slew of the era’s stars, including Lana Turner, Errol Flynn, Frank Sinatra and Bette Davis. In his notes, Otash claims to know the location of Judy Garland’s secret supply of pills; to have caught James Dean shoplifting at a Hollywood store; and to have heard Marilyn Monroe having sex with John F Kennedy.

>snip<

Otash, known as “Mr O”, died aged 70 in 1992, having just completed a book called Marilyn, Kennedy and Me. The manuscript, never published, was also found among his files, which had been kept by his daughter. In it, he recalls bugging Monroe’s house, allegedly to snoop on Kennedy and other Democrats for the Republican tycoon Howard Hughes. Otash claims to have taped an argument between Monroe, Bobby Kennedy and Kennedy’s brother-in-law, the actor Peter Lawford, on the day she died.

The detective later said Lawford had asked him to remove anything that incriminated the Kennedy brothers – both rumoured to have had romantic relations with Monroe – from the dead star’s home.

Read the rest.

So did Otash bug Monroe’s home? Neither of our two sources, Marion Phillips, the second in command and operations boss of LAPD’s mob squad, and a former phone company security expert who’d formerly worked for the CIA, said Otash had installed bugs. The two sets of wiring were clearly identifiable, one the FBI’s and the other Spindel’s.

There was no evidence of a third set of bugs, which leads us to suspect Otash may have serviced Spindel’s installation or otherwise shared in it’s fruits. But there was no sign he’d ever planted microphones of his own.

Ebola, its origins, and how it spreads


If you are at all interested in the sudden surge of Ebola outbreaks in Africa, then this 28 August lecture at the University of California’s public health school in Berkeley will fill in a lot of gaps in your knowledge.

The speaker is a pediatrician and epidemiologist who was there at the beginning, investigating the first major outbreak in 1976 in the Sudan, where he learned first-hand about the disease and the devastation it brings.

Especially illuminating is his explanation of the reasons behind both the disaster the disease inflicts on the medical staff who care for them, with infected doctors and nurses themselves sparking a surge in new cases.

Also notable are the impacts of contrasting forms of government and traditional burial practices on outbreak containment,

Donald P. Francis serves as executive director of Global Solutions for Infectious Diseases in San Francisco, a global NGO.

Here’s an excerpt from his bio:

An infectious disease trained pediatrician and epidemiologist, Dr. Francis has over 30 years experience in epidemic control and vaccines. He spent 21 years working for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) focusing on vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, cholera, smallpox, and hepatitis B. He directed the WHO’s Smallpox Eradication Program in Sudan and U.P. State in Northern India. His hepatitis B vaccine work included Phase III trials among gay men in the United States and among infants born to carrier mothers in China. Dr. Francis was also a member of the WHO team investigating the world’s first outbreak of Ebola virus in 1976. Dr. Francis has worked on HIV/AIDS since its emergence in 1981.

From UC Berkeley Events:

The 2014 Ebola Outbreak: Update on an Unprecedented Public Health Event

Program note:

Dr. Francis, MD, DSc is the Executive Director at Global Solutions for Infectious Diseases (GSID) in South San Francisco.

Chart of the day: Americans on national image


Specifically, their shifting judgments about the nation’s relative clout on the global stage. From a report by the Pew Research Center:

BLOG Importance

Chart of the day: Changing American insecurities


Notice the rising fear of epidemics, a phobia that didn’t make the list ten months ago.

From the Pew Research Center:

BLOG Woes

InSecurityWatch: Cops, spies, drones, zones


Today’s compendium of matters of spies, borders, corportate snoopery, hacking, and such like begins with a reminder that sometimes it’s not Big Brother you’ve got to worry about. Sometimes it’s Big Daddy. From Rumble Viral:

Catching a daughter doing selfies on video

Program note:

Rod Beckham noticed a lot of movement in his rear view mirror and realized his daughter was in the midst of an epic photo shoot of her own creation. After watching and laughing for a minute or so, he realized he needed to capture this for posterity. It will definitely put a smile on your face!

