The not-so quiet American
DECEMBER 13, 2002
Back in the days when The Mole was a government gun-slinger in Saigon he heard many stories of an American Air Force General called Edward G Lansdale, who had worked for the CIA in the city in the 1950s. Lansdale was renowned for his unorthodox approach to counter-insurgency against the Communist rebels. His talent was to listen rather than to talk and, as a result of what he learned, he developed a number of very successful psychological warfare operations based on local traditions, folklore, superstitions and fears.
These successfully eroded the morale of the enemy. Lansdale was, it is said, the model for Graham Greene's secret agent in his successful 1955 novel The Quiet American.
The Mole was reminded of this the other day while in Monte Carlo keeping an eye on the latest movements in the political world of motorsport, nursing gin and tonics and easing information from the FIA heavyweights (in some cases the description being quite literal as some of the chaps are a little on the portly side). There was one key meeting (in the bar at the Hotel Hermitage) where, in hushed tones, an American told The Mole of all the latest news about the discussions between Bernie Ecclestone and Chris Pook of CART.
The Mole has always felt that there is more to Pook than meets the eye but has never felt the need to check him out properly. His biographical details seem somehow ethereal. He was born in England on April Fool's Day 1941. His official biography states that by the time he moved to California at the age of 22 he had completed two degrees: one in modern languages at the Sorbonne in Paris and the other in marketing at the University of London.
Completing two degrees by the age of 22 in two different countries is a rather remarkable achievement but then Pook did something even more extraordinary when he used all these fabulous qualifications to become a travel agent in southern California. The Mole finds it hard to imagine that such an apparent high flyer would be happy selling people weekend breaks in Acapulco. Still, these were the 1960s and people did all manner of weird things in those flower-powery days.
Lansdale, by way of illustration, moved on to be part of Operation Mongoose, a secret campaign to undermine Fidel Castro, and even went as far as to propose that Cubans be convinced that their leader was the anti-Christ. The CIA would then spark an uprising by exploding phosphurus shells in the skies above Havana, which Lansdale felt would convince the Cuban population that Jesus was returning to save them.
That may sound rather unlikely but it is all in the files.
Pook at some point decided that it was a good idea to try to convince the city fathers of Long Beach, California, a fairly sleazy dive at the time, that the city could be turned into the Monte Carlo of California if they hosted a street race for Formula 1 cars. The race was a huge success although sitting in the Sporting Club at Monte Carlo the other evening The Mole did find himself wondering if one might be able to find such a glamorous spot in Long Beach.
The gist of what The Mole was told is that something is very definitely happening and the logic behind it would seem to be that acquiring CART would give Mr E an extra option in his battle with the GPWC. CART will switch to V10 engines in 2005 and in doing so will become suddenly very attractive to the automobile manufacturers currently racing in Formula 1. They are all keen to sell their products in the United States. The series would cost them a fraction of what Formula 1 costs because the technical rules are carefully phrased and there are none of the political problems that exist in F1 because the teams have less power. CART, The Mole's informant said, would be the perfect vehicle for Bernard to turn into the new Formula 1 in 2008. It would provide instant American interest in Formula 1 because there would be teams, drivers and sponsors for the Americans to cheer and with Ecclestone holding long term contracts with all the major races around the globe (and a few new ones) the World Championship could really be a World Championship.
The cars would not look very different. The majority of the F1 teams would see the logic in the American route as that is the world's major consumer market and on top of all of this it would finally solve the problem of who should succeed Ecclestone. Pook would be the perfect man for the job.
The FIA would almost certainly jump at the chance to sanction such a series. From his talks with FIA types in Monte Carlo, The Mole learned that when Max Mosley told the FIA World Council members that the GPWC was planning to create a series regulated by someone other than the federation, several delegates rose from their chairs, drew their swords and declared that their army of followers would henceforth and immediately refrain from buying any automobile other than the Morris Oxford.
According to one of The Mole's men on the spot, the room "bristled".
There was rather less bristling going on that evening at the Prizegiving Gala in Monte Carlo but alas there were fewer quiet Americans around. The Mole found himself sat next to a particularly tiresome individual.
"Hey," this gentleman said loudly at one point. "What is this 'Ravioli transparents a la queue de boeuf" anyway?'."
The Mole replied that "in literal translation it means transparent ravioli made from a cow's tail.
"But," he added mischieviously, "in colloquial French the word "queue" can also mean bottom so we could be eating a cow's bottom."
The American's wife choked slightly. The Mole sipped his 1998 Chateau Fayard and tried to remain positive.
The lobster soup came next.
"Hey honey," said the American (thankfully not to The Mole) "I can translate this one: Soupe de Homard (he pronounced the d). That means lobster soup."
"Yes," said The Mole. "This one comes from Brittany,. You know I didn't realise that the Breton lobster industry had recovered after that nasty business with the oil spillage."
The Mole noticed that the American's wife stopped eating at this point.
Translating the menu became rather tiresome after that and The Mole found himself become more and more frivolous, telling the Americans that "aiguillettes de filet de canard" was duck which was murdered in a rather horrible fashion, involving an old-fashioned mangle.
He might even have mentioned that "jus laque" was very useful when redecorating furniture.
When it came to the inevitable question about "gianduja" The Mole has prepared a rather spectacular story of how Italian refugees in need of chocolate had created a paste from leftover spaghetti, nougat and hazelnuts and that this had become a great delicacy, which was believed to have aphrodisiac properties.
"Tastes like chocolate to me," said the American.
"Yes, smiled the Mole, "It does doesn't it?"
Oh well, thought The Mole, if we are going to have an Americanised version of F1 in the future, we might as well get to know our foreign cousins.
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