Conspiracy Nation -- Vol. 10 Num. 51

("Quid coniuratio est?")


(The Octopus: Secret Government and the Death of Danny Casolaro by Kenn Thomas and Jim Keith. Portland: Feral House, 1996. ISBN: 0-922915-39-3)

In a correspondence with Kenn Thomas, co-author of this book, I exclaimed, "It's about time someone wrote a book about it!"

"It" is the story of how high-power persons in "our" government stole the sophisticated PROMIS (Prosecutor's Management Information System) software from a company named Inslaw, how journalist Danny Casolaro began investigating the case and (from all appearances) was murdered when he got too close to hot information, and how this whole case is a "Rosetta stone" unlocking American "deep politics."

The Octopus takes its title from Casolaro's term for what he had uncovered. Like the tentacles of that sea creature, this case reaches far beyond just theft of software. Thomas and Keith's book follows a labyrinthine trail, encountering dark characters such as Michael Riconosciuto and Robert Booth Nichols, unusual places like Area 51 and the Cabazon Indian Reservation, and strange deaths such as that of Vincent Foster and Paul Wilcher. All these tentacles lead back to The Octopus, an amalgam of secret societies, Mafia families, CIA operatives, sub-basement bureaucrats and top-floor finaglers.

In a conversation with a friend, I mentioned I was reading Thomas and Keith's book. "How is it?" asked my friend. How is it? Excellent. This book, as noted, is long overdue; there ought to be ten books out there by now on the Inslaw case. The authors have got the ball rolling with this effort, and hopefully more books on this subject will be written.

And that brings me to critiques I have of The Octopus. My hope that more books will be written on the Inslaw case underscores my disappointment that Thomas and Keith's book was not longer. It runs to more than 170 pages and covers a lot of ground therein, but does not go into as much depth as I would have liked. Paradoxically, this same generality of focus recommends the book to the average reader who is only looking for an overall acquaintance with the subject.

Other niggardly nitpicking I have on this book would be some of the sources it cites, such as the "Com-12" document. I hate to break it to you, Kenn and Jim, but there are certain supposed "intellectuals" out there who look down their noses at such a source. Of course you and I know that, in an investigation of this nature, one has to utilize fringe sources: the mainstream press is notorious for closing their eyes and refusing to adequately cover certain stories, and that means you've got to take what you can get where you can get it. And, too, your "Note on Sources" does cover this area of possible criticism, so forget what I just said.

Another minor point: you write that the gashes on Casolaro's wrists "were too deep to be self-inflicted." Other facts you point out do support the contention that Casolaro was murdered, but in this detail you never explain why "too deep gashes" cannot be self-inflicted.

The only other critique I have of The Octopus are the chapters taken from Casolaro's original draft of his work-in-progress. Reading them, I at first thought, "Uh-oh. Thomas and Keith could have used a proof-reader." But then I figured it out: "Oh yeah, this is from Casolaro's draft, so of course there are mis-spellings." Maybe you should have had a sentence in the "Note on Sources" warning the reader that those chapters were unaltered and included the original mis-spellings.

I know, I know: "Nitpicking!" You're right. This book, The Octopus, has been too-long unwritten. Thomas and Keith have performed a necessary task by getting the story, "In the record." Let's hope that more books detailing the Inslaw case will be written. Prospective authors are encouraged to use The Octopus as their road map.

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