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June 01, 2020
Wind of Change
4. The KGB Rock Club

In This Episode

LENINGRAD, USSR, 1988: Patrick finds another person who has told an eerily similar story about the Scorpions and the CIA. But he won’t answer emails, so Patrick travels to a GI Joe convention in Dayton, Ohio to try to make contact. Plus, a former CIA clandestine officer suggests there may be other musical acts still collaborating with the agency.

 

Transcript

 

EPISODE FOUR: THE KGB ROCK CLUB

Patrick: A quick note before we begin: This series contains some language and topics that may not be suitable for young children.

[Audio Clip: GI Joe Commercial]

Patrick: I’ve spent years trying to figure out if there’s some connection between the band the Scorpions and the CIA, and it’s a quest that’s taken me to some ridiculous places. 

[Audio from G.I. Joe event]

Jason: “He had a Rattler, tmawler, he did em all. 

Patrick: Incredible

Patrick: Today i’m strolling around the event space of a Holiday Inn on a random stretch of highway about forty five minutes outside Dayton, Ohio. the room is full of dudes. Almost all roughly my age, mid-thirties to mid-forties, and they’re playing with toys. G.I. Joe toys. The room is lined with fold-out tables, each covered in a hand-picked selection of hundreds of action figures.

Aaron: “I would buy collections of like lets say 100 figures for 400 dollars and then I would sell every one for 10 dollars a piece.”

Patrick: This is a convention for grown men who collect G.I. Joe action figures, a line of toys about an epic military contest between the american heroes of G.I. Joe and a malevolent enemy known as Cobra.  

[Audio Clip: G.I. Joe Commercial]

Patrick: It’s a thriving subculture. 

Rabbit hole: Yeah the international market for G.I. Joes is just insane and once you go down that rabbit hole it’s…..it’s beautiful but it’s deep.”

Patrick: There are people here in full costume. 

Jason  2: “How we doing?”

Patrick: “Not too bad how about you?

Jason 2: “Fantastically good it’s a wonderful day today.”

Henry: “Uh for the folks at home could you describe what you’re wearing?”

Jason 2: “I am dressed  as a Crimson Guard Immortal. A Crimson Guard Immortal is a heavy assault vanguard variant of the Crimson Guard of 1985”

Patrick: Most of the guys here are collectors. They buy and sell toys. But there’s also a subculture, within this subculture, of people who make so-called “customs.” They take the figures apart and, using the spare parts, they frankenstein them into these crazy new creations, like a specially modified crimson guard, or a storm shadow in a different color scheme, or a character from outside the whole universe of G.I. Joe, like Indiana Jones. 

I should say, I played with G.I. Joe when i was a kid, though…I don’t…anymore. So as I’m walking around the room talking with these guys, I’m getting this wonderful dopamine hit of nostalgia for my own childhood. But that’s not why I’m here. 

I’m here because I’m looking for one of these customizers in particular. I don’t know much about him but i do know what he looks like. And that he lives in Ohio. And I know he goes by the online handle Lance Sputnik.

[Audio Clip: Lance Sputnik Youtube vid: Lance: “Okay… [music kicks in] I am going to document this entire thing just for fun.”] 

Patrick: This is Lance sputnik, in a video on YouTube.

[Audio] Lance: Okay, I’m going to pick out what the first Lance Sputnik challenge figure is going to be. I’m just disqualify any mindbender Sputnik customs suggestions. 

Patrick: This video’s from 2014. Lance looks like he’s in a garage. He’s got a goatee and a very realistic looking US navy ballcap, which says “USS Flagg,” which is a fictional aircraft carrier, from G.I. Joe. There’s a handful of these Lance videos. In another one, he demonstrates his preferred technique for cracking open an action figure torso. 

[Audio Clip: Lance Sputnik YouTube Video]

Patrick: So why have I come all the way to Ohio just to find this guy? I might be losing it a little, but I think he knows something about the Scorpions and the CIA.