On to the serious, starting with a call from BuzzFeed:

National Progressives Want A “Federal Czar” To Oversee Local Police Forces

“The proliferation of machine guns, silencers, armored vehicles and aircraft, and camouflage in local law enforcement units does not bode well for police-community relations, the future of our cities, or our country.”

A coalition of unions, members of Congress, progressive groups and others wrote a joint letter to President Barack Obama calling for drastic changes to local police forces around the country after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

The letter, which was distributed via an ad in the Washington Post, calls for a demilitarization of police forces, an effort to increase diversity, and the establishment of a “federal czar” to promote “the professionalization of local law enforcement.”

“The proliferation of machine guns, silencers, armored vehicles and aircraft, and camouflage in local law enforcement units does not bode well for police-community relations, the future of our cities, or our country,” the letter said.

From Techdirt, sumptuary laws in a world of blue knights:

As Police Get More Militarized, Bill In Congress Would Make Owning Body Armor Punishable By Up To 10 Years In Prison

  • from the only-the-police-can-be-militarized dept

We’ve been writing an awful lot lately about the militarization of police, but apparently some in Congress want to make sure that the American public can’t protect themselves from a militarized police. Rep. Mike Honda (currently facing a reasonably strong challenger for election this fall) has introduced a bizarre bill that would make it a crime for civilians to buy or own body armor. The bill HR 5344 is unlikely to go anywhere, but violating the bill, if it did become law, would be punishable with up to ten years in prison. Yes, TEN years. For merely owning body armor.

Honda claims that the bill is designed to stop “armored assailants” whom he claims are “a trend” in recent years. Perhaps there wouldn’t be so much armor floating around out there if we weren’t distributing it to so many civilian police forces… Not surprisingly, the very same police who have been getting much of this armor are very much in favor of making sure no one else gets it:

Honda said it has been endorsed by law enforcement organizations including the California State Sheriffs’ Association, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Peace Officers Research Association of California, according to Honda.

The Guardian deals a blow to a call for a Medievalism, British style:

Cameron dismisses Johnson’s ‘presumption of guilt’ terror plan

  • PM rejects ‘kneejerk response’ after London mayor’s suggestion that people travelling to war zones should be presumed guilty

Downing Street has dismissed a call by Boris Johnson for the government to introduce a “rebuttable presumption” that anyone who visits a war zone without providing notice will be guilty of a terrorist offence.

The prime minister’s spokeswoman said David Cameron had no interest in”kneejerk” responses to the threat posed by Islamic State (Isis) fighters. She confirmed that Britain’s intelligence agencies had not been pressing for the London mayor’s idea.

Downing Street said the prime minister was focused on a “patient and resolute” response to what he described last week as the “generational challenge” posed by Isis in Iraq and Syria.

From Reuters, here’s looking at you, kid:

Camera-makers shares jump on interest in surveillance tech

A surge in interest in makers of security cameras drove shares of such companies higher on Tuesday, with heavy volume in particular seen in Digital Ally, which makes wearable cameras.

Digital Ally, which produces cameras compact enough to be pinned to shirts, belts or eyeglasses, has reported heightened demand for its product since Aug. 9, when a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teen in Ferguson, Missouri, triggering weeks of protests.

Interest in surveillance technology also drove investors to put money in Image Sensing Systems, a company that produces software and cameras for law enforcement agencies and traffic monitors. The stock spiked more than 40 percent.

From the Guardian, Cold War 2.0:

Nato plans east European bases to counter Russian threat

  • Nato chief announces move in response to Ukraine crisis and says alliance is dealing with a new Russian military approach

Nato is to deploy its forces permanently at new bases in eastern Europe for the first time, in response to the Ukraine crisis and in an attempt to deter Vladimir Putin from causing trouble in the former Soviet Baltic republics, according to its chief.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former prime minister of Denmark, said that next week’s Nato summit in Cardiff would overcome divisions within the alliance and agree to new deployments on Russia’s borders – a move certain to trigger a strong reaction from Moscow.

