Archives TThe Norman-Grabbe Theory Regarding Vince Foster: Why We Should Be Careful
by Daniel Brandt 19 September 1995

“If I were operating some sort of mafia in the United States, I would be only too delighted to have the leading voices of the news media insist to the public that many of my crimes could never have happened. It might even be worth hiring some goofballs to spread preposterous theories about nonexistent conspiracies in order to discredit persons who might stumble upon evidence of the real thing.” — James Dale Davidson, Strategic Investment Newsletter, 7/25/95, commenting on the Susan Schmidt article in the Washington Post of 7/4/95.

“I was asked by some people to mount a disinformation campaign…. The people who asked me to intervene felt that the country could not stand another Watergate…. I met with four people [not named, but identified as associated with the U.S. intelligence community], and was given to understand that there were a number of others who were interested in seeing this succeed. In other words, making sure that the media lost interest, that the story was discredited. I contacted Barbara Honegger … [and] managed to pass on some information to her which had factual elements in it, but also elements that with a little bit of digging could be discovered to be questionable. The story would lead some investigators to spend time and effort running into blind alleys, with the result that eventually the whole story would be discredited.”

— Oswald LeWinter, explaining on camera to Robert Parry why he accepted $100,000 to plant disinformation concerning the October Surprise scandal. (From Robert Parry, “Trick or Treason,” New York: Sheridan Square, 1993, p. 68.)


The theory promoted by James R. Norman and J. Orlin Grabbe, that Vince Foster was a spy for Israel, has all the earmarks of disinformation. Until August, Norman was a senior editor at Forbes magazine. Grabbe has a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard (1981), and has written articles about technical matters in international finance. In 1985, while teaching at the Wharton School, he co-founded a company, FX Systems Inc., that developed banking software. Both Norman and Grabbe have elucidated their theories on the Internet, in the < alt.current-events.clinton.whitewater > newsgroup, from about March, 1995 to the present. In early July Norman began signing his posts with his name; before then he was known to most on the newsgroup only as < >. Norman’s article titled “Fostergate” was published in August, 1995 in Media Bypass magazine (page 36-40), after it was rejected by Forbes. It was also posted on various newsgroups. Norman claims that Forbes had fact-checked the article, and just as it was ready to go, it was killed for political reasons.

Norman contends that Vince Foster, whether murdered or not, was under investigation because he was a spy for Israel. For years Foster had been an intermediary between the National Security Agency and Systematics, Inc. (now called ALLTEL) in Little Rock. Systematics was installing bugged software in banks around the world, and the Rose Law Firm was their attorney-of-record. The bugged software allowed the CIA to manipulate covert funds to service their various operations, and also allowed the NSA to monitor banking transactions around the world.

CIA hackers broke into a Mossad computer and discovered that Vince Foster owned some Swiss bank accounts. They simulated a withdrawal and took out $2.73 million from one of Foster’s accounts. Foster discovered this shortly before his death, and upon making inquiries, determined that he was under investigation for espionage. The CIA hackers went on to drain the accounts of another 200 or so prominent members of both the Republican and Democratic parties. They returned this money to the U.S. Treasury. The account holders couldn’t complain because they were guilty.

The previous two paragraphs are a short summary of the Norman- Grabbe theory. My guess is that Norman and Grabbe are merely guilty of excessive enthusiasm, and have the best of intentions. To start with, let’s assume that there is much more to the Foster story than the Washington Post and Congress are willing to concede. I believe that there is a fifty-fifty chance that he was murdered. I also believe that he made trips to Switzerland, and probably serviced one or more accounts there. This alone could be sufficient to start a counterintelligence investigation, so it’s not hard to accept that he was being investigated, and somehow found out about it. Beyond this, I think that not much is known, and assumptions about Foster’s spying for Israel are not worth much effort at this point. This does not mean that we should close our eyes to further evidence if it develops. I, for one, hope that further evidence does develop.

Here is a list of some weak points in the Norman-Grabbe theory:

1) Norman’s sources in Fostergate are mostly anonymous, and are from the intelligence community. This is immediately suspect. His other sources include William A. Hamilton of Inslaw, who is prone to overestimate the significance and power of his Promis software. They also include Michael Riconosciuto, whom even Norman describes as “maybe not a credible source,” and Charles (Chuck) Hayes of Kentucky, not considered excessively reliable, and a book by Ari Ben-Menashe that seriously exaggerates the power of Promis.

2) Gregory Wierzynski, assistant staff director of the House Committee on Banking and Financial Services, sent an e-mail to Grabbe on 7/23/95 in which he states that “we’ve talked to Jim and tried to check out the sources he thought he could share with us. We have also done a fair amount of investigating on our own using the resources available to us…. So far we draw a complete blank. Worse, the preponderance of the evidence suggests that Jim’s piece is pretty much off-the-wall. Worse still, it appears to fly in the face not just of fact, but simple logic as well…. I’ve talked to Chuck in Kentucky and am still in touch with him. But his stories have not panned out, even partially.” [Wierzynski is a former head of Radio Free Europe and a veteran Time magazine correspondent who covered Eastern Europe.]