Years ago, I don’t even remember if it was michael or me who first discovered it, but one of us had gone down a rabbit hole on google and stumbled on this website called Joe customs. It’s an online forum where a bunch of these customizers used to hang out and post photos of their creations. And there were these photos, posted by the guy I’m looking for, Lance Sputnik. The photos were of a set of action figures he had customized into the Scorpions. There’s Klaus, with a modified Anakin skywalker head, the torso of hardball, and huge muscled arms. There’s Rudolf Schenker, with the torso of ripper, jamming on a flying v guitar. There’s even a tiny drum set with a perfect little Scorpions logo. And in a caption on the joe customs site, lance sputnik..writes this: 

“the scorpions were a well known and very popular band in Cold War Europe. What most people do not know, however, is that during their time touring Europe and Asia, and especially the Soviet Union, they were acting as couriers for the CIA. Smuggling information and documents across borders, and occasionally hiding a random defector in amongst their crew, the Scorpions were a tremendous help to the cause of democracy.”

I cannot express to you how completely strange it was for me to find this. It was as if, imagine you had some bizarre, very specific recurring dream, and you don’t know what to make of it, but it won’t go away, it keeps coming back. This dream. And then one day, you discover there’s another person out there who has the exact same dream. It was so exhilarating to find someone else suggesting there’s a secret history between the scorpions and the CIA but at the same time, it was kinda weird that the guy saying it, is this guy. Lance Sputnik. And he’s doing it on a website about toys.

“Klaus Meine was the one who first contacted the US government in the mid-eighties,” Sputnik writes. “When they started getting invited into countries where other western influences were usually restricted.”

Michael: It’s the same story. 

Patrick: Michael and I started talking about Lance Sputnik and the Joe Customs website obsessively.

Patrick: Well it’s not. 

Michael: It is. 

Patrick: It’s different. It’s different. 

Michael: It’s the same.

Patrick: The story that Oliver’s telling is about the CIA writing the song. The story that Joe Customs is telling is about the band doing stuff that actually in a weird way makes more sense in the sense that it more closely resembles the kinds of things we know the CIA to have done

Michael: Like Argo. They sent in uh- 

Patrick: Yeah you send people in. 

Michael: Film crew. 

Patrick: and so the idea that you’ve got a you know like a western act that’s going behind the Iron Curtain and can you send people along with them, exfiltrate dissidents and that kind of thing. But I kind of agree with you that the it’s just too uncanny and weird that the same story would get told twice. 

Michael: But both those stories are about Klaus Meine working with the CIA, so like either they read the same story and the guy just has a great imagination or it’s true. I mean that’s the only options

Michael: Oh we gotta go see him. 

Patrick: I think so. 

Michael: Oh totally. 

Patrick: At a toy convention. 

Michael: Totally. 

Patrick: At a place with man and toys. 

Michael: With man and toys.

Patrick: When i wrote to Lance Sputnik to ask about this story, he didn’t respond. So I waited until there was a joe convention on his home turf in Ohio, and figured I’d just show up. 

[Audio Clip: Patrick at event asking around for Lance Sputnik]

Patrick: but…that turns out to have maybe been a mistake because Sputnik doesn’t seem to be here. 

Patrick: Do you know Lance Sputnik?  

Brian: Yeah. Yeah.  

Patrick: He was the one to do the Scorpions that we’re interested in.  

Brian: Oh yeah. 

Patrick: He’s not here.  

Brian: He’s not here today.

Patrick: But he, is he’s still doing customs?  

Brian: I believe so. So I mean so he has two young girls. So I think they have eaten up a significant amount of, of his free time.  

Brian: I can call him if you want.

Patrick: So the trip to Ohio wasn’t a total bust. We got a phone number.

[Audio: Patrick calling Lance Sputnik]

Lance: Hello?

Patrick: Hey, is that Lance? 

Lance:  Yes.

Patrick So what’s your actual. Should I call you Lance Sputnik? 

Lance: Yeah. For this I’d probably go with the online handle, so. 

Patrick: Yeah, that makes sense. Okay. I’ve been dying to talk to you. We’re making a podcast about the Scorpions, and a long time ago, actually, I stumbled on the custom that you made and I was hoping you could just tell me how you came to make it 

Lance: Yeah, I’ve been a longtime fan of the Scorpions from when I was a teenager, my first cassette tape was Love At First Sting.  

Patrick: Do you have a favorite album or favorite tracks? 

Lance: Probably Crazy World because that was actually the first time I saw them live was on their Crazy World Tour. 

Patrick: And that’s the Wind of Change album. 

Lance: Yeah. Yeah. 

