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Journalist Whitney Webb’s series looks at the sordid history tying together mobsters, oligarchs, and government intelligence agencies in a web of blackmail, exploitation, and profit

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MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Great to have you all with us.

Jeffrey Epstein is at the top of every news cycle, and dominates our digital social media world. His trafficking of young girls, children to satisfy his and the sexual preferences of so many of the rich and powerful, are at the center of all this, as are his connections to that dark world of the unseemly side of the interaction between government, business, and the intelligence world allegedly.

Using sex as blackmail is nothing new. It goes back to the early mob, the CIA, and seems to connect the dots to Epstein. That was the story we’re going tell today written by our guest, who wrote this for Mint Press in the three-part series called “The Jeffrey Epstein Scandal: Too Big to Fail.” The three parts were “Hidden in Plain Sight;” “Government by Blackmail: Jeffrey Epstein, Trump’s Mentor and the Dark Secrets of the Reagan Era;” and “Mega Group, Maxwells and Mossad: The Spy Story at the Heart of the Jeffrey Epstein Scandal.” Whitney Webb is a Mint Press News journalist based in Chile who has written and contributed to many, many outlets and joins us now from her home there. Welcome. Good to have you with us, Whitney.

WHITNEY WEBB: Hi. Thanks so much for the opportunity.

MARC STEINER: So let’s begin with how this sojourn began for you because it seems that the heart of what you’re doing here is saying what Epstein was accused of doing, what he did is nothing new in our annuls with this history. That this using sexual blackmail, it goes way back to the mob, to Meyer Lansky, to the founding of the CIA. So talk a little about that, the genesis of this.

WHITNEY WEBB: Okay. So what I hope to show in my reporting is that this is not a type of operation or a scandal really that began or ends with Jeffrey Epstein now that he has died. As you mentioned, my report tries to go as far back as possible to really see where these sexual blackmail operations began in the context of this network to which Jeffrey Epstein was later connected. And from my research, it was first pioneered by Meyer Lansky and the national crime syndicate in the late thirties. He was sending Virginia Hill, who’s often been called the mistress of the mob, he was sending her to Mexico to try and lure foreign diplomats and to bug departments and use that for blackmail purposes. Not long after that, Lansky became an associate. Well, he was a covert associate at the time with the OSS, the Office of Strategic Services.

During World War II when they formed – the OSS formed this alliance, which they said was out of wartime necessity, right, with figures in the criminal underworld, including Lansky and some others, in what was known as Operation Underworld, which was a government operation during the war that was denied for, I think, 40 years. Afterwards, that alliance, even though it was supposed to be just for the war, it continued on. It continued to grow and really proliferated, especially after the 1960s when the CIA hired several Lansky associates for assassination teams, especially in relation to their efforts to assassinate Fidel Castro in Cuba and some other activities.

And during the same time, we also see sexual blackmail operations with a lot of associates of Lansky and powerful people in government take office, and that really began during the anti-communist crusade of the 1950s and the McCarthy era and involved a prominent businessman who was the owner of Schenley Liquors, Lewis Rosenstiel, who was a long-time associate of Meyer Lansky. It involved Roy Cohn, who was General Counsel to McCarthy during this time and also J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI at the time and very famous for his interest in acquiring large amounts of blackmail, was also involved in this ring that involved children, specifically boys, and it continued for decades and eventually Roy Cohn took it over from Lewis Rosenstiel.

The relationship between Rosenstiel and Cohn was often described as father and son or that Rosenstiel was his mentor. Cohn eventually took this over what had originally been run out of Lewis Rosenstiel’s personal home and began to run it out of what became a rather infamous suite in the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, Suite 233, that was sometimes called the Blue Suite. And he would host these sorts of events there with recording equipment and all of that, that were used to blackmail powerful people, first in the McCarthy era, and later on.

And as I show in part two of my report, these sorts of networks, they—Roy Cohn was not the only one. There were some other ones that the CIA was running in the late ’70s that were connected to disgraced CIA agent Edwin Wilson. And then after that, in the 1980s with Iran-Contra and Bill Casey and all of that, there were several other sexual blackmail operations or child trafficking rings that were connected to prominent players in the Iran-Contra scandal.

MARC STEINER: So some of what you’re talking about here, I think, let me just be clear about a couple of things before I ask this next question. What you’ve just described, especially about the blue room and what went on in those places, this is not alleged. There’s these facts. These are things that are corroborated, correct?

WHITNEY WEBB: Right. With the Plaza Hotel, this was actually admitted. Roy Cohn actually admitted this to the face of an NYPD detective that was in charge of the human trafficking division at the time because Roy Cohn knew he was untouchable because of his extreme connections to the politically powerful, the media and also the criminal underworld. He basically felt like he was immune enough to be able to say that point so blankly to this person’s face. It was also private investigators in New York that looked into Roy Cohn for various reasons, also confirm the existence of this blue suite as it was called. And it was also referenced by Louis Rosenstiel’s ex-wife in divorce filings. And it also came to light during the early 1970s, a committee on crime in New York.