3) Norman claims that a small group of hackers inside the CIA that calls itself the Fifth Column, “armed with a Cray supercomputer,” broke into a Mossad database and discovered that Vince Foster had Swiss bank accounts. But Olivier Schmidt, who has edited an intelligence newsletter out of Paris for 15 years, says that this is not only far-fetched, but impossible: “No modern intelligence service has the names of its agents on a computer physically connected to an outside network.”

4) Norman says that the Fifth Column then took vigilante (i.e., unauthorized) action and cleaned out Foster’s account and returned it to the U.S. Treasury. Schmidt adds that “it also seems extremely unlikely that Swiss banks would permit a `sensitive’ account to be deleted electronically without direct confirmation by the account owner.”

5) A group of low-level hackers within the CIA would not be likely to take unauthorized action of this magnitude. Even if Foster couldn’t complain because he was guilty, as Norman claims, it seems likely that the U.S. Treasury would start wondering where the money came from. Why would the hackers do this and endanger themselves? How could they assume that Foster lacked the sort of connections — such as Mossad hit men — that would track down the hackers and retaliate? With the compartmentation in the CIA, it’s more likely that the hackers had no idea of how Foster got his money — whether it was a high-level sting or dangle operation, or simply treasonous spying. And it’s also likely that if they came across Foster’s name in a Mossad computer, their first reaction would be, “Why did someone plant Foster’s name in this computer for us to find?”

6) If I were a low-level CIA hacker, even if I did have a Cray (since when is a Cray required for network hacking?), I’d stay a million miles away from something like this. And if I got reckless and did something foolish, I certainly wouldn’t brag about it to anyone who was likely to tell the story to reporters. If the story did get out, I’d be so scared that I’d immediately start knocking on the door at “60 Minutes” with documentation in hand, just because the publicity might help me stay alive. In other words, Norman’s scenario does not pass the smell-test of common sense.

7) Norman claims that about 200 leading lights in the Republican and Democratic parties had a total of over $2 billion sucked out of their Swiss accounts over the past two years. One of these was Caspar Weinberger, publisher-emeritus of Forbes, and this is why Norman’s story was spiked by Forbes. Weinberger was apparently taking kickbacks from drug and arms sales. We’re talking about considerable political clout now, beyond what a mere Vince Foster might have. This makes Norman’s hacker story even more suspicious. The points in 4, 5, and 6 above are now multiplied by 200.

8) Grabbe, with Norman concurring, adds a new dimension to the story after Norman’s article appears in Media Bypass. This ups the ante considerably, by suggesting that Foster was selling the NSA’s nuclear launch codes to Israel, allowing Israel to become a virtual nuclear power. In other words, Israeli hackers with launch codes can launch U.S. missiles to their pre-programmed targets. This is highly unlikely. If the Pentagon had any reason whatsoever to suspect that launch codes were compromised in this fashion, and that unauthorized launches could be hacked by anyone, they’d unplug the entire system immediately and rebuild it from scratch.

9) Norman claims that Foster was a long-time National Security Agency operative, and functioned as a liaison between the NSA, which was using the Promis software to secretly monitor international banking transactions, and Systematics in Little Rock, a firm that sold banking software. But although the connection between Foster and Systematics is at least worth considering (through the Rose Law Firm, if not directly), the connection between Systematics in Little Rock, and Boston Systematics in Massachusetts, seems less solid. The Promis connection is alleged by William Hamilton to be with Boston Systematics and its Israeli affiliates. But John Steuri of Systematics in Little Rock says that he had never heard of Boston Systematics or the Israeli Systematics until Norman brought them up, and that the Little Rock Systematics has “no present or past relationship with or any knowledge of these organizations.” Steuri points out in this 3/16/95 response to Norman that there are more than 50 companies that use the Systematics name. (A quick check of a CD-ROM business directory confirms this.) Norman is too quick to assume that because two companies have similar names, they are necessarily related. He made the same mistake with the name “Blythe,” initially assuming that Blythe Systems must be the same as some other Blythe. Blythe Systems, a mom-and-pop progressive Internet service provider in New York City, hosts NameBase Online. Some other Blythe was apparently contracted to do some software for Systematics.

10) Steuri denies every aspect of Norman’s charges against the Little Rock Systematics, and goes on to state that: a) Systematics in Little Rock does not do any private bank-to-private bank transfers; b) Systematics has no knowledge of any health-care contracts that were pending from the government; c) Systematics has no prior or present relationship with E-Systems.

11) Norman says that Harry Wechsler of Boston Systematics, a former CIA officer, has a daughter who was a colleague of Norman’s at Forbes. The daughter’s information led Norman into the Fostergate story, as well as to other dirty laundry at Forbes itself (e.g., Caspar Weinberger). But if the link between Little Rock Systematics and Boston Systematics cannot be demonstrated more effectively, then a key link in Norman’s story is lacking.

12) Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, on 7/10/95, writes that “Ms. Schmidt called me before she wrote her piece and asked what I thought about some of the wild allegations being made that Vince Foster had ties to Israeli intelligence and was under investigation by the CIA for espionage. I told her that it sounded pretty far-fetched and was not consistent with what I knew about Foster.” Evans-Pritchard’s reporting is highly regarded among those following the Foster investigation.

13) Another promoter of more Foster investigation is Reed Irvine, who says he considers the Foster spy stories “off the wall.” (Susan Schmidt article, Washington Post, 7/4/95).

14) There are curious interests behind the push to investigate Foster. None of these connections prove anything, but they are worth mentioning. Some of them are as follows: Jack Wheeler, a friend of Grabbe’s, writes for Strategic Investment. Wheeler is best known as a right-wing adventurer who ran the Freedom Research Foundation in LaJolla, California. He supported all manner of anti-communist insurgencies during the 1980s, including South Africa’s creation, RENAMO of Mozambique. He considers himself one of the fathers of the “Reagan Doctrine,” which he credits with the collapse of the Soviet Union. This “Reagan Doctrine” involved CIA support for Afghanistan rebels, Angola rebels, Nicaraguan contras, Cambodian anti-Communists, etc. Since 1966 Wheeler has been friends with Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). In a 7/8/95 post, Grabbe writes the following: “This *is* a horror story that made me toss and turn at night, until I recalled the words of my friend Jack Wheeler, who told me: `We created a doctrine to do in the Soviet empire. And it worked. It’s now time to do in the Washington empire.’ And reflecting on these words, I fell peacefully asleep. And I had a dream.” Only Grabbe, who often writes tongue-in-cheek, knows what this means. But at a minimum it suggests that one influence on Grabbe is someone with political connections, a touch of megalomania, and almost certainly an agenda.

15) Richard Mellon Scaife supports some of the effort behind the push to open up the Foster investigation. He also supports James Dale Davidson’s National Taxpayers Union. Co-publisher with Davidson of the Strategic Investment Newsletter is William Rees-Mogg, a heavyweight among British elites. Rees-Mogg was editor of The Times (London) from 1967-1981, and attended a Bilderberg meeting in 1993. Lyndon LaRouche has been harping, for what it’s worth (probably not much), that the British elite have targeted Clinton and are pushing the Whitewater scandal. None of this makes any sort of sense in terms of a consistent pattern, but it suggests that there might be agendas at work.


It’s possible, for example, that elements within U.S. intelligence are getting desperate in the face of all the unrelenting attention being paid to Whitewater. Maybe they think it will lead to Mena. Maybe they feel that the easiest way to discredit the Whitewater charges is to make them easy to ridicule. They could do this by leaking sensational stories to gullible publicists, which gives mainstream journalists something *else* to write about. Internet newsgroups are a perfect medium for this sort of effort, because newsgroups are monitored by journalists looking for story ideas.

Assuming that much of the Whitewater attention is getting an assist from those with deep pockets (a reasonable assumption at this point), and your job is to stop it, what would you do? Can you think of a better tactic?

If there are disinformationists at work behind the scenes, the only way to counter their efforts is to be more rigorous in the types of stories we publicize. Here are some suggestions:

a) Anonymous sources who claim to have inside information must, at a minimum, be validated in terms of the motives they claim for disclosing this information. It’s not enough, for example, to hear from an anonymous source inside the intelligence community that they’re spilling the beans because they don’t like corruption in high places. If they don’t like corruption in high places, they would have resigned from the intelligence community, period. (For that matter, the same is true of Forbes magazine, which has never been known for its corruption-fighting.)

b) Sources who claim to know about everything are suspicious. The level of compartmentation in the intelligence community suggests that a single source would not be involved with October Surprise, Iran-contra, Promis, Iraqgate — one right after another. Yet some of the October Surprise sources came close to being all-around experts on every scandal. This suggests that they were being fed information. One gets the same feeling from Norman’s sources.

c) If it sounds even a little flaky, it means that you have more work to do before you go to print. More damage will be done to the cause of the public’s right to know by going to press with a half- baked conspiracy theory, than by withholding it entirely. You have to expect that despite your best efforts, some stories will get so swallowed up in dubious sources that the truth may never come out. Let it go; there are other stories out there that are also important and might be easier. Keep in mind that many talented people have worked on the JFK assassination for 30 years now, and although we know more than we did, we still don’t really know. The bigger the story, the harder it is.

d) There might not be an Octopus. It could just be a lot of greedy people pursuing their own interests and cutting legal corners — yes, corruption is increasing as the nation-state declines and international finance becomes non-jurisdictional. Start with the end of the tentacle, and work your way up. Don’t start with the Octopus. What you are dealing with may turn out to be merely several tentacles inclined in the same direction. If there is a head at the top after all, then you’ve still got the Octopus by a tentacle, which is hopefully less slippery than the head.


By the way, if anyone wants to research the Norman-Grabbe theory themselves, I recommend a Web site: < >. Going back at least eight months or so, you can retrieve past posts based on keyword search combinations of the actual full-text contents of the posts. These can be restricted to a specific newsgroup, or done across all the newsgroups they carry. The < alt.current-events.clinton.whitewater > group is one they carry, while < alt.conspiracy > is one that they don’t carry.

— Daniel Brandt

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