Patrick: Lance grew up playing with G.I. Joe’s and as an adult, he started customizing, so it was only natural, he said, to make a Scorpion’s custom. 

Lance: So I went back to my roots and these ideas that I had had just kind of in my head for a really long time, really interested in the Cold War. Just big into James Bond and that whole espionage thing. I was like, well, how can I make this fit? And then I remembered this idea I had had at some point where, you know, the Scorpions using their position in Europe and kind of exploit that into making them operatives for the CIA where they could, you know, have access to to places that we maybe wouldn’t have at the time. And that just this whole thing with them is completely a fictional out of my head. But plausible enough that it wasn’t ridiculous. But…  

Patrick: Plausible. How? 

Lance: I mean, I knew about the whole story about them going and actually playing, I think it was in Moscow, you know, with a bunch of other bands and the whole experience of that leading into when they wrote Wind of Change 

Patrick: And what was it like as far as you understood? What was the the story behind how how Wind of Change came about?

Lance: Um, when they went to the Moscow Peace Festival? Just the experience of seeing the fans and interacting with the youth who shouldn’t have had a lot of exposure to their music and and what they were doing but because of the airwaves and, you know, people smuggling cassette tapes and stuff, back then they were just shocked at how passionate they were about this music and coming to the show even though it was technically banned, as I understand it, you know, it was really inspiring to them musically and that’s what led into Wind of Change. 

Patrick: I’m amazed cause um, like all that is true, but like the smuggling of cassette tapes and stuff like that, I don’t think that’s common knowledge. 

Lance: I think they said something about it, in an interview that I saw I could be wrong and misremembering it, but it’s pretty sure. 

Patrick: Well, no, but I mean. That’s right. Like that. That’s 100 percent correct. So you think you just you saw it on a tape and it just that detail stuck with you. 

Lance: Yeah.

Patrick: So so here’s I mean, here’s the reason I’m so curious about all this is, you know, back in whatever it is, 2010-2011, you have this idea to have them be like secret agents for the CIA and it’s pretty detailed description of them working with the CIA. And so the weird thing is, I think that might be true. 

Lance:  Really? … like really?

Patrick: Yeah, yeah, I think it might be true. 

Lance:  That would be insane … and awesome.

Patrick:  So you, you think this is just. It’s like a total coincidence. 

Lance: It would have to be because I had I mean, I would have had no knowledge of anything like that. 

Patrick: So you had never, you’ve never heard this story from anyone else. 

Lance:  No, I never heard anything like that before. No. 

Patrick: I mean, I got to level with you like it’s it that’s an insane coincidence, right? 

Lance: Yeah. If that was something that turned out to be true, I would be like completely blown away. 

Patrick: I mean, so, I got to ask, like you’ve never been in the CIA. 

Lance: Oh, my God. Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no. 

Patrick: No. Do you know anyone who has? 

Lance: Not that I know of. 

Patrick: Nobody. 

Lance: No, no. No connection to those circles at all. 

Patrick: There’s no scenario in which, like someone over beer at some point told you a crazy story.

Lance: Oh, I don’t know people who would have stores that cool. 

Patrick: All right, man. Well, listen, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. Thank you. 

Lance: No, thank you. 

Patrick: You know the Infinite Monkey Theorem, that if you sat a monkey at a typewriter and let it hit keys at random for a long enough, eventually it would type the collected works of shakespeare? The internet is a bit like that. Make a joke on Twitter, chances are, elsewhere on twitter, someone else just made the same joke. Any idea you have, no matter how obscure it might seem, someone else is probably expressing that same idea somewhere on the internet. If you buy the Infinite Monkey Theorem, then Lance Sputnik is just a coincidence, a guy who dreamed up, completely independently, his own story about the Scorpions and the CIA. Michael doesn’t believe in coincidences that big. 

Michael: I don’t buy it.

Patrick: My problem is what he says seems so plausible to me like it there’s this massive coincidence which is that this guy completely out of the blue this hobbyist, describes, of all the bands in the world, this one band which happens to be the same band that we hear the story from Oliver about.

Michael: It’s bizarre. 

Patrick: It’s very bizarre. It’s like the mother of all coincidences. 

Michael: It’s not possible. 

Patrick: I mean, there are coincidences. 

Michael: Not like that. 