MARC STEINER: So let me, I want you in a broad sense—We don’t have like an hour here to do this, but I wish we did because there’s three parts. This is huge. There’s so much to pull out of there, but make for us this moment— before I have other questions— connecting the dots. You talk about Meyer Lansky and Rosenstiel, who owns Schenley Liquors and the connections to Roy Cohn and Maxwell, the man who owned Fox News and more, and his daughter.

WHITNEY WEBB: Oh, Rupert Murdoch?

MARC STEINER: I meant Maxwell, actually, not Murdoch. I meant Maxwell.

WHITNEY WEBB: Oh, I’m sorry.

MARC STEINER: It was my fault. I misspoke. And then, and so you make these connections between these people that lead you in some senses to Epstein. So what is that arc? Can you paint that arc briefly for us?

WHITNEY WEBB: Okay. Well there’s actually a whole bunch of different connections to Jeffrey Epstein here. So basically, I talked about the OSS. It’s believed that Donald Barr originally hired Jeffrey Epstein to work in the Dalton School and Donald Barr had previously worked at the OSS. After that, he was hired to work at Bear Stearns. Alan Greenberg was a close friend of Roy Cohn and actually was the honorary chairman of a dinner for him that was honoring Roy Cohn I believe in 1983. And the other honorary chairmen were other close friends of Roy Cohn, including Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump.

After he left Bear Stearns in 1981, he— according to journalist, Vicky Ward— was a financial bounty hunter of sorts, looking to chase down money for governments and powerful people. The Evening Standard of England later reported that during that time Epstein claimed that he was working for the CIA, Vicky Ward later said that one of his clients during that time was a man, Khashoggi.  He was known to be working for the Mossad. He was also working for the CIA and he was a major player in this Iran-Contra scandal. Then in 1987, he meets up with Leslie Wexner who has connections to this Meyer Lansky crime syndicate, as I point out in part three. He also meets up with Steve Hoffenberg who he allegedly met through John Mitchell, who was the former Attorney General to Richard Nixon, and Mitchell was actually cited as a friend by Craig Spence, a disgraced Washington lobbyist who was also running a sexual blackmail operation with children. That was discovered in the late 80s and Craig Spence, in some similarity to Jeffrey Epstein, was found dead under somewhat mysterious circumstances and his death was ruled a suicide.

MARC STEINER: So far as we know.

WHITNEY WEBB: Right. And that takes us up to 1991, which right after that, that’s the same year that Robert Maxwell died, as well as several other people that were connected to the Promis software scandal, not just Maxwell. That includes Senator Towers also died that year, as did journalist Danny Casolaro, who was investigating that scandal. And soon after Robert Maxwell died, his daughter Ghislaine Maxwell, moved to New York and began her relationship with Jeffrey Epstein. And as I point out in part three of my series, Robert Maxwell was known to be an operative for the Mossad and did several favors for Israel over the course of his career and was also using the Daily Mirror Group, some of the funding for that to fund Mossad operations in Europe. So the intelligence links, I think, are very clear and that’s just the early history. We’re not even getting into the 90s yet. I’m going to be delving more into those connections in part four of my series, which I hope to be out in a few days.

MARC STEINER: I’m looking forward to reading that, but let me just talk about how this all fits together and what it really means, so these last two pieces. I mean, so when you write in the piece, you say Epstein appears to have had ties to Israeli intelligence and has well-documented ties to an influential Israeli politicians and the Mega Group. We’ll talk about that. And it was revealed that Epstein had evaded stricter sentencing in 2008 due to his links to “intelligence.” It was the Mossad ties to Maxwell’s daughter that led many to speculate that Epstein’s sexual blackmail operation was sharing incriminating information with Mossad. But one of the things in the pieces that you write, you use words like appear instead of we know, so what do we know? Talk about how you make these connections and what we really know and what we really don’t know. You know, what’s alleged and what’s real.

WHITNEY WEBB: Okay. Well, I mean there’s a lot of claims I make in the story. So to go over all of them and say, you know, what appears to be and definitely what is—What we do know, right, is that – are claims that Epstein made in the past, for example, that he worked for the CIA, we know from journalists that are considered reputable sources when covering Epstein, like Vicky Ward for example, that he had been working for people like Adnan Khashoggi who are now known to have been linked to the Mossad. We know that his biggest patron, financial patron, was Leslie Wexner who has been tied to organized crime syndicates according to a 1985 Columbus, Ohio murder investigation.