He also outlined moves to boost Ukraine’s security, “modernise” its armed forces, and help the country counter the threat from Russia.

Droning on? Or more provocatively? From the Associated Press:

AP sources: US surveillance planes fly over Syria

The U.S. has begun surveillance flights over Syria after President Barack Obama gave the OK, U.S. officials said, a move that could pave the way for airstrikes against Islamic State militant targets there.

While the White House says Obama has not approved military action inside Syria, additional intelligence on the militants would likely be necessary before he could take that step. Pentagon officials have been drafting potential options for the president, including airstrikes.

One official said the administration has a need for reliable intelligence from Syria and called the surveillance flights an important avenue for obtaining data.

Drone it is. But this time, by other folks. From Vocativ:

New Video Shows ISIS Using Drones to Plan Battles

The beheading video that ISIS released last week was a vivid illustration of not only the group’s ruthlessness but also its growing media sophistication. The video, with its slick production values, spread rapidly on Twitter and YouTube.

ISIS, which now controls large stretches of Syria and Iraq, uses an elaborate web of social media accounts to recruit new members, mock the West in unusual ways and showcase its military and tech know-how.

In the latest example of this, a new video appeared this past weekend in an official ISIS forum showing ISIS forces preparing to conquer a key military base in Raqqa in northern Syria. The video includes aerial footage (at around the 1.55 mark) apparently taken by an ISIS drone, and viewers hear militants planning out the attack. One talks about “a truck opening the way so that a second suicide bomber can hit the headquarters.” The video also shows graphic images of ISIS executing Syrian soldiers.

Engadget covers cyberstalking:

Political TV ads will soon know who you are

Like it or not, another US election is almost upon us — and this time around, the incessant political advertising may cut a little too close to home. Both Democrats and Republicans are using a new TV ad targeting system from DirecTV and Dish that takes advantage of voter records to put personalized campaign ads on your DVR. If you tend to swing between both parties, you may get different commercials than lifelong supporters. You may also get reminders to vote early if you frequently cast absentee ballots. And unlike conventional targeting methods, which run ads on shows they believe certain demographics will watch, these promos will automatically appear on any show you record as long as there’s a free slot.

Yes, there’s a chance these pitches will get very annoying; there’s enough data that they could chastise you when you haven’t donated or volunteered. However, the sheer expense of producing customized ads makes it unlikely that candidates will get that specific. The DVR technology may actually spare you some grief, in fact, since politicians won’t waste your time if you’re set in your ways. There is a risk that this approach will further polarize voters by limiting their exposure to different views. With that said, many political TV spots aren’t exactly honest to start with — this may just reduce the amount of propaganda you have to put up with during commercial breaks.

The London Daily Mail gets all metaphorical:

Always use protection! £6 USB ‘condom’ stops hackers from giving you viruses and keeps your private data secure

  • The USB device was created by New York-based security experts int3.cc
  • It aims to protect against public charging stations that can download data
  • The USB condom is a small chip that has both male and female ports
  • These connect between a device and the unknown USB port, effectively severing any data connection but linking up the power cables
  • Millions of people worldwide are engaging in high-risk tech.
  • Now a ‘USB condom’ has been designed by security experts in an effort to keep sensitive data secure.
  • The device allows users to plug their phones or tablets into unfamiliar USB ports without risking being infected with a virus.

From MIT Technology Review, pimping exhibitionism:

How Much Is Your Privacy Worth?

  • Despite the outcry over government and corporate snooping, some people allow themselves be monitored for money or rewards.

People can use your sensitive personal information to discriminate against you.

Anyone paying attention knows that his or her Web searches, Facebook feeds, and other online activity isn’t always safe—be it from the prying eyes of the NSA or those of the companies providing a social networking service.

While a substantial chunk of the populace finds all this tracking creepy and invasive, though, there’s a demographic that collectively shrugs at the notion of being mined for data.

Some startups hope to exploit this by buying access to your Web browsing and banking data (see “Sell Your Personal Data for $8 a Month”). Luth Research, a San Diego company, is now offering companies an unprecedented window into the private digital domains of tens of thousands of people who have agreed to let much of what they do on a smartphone, tablet, or PC be tracked for a $100 a month.

From Motherboard, Ayn Rand is smiling:

Net Neutrality Is ‘Marxist,’ According to This Koch-Backed Astroturf Group

A mysterious conservative group with strong ties to the Koch brothers has been bombarding inboxes with emails filled with disinformation and fearmongering in an attempt to start a “grassroots” campaign to kill net neutrality—at one point suggesting that “Marxists” think that preserving net neutrality is a good idea.

The emails, which come with subject lines like “Stop Obama’s federal Internet takeover,” come from American Commitment, an organization that is nonprofit in name only and has been called out time and time again by journalists and transparency organizations for obscuring where it gets its funding.

In an email I received, American Commitment president Phil Kerpen suggests that reclassifying the internet as a public utility is the “first step in the fight to destroy American capitalism altogether” and says that the FCC is plotting a “federal Internet takeover,” a move that “sounds more like a story coming out of China or Russia.”

From Network World, so there’s more than one born every second?:

Hackers prey on Russian patriotism to grow the Kelihos botnet

The cybercriminal gang behind the Kelihos botnet is tricking users into installing malware on their computers by appealing to pro-Russian sentiments stoked by recent international sanctions against the country.

Researchers from security firms Websense and Bitdefender have independently observed a new spam campaign that encourages Russian-speakers to volunteer their computers for use in distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against the websites of governments that imposed sanctions on Russia for its involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

“We, a group of hackers from the Russian Federation, are worried about the unreasonable sanctions that Western states imposed against our country,” the spam emails read, according to a translation by Bitdefender researchers. “We have coded our answer and below you will find the link to our program. Run the application on your computer, and it will secretly begin to attack government agencies of the states that have adopted those sanctions.”

Motherboard covers the cyberextortionate:

Hackers Will Leak Syrian Stock Exchange Database Unless Assad Tackles ISIS

A group of hackers took down the website of Syria’s only stock exchange this afternoon and are threatening to leak the exchange’s database unless president Bashar al-Assad takes military action against the Islamic State.

The group, called Project Viridium, says that over the last several weeks, it has infected several Islamic State operatives’ computers and have provided the Assad government with information about their whereabouts.

Earlier today, the group tweeted that it had successfully taken down the Damascus Securities Exchange. At the time of this writing, the exchange’s website is still inaccessible, due to what appears to be a fairly common DoS (Denial of Service) attack.

After the jump, the latest from the Asian Game of Zones, including Indo/Pakistani shelling, internal Pakistani tension, a case of diplomatic hypocrisy against accompanied by a Chinese peace feeler, Sino/Indonesian insular petro tension, an Aussie apology and spooky doings, another aerial line-crossing, supersonic submarines, Chinese military/security realignments, Beijing’s eyes in space, Japanese militarism questions, and much more. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day II: Snowden leaks talk reluctance


From the Pew Research Center’s Social Media and the ‘Spiral of Silence [PDF], source of our first COLTD, a telling look at how the medium shapes the message, in this case, how comfortable we’d be in sharing our thoughts about the implications of all those stunning Snowden leaks in different forums, virtual and physical:

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Chart of the day: Snowden’s impact on media


From Social Media and the ‘Spiral of Silence’ a must-read new report [PDF] from the Pew Research Center, on the willingness of Americans to talk Edward Snowden’s revelations of National Security Agency surveillance. Sadly, the report did not specifically address the degree to which reluctance was attributable to fear of being on the record against the intrusions of the shadow state into their most intimate conversations. Instead, reluctance was attributed to a natural hesitancy of people to broach a subject with others on which they might disagree.

The report also found that a slim majority approved Snowden’s revelations.

From the report:

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