Patrick: And if you think the fantasy world of G.I. Joe couldn’t possibly connect with the real world CIA, here’s another coincidence: back in 2005, the CIA wanted to run an influence operation in Pakistan, in which they would distribute an action figure of Osama Bin Laden. They gave the toy the appearance of a devil, so he would scare children. The agency’s code name for the operation was Operation Devil Eyes. After the Washington Post broke this story a few years ago, the CIA actually acknowledged having produced the toys, though a spokesman said they never made it past the prototype phase. The guy they got to make the figures was a man named Donald Levine, a former Hasbro Executive who had been instrumental in the creation of G.I. Joe.

Oh, and about the Monkey Theorem? In 2003, a team of researchers in England decided to test it. They took half a dozen macaques and gave them a computer and left them alone for six weeks. The monkeys wrote five pages, total, consisting mostly of the letter “s,” then proceeded to use the keyboard as a toilet…so much for coincidences. 

From Pineapple Street Studios, Crooked Media, and Spotify. This is Wind of Change. I’m Patrick Radden Keefe. Episode Four: The KGB Rock Club. 

Patrick: What’s so bizarre about Lance Sputnik’s Scorpions story, is that it makes so much sense. 

[Audio Clip: Klaus and a Russian guy speaking]

Patrick: This is Klaus in Leningrad, in 1988, a year before the Moscow festival that would inspire Wind of Change.

The band’s first trip behind the iron curtain was Hungary. They played Budapest in 86. Two years later they went to Leningrad. This is Klaus, strolling around the waterfront there, talking to these pasty Russian men who are standing around sunbathing, in speedos.

[Audio Clip: Klaus: “Hi, how you doing? i’m Klaus Meine. You’re taking a sunbath?”]

Patrick: They clearly don’t know what to make of this little, friendly, leather-clad German rocker.

[Audio Clip: Klaus still speaking to Russian man]

Patrick: In this promotional clip we’re hearing, Klaus goes on to say how amazed he is about how well the Russians know the Scorpions and their music.

The band was originally supposed to play five nights in Leningrad and five nights in Moscow. I actually have a t-shirt, I found this original concert shirt on Ebay, and it lists the dates for both cities, Leningrad and Moscow. But at the last minute, the Kremlin decided the band would not be playing Moscow. The whole idea was just too dangerous. So the Scorpions played a stadium in Leningrad, and just the fact that they could even do that was a sign that things were starting to change, that Russian society was opening up a little, with Michael Gorbechev’s policies of Glasnost and Perestroika. 

Previously, there was really only one place in all of Russia where real rock bands could legally perform. It was called the Leningrad Rock Club, and one night, after one of their stadium shows, the Scorpions took a limousine to the club, to play an impromptu gig. 

[Audio Clip: Klaus: it’s really exciting to play in a club again, you know.]

Patrick: This is them live at a rock club in ‘88..

[Audio]: Klaus: i mean that’s the way we started. That’s the way we started.”

Patrick: In a cramped room thick with cigarette smoke and heaving with rock fans, with a poster of Lenon in on the wall, the band played “Blackout,” slashing their guitars and pumping their fists in the air. But even as they played, they were being watched by the KGB. Because the  had been set up by Russian Intelligence. 

Joanna Stingray: The rock club was put together under the umbrella of the KGB. 

Patrick: This is Joanna Stingray, an american musician and producer who moved to Leningrad in the 1980s and got into the rock scene. 

Joanna Stingray: The musicians were thrilled by the rock club. Every musician I knew knew that the KGB was overseeing it and they didn’t care. 

Patrick: When Joanna first arrived in ‘84, she became friends with members of a couple of Leningrad bands, Kino and Aquarium. This is Aquarium’s 1983 song, “The Art of Being Humble. 

[Audio Clip: “The Art of Being Humble by Aquarium”]

Patrick: These guys had a big following in Leningrad. But as Joanna explained, they were still what was called an “underground band.’ If you wanted to play rock n’ roll in Russia, you had two choices. You could be what they called an “official” band, which meant you could release records on vinyl, on the only record label in the country, Melodia, which was run by the state. But you were controlled, basically, by the state.

Joanna Stingray:  You also have to do what they say and go tour all the time and play where they say. You have to have your music or your lyrics censored before you play. Everything is approved ahead of time you better stick to it. 

Patrick: To the guys in Aquarium and Kino, this felt not very rock n’ roll. So the alternative, was to be an underground band. 

Joanna Stingray: Soviets called them ‘amateurs’ that they just weren’t good enough.

Patrick: Amateur bands could only record on tapes, which got distributed on the black market. They had trouble accessing instruments and equipment and venues where they could play. Often, their concerts just happened in private homes, with everybody packed into a little apartment just to see them. Everyone in the Soviet Union had to have a job, by law. But if you were an unofficial band, even a really big one, that didn’t count as a job. So you had to hold down another job just to keep the state off your back. Aquarium’s frontman, Boris Greben-Shikov, worked as a night watchman. Viktor Tsoi, the lead singer of Kino, shoveled coal. 

[Audio Clip: I Want Changes by Tsoi]

Patrick: This is Tsoi singing one of the band’s biggest hits, “ I Want Changes.” 

The problem, for the Kremlin, was that these guys were good. Good enough that, whatever restrictions the state placed on them, they were building a huge audience. So in 1981, the government had opened the rock club, with the idea that if these guys are going to keep playing, at least let’s have them do it in a place where we can keep an eye on them. 

Joanna Stingray: From the outside it looked like just any apartment building. It didn’t look special from the outside at all, and then you know the inside you went in, it was huge hall with these big seats.

Patrick: Officially, you were supposed to sit in your seats while you watched the show, like you would at the Philharmonic. But Joanna says people would flout the rules and get up and dance.

Joanna: People would be all over, I mean I have a photo where it’s jam packed and people are sitting on the floor all over the place. 

Patrick: The KGB guys wore suits and they stood in the balcony, keeping an eye on everything.

[Audio: Patrick visiting St. Petersburg] 

Translator: [Speaks Russian, then translates to English] The KGB indeed existed in the life of rock club.

Patrick: Leningrad is now St. Petersburg, and when I went there recently, I met with Olga Slobodskaya, who worked for a decade as secretary of the leningrad rock club.

Translator: [Speaking Russian] 

Patrick: Olga had started listening to rock when she was a kid. She said that for her, it was an “alien” sound. It was like a message in a bottle. A transmission from another world. When the Scorpions played the rock club in 1988, Olga was there. She described how their limousine was mobbed by fans, and when it pulled into the narrow courtyard, it was so long, the driver couldn’t turn around to get back out. She had agreed to show me the building that used to house the club, so we walk along a narrow street of sturdy apartment buildings painted in lively colors.

Translator:  But here we are. 

Patrick: This is it. 

Translator: This is it. The Leningrad Rock Club.

Patrick: We stop in front of a handsome building that looks like it’s a theater of some kind today. 

Patrick: Can we go over? 

Translator:  [Russian] And that’s exactly the way to the yard to where that very limo – 

Patrick: Oh where the limo? It went it went went into this gate — I see. So there is a courtyard inside and the Scorpions limo went through here. Can we get in? We can get in? Wow let’s do it. 

Translator: Let’s go in. 

Patrick: We slip through a gate and into a pretty courtyard and are immediately greeted by the sound of music. Not rock music, not even instruments, but voices. Singing scales and arpeggios. 

Translator: Currently this is a Children Opera Theater. 

Patrick: That’s what the rock club is now? 

Translator:  So this is exactly where the club was having its concert. 

Patrick: She points to a set of windows on the ground floor.

Translator: Now it’s a cafeteria. For the opera singers. 

Patrick: There’s a certain glamor in that, in being a cafeteria for opera singers. 

Patrick: As Olga stands there in the courtyard, with these beautiful voices trilling in the air around us, she seems moved by her memories of that time. She’d been taught, growing up, to fear the west, she said. 

Translator: And we also were under the influence of this ideology that behind the iron curtain,  [pauses and speaks Russian], that behind the Iron Curtain there are no morals

Patrick: It’s so funny for me to hear her use the expression behind the Iron Curtain, because when we talk about it, we’re in front of the Iron Curtain, you guys are behind it. But for you we’re behind it. 

Translator: [Laughs, speaks Russian] 

Patrick: Do you remember the Scorpion song Wind of Change? 

Translator: Sure. I remember. It is very popular in our country. It was and it is.. 

Patrick: I asked Olga if she thought the song could have been written by the CIA. She gave me a quizzical look. As if she was disappointed to think that might be true. But also kind of disappointed in me for even asking. 

Translator: But I hope the CIA did not write the text for Scorpions. 

Patrick: I had a feeling they were sincere guys, she says. So I hope they were the authors of their texts themselves.

As we walked back out onto the street, I saw a small bit of graffiti on the front facade. It wasn’t a graffiti covered building, or anything. it was pretty spick n’ span. But someone had come and painted this one word in silver paint, quickly and sloppily, as if they did it in a hurry, so the paint dripped down. It said….rock

Coming up, a former clandestine officer from the CIA tells us about a secret dinner involving a mysterious new clue. That’s after this quick break. 

[Audio Clip: Phone ringing]

Rose: Hello? 

Patrick: Hey. So thank you so much for getting on the phone. 

Rose: Sure. 

Patrick: This is another aquaintance of Michael’s. Another ex-CIA officer. I thought she might be able to shed some light on this mystery, and I’d been trying for weeks to set a phone call. She doesn’t have rollback. She can’t admit legally she was in the CIA. So we’re gonna call her Rose. 

Patrick: I don’t know how much Michael explained, but we’re doing this podcast. And it’s about this story that Michael heard and relayed to me years ago, actually, that we’ve been kind of obsessed with. 

Patrick: She had been nervous about talking, Michael said. 

Patrick: And so our hope was to talk to you a little bit about the story. And you can kind of tell me in terms of like what you’d be, what you’d be cool with, you know, like if you want to do this in such a way that we could literally transcribe what you say to me and then have an actress read your lines or we could, distort your voice. It’s honestly, it’s really mostly about your level of comfort. Like what would make sense for you? 

Rose: Yeah, I definitely think the actress thing sounds really fun. 

Patrick: It does sound fun. 

Rose: Let’s have a little personality, who likes to listen to a distorted voice? 

Patrick: Yeah, right. Exactly. That’s great. 

Patrick: So that’s actually the actress, pretending to be Rose, which isn’t her real name, being excited about being played by an actress … who you’re hearing.

I wanted to talk to Rose because she overlapped with Oliver, the guy who originally told the Scorpions story, at the agency. And I thought maybe she’d heard the story too.

Patrick: For starters, you’ve heard this story as well about the Scorpions? 

Rose: So I have not heard that it’s the Scorpions… 

Patrick: But she had heard another story, she said. One which might be related. 

Rose: I’ll tell you what I know. 

Patrick: Okay.

Rose: So years ago, early to mid-2000s,  I was at work and a bunch of the more senior people, so SIS level –

Patrick: That’s Senior Intelligence Service

Rose: who were in charge of the group that I was working for had gone to an event in the greater D.C. area I think, if memory serves. 

Patrick: The dinner was organized by an older guy who was wealthy and who had a collection of CIA artifacts. Her colleagues described his place as “like a museum.”

ROSE: It was a dinner and I don’t know if the purpose of the dinner was just to celebrate the agency and its achievements. I don’t know if it was in honor of some of the agents who had worked with the agency over the course of years. 

Patrick: Now remember, because the terminology is important here: CIA Officers actually work directly for the agency, agents are people on the outside who help the officers or pass them secrets. 

Rose: Some of the higher ups who were talking and telling about the dinner, one of them mentioned a band leader who was there or a member of the band who they had sat next to. And so they kind of turned to this person and making small talk at the dinner and said, well, you know, why are you here? What’s your connection? And this person kind of introduced himself  and so the link was that it was some kind of musician, rock star who played a role in kind of Soviet-era, Cold War-era messaging or music that influenced people during that time. 

Patrick: This person was at the dinner? 

Rose: And the person was at the dinner. 

Patrick: Get out of here. 

Rose: So what I can’t tell you is the name of the band, because I just am not cool enough to know rock band names.

Patrick: Don’t tell me that they told you the name and you forgot, or it meant nothing to you. 

Rose: They, they could, they could well have told me the name and it would have meant nothing to me. 

Patrick: You’re killing me. 

Rose: It’s the best I can do. 

Patrick: Oh wow, I have a million questions. So this – so basically, you had colleagues who went to this dinner and they came back and told you about it. 

Rose: Yep. 

Patrick: And did you get the sense of whether the, the rock star was American? 

Rose: Yes. 

Patrick: Oh, interesting. Okay.

Rose: Like an American band. But you know what? That could have been an assumption on my part, to be honest. 

Patrick: Yeah. I mean, it’s funny, so like given that we’re talking about this band, the Scorpions, I sort of feel like if it had been a member of the Scorpions, you would have remembered that much of the story, if only just because they’re a very specific band of, like, German men. 

Rose: Like, yeah, I have no idea who the Scorp-, even today, like if you asked me to, what their biggest hit was – 

Patrick: Yeah. 

Rose: I can’t tell you any of that. 

Patrick: I’m so fascinated. Okay. And the, the dinner – so there were other, like, kind of war stories being told at this dinner. 

Rose: So remember, the context of the conversation was that the person had sat next to this person at the table and kind of got into a conversation. Now, whether it’s because he looked totally different than everyone else, like maybe he had long hair and leather pants. I don’t know. But kind of that led to the conversation. 

Patrick: Do you remember what your reaction was when you heard this? Did that seem strange that a rocker might have functioned as an agent in some capacity? 

Rose: It seemed cool. It didn’t seem strange at all. Because I think if you look at the tools and techniques and the ways that you would try to influence people, it would make sense. So if you see these kinds of activities going on and then you just take it out of the context of kinda post 9/11 and you put it in the context of the Cold War, then it absolutely makes sense that a band or that music or that other media like movies could be used to communicate what the U.S. is about kind of what the West, the ideals of the West, or more broadly, just to communicate the situation that you’re in, you’re not alone. 

Patrick: So, so you heard about this party where there’s this guy who’s a rock star who may have been involved in messaging in some capacity with the CIA during the Cold War. And the story that we’ve heard is that the CIA might have actually somehow been involved in the production or distribution of that song. Does that seem plausible to you? Like I know you haven’t heard the story, but does it seem within the bounds of reason and what you know of the agency? 

Rose: Of course, I think it definitely seems like something that could very well have happened. 

Patrick: But I mean, those kinds of resources would be, like under the roof there? I mean, people who, who have, people who can write songs, you know people who could do that thing?

Rose: It could be somebody who has that talent, who works for the agency. And so, yeah, its under the roof. Or it could be that somebody is recruited to do that on behalf of the agency 

Patrick: When Rose was at the agency, there was a whole unit devoted to producing propaganda.

Rose: I never worked with them. So I don’t know exactly whether they were…whether they were Clandestine Service Officers, whether they were kind of more on the analyst side or whether it was a completely bespoke group that was recruited because of some specific skill they had. I don’t know. 

I always tended to like the idea of getting in front of people that you were targeting through nontraditional methods. You know, so whatdo these people do on an everyday basis outside of their careers? What do they do with their families? How do they spend their time? And how could you position yourself in front of them? Could it be through a medical professional? Could it be through, you know, there’s so many different types of people and someone really likes the way, you know, spending time with their tailor. They’re going to take the time to sit with with, you know, the same person maybe every month or every few months to have that new suit made. And that’s access. 

Patrick: Right.

Rose: So I guess I always in my work looked for those opportunities to understand a target and what they did on a on a daily basis and just what they enjoyed in life in order to figure out how it might be possible to get close to them.

Patrick: Yeah. And what’s, and what’s more, what’s more enjoyable than music? 

Rose: For me, a lot. But for you…. 

Patrick: Apparently. You don’t remember the band. And I guess just on the basis of the stories about that dinner in the greater Washington area, maybe not totally unprecedented in terms of a rocker, like, being in the mix in that way. 

Rose: Yeah. I mean, you’re looking at one story, but if you look at it more broadly as a propaganda campaign, then there’s the opportunity that there were multiple acts that were considered or even utilized. 

Patrick: Other bands. 

Rose: Other bands to get the message out. You know, we talk today in terms that, you know, what’s gone viral and so maybe it’s the context of, you know, that time Winds of Change was the one that went viral. That doesn’t mean that they were the only one. They may have been, but I think it, you know, based on their access level or where they were finding opportunities to perform and where they were located at the time. Yeah, all of those things would be considered. Even if you were looking at U.S., you know, American rock bands, they may have also been playing a part.

Patrick: One of the reasons I wanted to talk to Rose is that she knows Oliver, the original source of the story. She was at the agency with him. In some ways, this whole thing hinges on Oliver’s credibility, so I wanted to see what she thought of him. And Rose said, i know him. He’s completely credible. If Oliver told the story, then it’s not just a fantasy. There’s got to be something there.

Patrick: I mean, do you think we’ll get anywhere? Do you think, do you think it’s, do you think this is a knowable thing? 

Rose: Do I think it’s a noble thing? 

Patrick: Knowable.

Rose: Oh, knowable.

Patrick: Yeah

Rose: I think it’s a knowable thing. I think you, you could get there. I’m not convinced you should, to the question of it’s a noble thing. 

Patrick: Oh, wow.

Rose: I don’t necessarily think it’s a story worth telling. 

Patrick: If the story is true, even somewhat true, Rose pointed out, then it is still very highly classified. But why would it be classified now, three decades on. 

Rose: Well, either there’s still some element that is a technique that’s being actively used; there is an agent involved who could be in danger in some way based on their participation and the exposure of this information that lead to it becoming evident that this person was involved…I think those are those are the main ones. 

Patrick: Yeah, I mean, okay. 

Rose: Like it’s still an active program.

Patrick: So it could still be happening today. 

Rose:  Mhmm. 

Patrick: Like bands, songs. 

Rose: Yeah. I mean, or maybe there is another element, which is that it would be against U.S. interests to disclose the information. 

Patrick: How so? 

Rose: Uh…I think in light of some of the more recent exposure of Russian government interference in U.S. society, I think maybe there could be a hesitation if the U.S. had a role in kind of similar activities, even though we like to think the goal was good. You know, it may not serve to have that be part of public discourse. 

Patrick: It does make me wonder, though, what bands. 

Patrick: Listen, it’s been so great to talk to you. Thank you. 

Rose: Yeah. My pleasure. You know, good luck 

Patrick: This whole time, I’d been focused on the Scorpions, and Rose did nothing to undermine Oliver’s story. Instead, she thickened the plot: who was the wealthy old collector who threw the dinner party for CIA officers and their agents? And who was the rocker who showed up at the dinner party? Could there have been more than one band that worked with the CIA? And this whole time, I’d been thinking about this story in the past tense but what if, somehow, some way, this clandestine cooperation between the agency and pop music, is still happening today? 

One thing that all this made me wonder about was the origin story of Wind of Change. According to old interviews, Klaus Meine was inspired to write the song after playing at a rock festival in Moscow in 1989. Along with a bunch of other western bands.

Next time, on Wind of Change:

[Audio Clip: mix of famous rock bands]

Snake: You’re going to have Ozzy Osborne, Motley Crue, Bon Jovi, Skid Row, Scorpions, come over to Russia to play in a stadium?…That’s impossible in my young brain.

Scotti: No American’s been in this place! We’re like the man on the moon!

Ozzy: You can’t get toilet paper here, you can’t get toothpaste here, you can’t buy anything here. 

Deb: You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out some deal was made.

 

Patrick: Wind of Change is an Original Series from Pineapple Street Studios, Crooked Media and Spotify. The show is written and hosted by me, Patrick Radden Keefe. The Senior Producer is Henry Molofsky. Associate Producers: Natalie Brennan and Ben Phelan. Joel Lovell is our editor. Consulting producer Michael Shtender Auerbach. The voice of Rose was performed by Briana Feigon. Original music by Mark Orton and John Hancock. Our music supervisor is Jonathan Feingold: This episode featured “Drift” by Ratatat, courtesy of XL Recordings. And “Saint European King Days” by Opium Flirt, courtesy of CD Baby. The Executive Producers at Pineapple Street are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky.

 

At Crooked Media, Executive Producers Tommy Vietor, Sarah Wick, and Sarah Geismer. 

And from Spotify, Executive Producers Liz Gateley and Jake Kleinberg. Special thanks to: Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, Alison Falzetta, Ksenia Barakovskaya, Maddy Sprung-Keiser, Eric Mennel, Courtney Harrell, Dzifa Yador, Jesse McLean, Paul Spella, Bianca Grimshaw, Sai Sriskandarajah, Jonah Weiner, and Justyna Gudzowska.

Source material in this episode included the documentaries Scorpions to Russia with Love and Other Savage Amusements and the Moscow Music Peace Festival.

Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.