We know that he was recording sexual black– that Jeffrey Epstein was recording sexual blackmail. We know that Alex Acosta claimed the reason he approved that sweetheart deal was because he had been told that Epstein was linked to intelligence, though he did not specify which intelligence agency. And given the network and the associations that I’ve already laid out, which are documented, right, it certainly is an overwhelming amount of evidence, of circumstantial evidence nonetheless, or circumstantial evidence I guess you could say. But the amount of it really makes a convincing case that this is a much larger network that has documented ties to operations involving sexual blackmail that preceded Epstein and that Epstein is more—Because of what we know he was doing and we know he had ties to a lot of the people that had been tied to those previous sexual blackmail operations, to me, it really shows that Epstein was carrying on an operation that he did not invent, right?

This is something that did not begin and did not end with him, and he was just perpetuating this. I think that’s why it’s really important to challenge some of the narratives that have come out around this case that Epstein was solely responsible for all of this activity and that he had deceived the billionaires who funded him and that this is all to be blamed on a single man. I think if we do that, we’re really doing his victims an injustice because this is something much larger than Epstein. If the other people and other parties responsible or not pursued or held to account, this is likely to continue well into the future. And because of the, what I would say the disgusting nature of Epstein’s activities, I think most Americans have a vested interest in preventing these type of operations from continuing and especially if intelligence agencies are involved, that suggests that American taxpayer money is being used in some capacity to fund these operations.

MARC STEINER: So, and finally here, I mean there’s two things. There’s so much we could talk about here, but these two things—The conversation I had yesterday is that – was around conspiracy theories are great, but what we need is real reporting and intelligence work, police work and congressional investigations to see where’s the there there? And how do you put these dots together so they become fact and not possibilities? And so, I think that’s the important piece here. I think you made a strong point when you said you can’t just blame this all on one man, Epstein. There are too many other connections out there.

So where do you take this then? For you, what does this say in the final analysis about what might be going on here? And I know that this is in some ways conjecture and speculation because even though you find these connections, that sometimes there’s nothing really to tie them together in terms of fact yet. So where do you take this?

WHITNEY WEBB: Well, I think there definitely needs to be an independent investigation. I think a lot of the people that are involved in the current investigation, including Bill Barr, I don’t think many Americans should be confident in what he will turn up.

MARC STEINER: Yeah. You make the Barr-Epstein connection in your last – in the third part of your series.

WHITNEY WEBB: Right, yeah. But beyond that, Bill Barr also was known for stonewalling the Church Committee in the late 70s, and he was particularly trying to prevent the CIA’s use of sexual blackmail operations from coming to light to the Church Committee. I think that is at least like significant, as is the fact that he justified the legal pardons of numerous Iran-Contra figures and including—And given the role of many Iran-Contra figures in this network that I describe in my reporting, I don’t really see him as being an impartial investigator here. And also, the fact that he worked for the law firm that defended Epstein later on in the 2000s, I think is just—

MARC STEINER: And his father hired Epstein.

WHITNEY WEBB: Right, exactly. And that he’s going to get to the – that Bill Barr will get to the bottom of this. I don’t. I don’t really buy that, so I think there needs to be a more independent investigation. Concerns have also been raised about the fact that Epstein was trying to blackmail people. Now that blackmail has fallen, whoever raided Epstein’s properties, depending on who’s using that, it could even be Bill Barr that now has control over this blackmail material. It’s hard to know if he will be using it, if that will just go away or Bill Barr will use it for his own political agendas now given his history. So I think that’s something to be concerned about. And also, the fact that there may be several members of Congress, if there’s a congressional investigation that may have been tied up in this, we don’t know all the names.

A lot of the documents haven’t come out. Now that Epstein is dead, that criminal case will go away. And so a lot of the evidence uncovered during discovery will not be made public. So I think it is necessary for the public to pressure for transparent campaigns and for other conspirators in this, or co-conspirators in what Epstein was doing, especially Ghislaine Maxwell and Leslie Wexner, that they’d be pursued and questioned by law enforcement.

MARC STEINER: Well, I look forward to talking a great deal more with you. You’ve taken on a lot of very powerful names and people in your piece. I hope you feel safe in what you’re doing.

WHITNEY WEBB: Yeah, I’m not worried.

MARC STEINER: Yeah, but I do. I look forward to this fourth piece. Then maybe when we get the fourth piece, we can have a more lengthy conversation and kind of try to tie these pieces together. I want to thank you for joining us today and good luck.

WHITNEY WEBB: Absolutely. Thanks again.

MARC STEINER: And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Please let us know what you think. Take care.

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Whitney Webb is an investigative journalist based in Chile writing for the Minnesota-based independent media outlet, Mint Press News. Her work has been featured by other independent media outlets such as EcoWatch and Global Research and she is one of the 2019 recipients of the Serena Shim award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism.