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About this week’s eSkeptic

Paulette Cooper could be called the poster child for Scientology’s “fair game” abuses against a critical journalist. The story has been told many times with varying levels of detail, in most books about the history of Scientology written in the past four decades. But the story has, until now, been incomplete. In this week’s eSkeptic, Jim Lippard reviews Tony Ortega’s comprehensive account of Paulette Cooper’s story. The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology Tried to Destroy Paulette Cooper.

Jim Lippard is a long-time skeptic who works in the information security field. He founded the Phoenix Skeptics in 1985, and has contributed to Skeptic, Reports of the National Center for Science Education, Skeptical Briefs, The Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, Joe Nickell’s book Psychic Sleuths, and Gordon Stein’s Encyclopedia of the Paranormal. Read Jim’s full bio or his other posts on this blog.

Scientology’s Worst Abuses Against a Journalist Revealed

by Jim Lippard

Paulette Cooper was harassed, tricked, sued, and lied to, but was not destroyed. The Church of Scientology’s “fair game” policy, originally written by L. Ron Hubbard in 1965 and elaborated in a series of policy letters over subsequent years, stated that “suppressive persons”—defined as anyone interfering with the Church’s activities—are “fair game” for “any action” taken against them, including being “deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of the Scientologist. [Such persons] May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed.”1

Paulette Cooper wrote an article for the December 1969 issue of the British magazine Queen titled “The Tragi-Farce of Scientology.”2 The Church of Scientology responded by suing her in Great Britain in 1970. When she turned her article into a 1971 book entitled The Scandal of Scientology, they sued her again. And again. Repeatedly.

Scientology harassed Cooper over the telephone, put her telephone number on bathroom walls, distributed fliers to her neighbors accusing her of prostitution, and monitored her movements and telephone calls. They broke into her psychiatrist’s office and copied records of her college counseling sessions. They gained access to her apartment and copied embarrassing passages out of her teenage diary and delivered them to her adoptive father’s office. They moved undercover operatives into her apartment building, who then befriended her and continually kept the Church updated on her behavior and emotional state. They framed her for bomb threats against Scientology in an attempt to have her imprisoned or committed to a mental institution. Because they used stationery with her fingerprints and her typewriter to create a threatening note, she was indicted and under threat of prosecution for years. The Church planned “Operation Freakout” to frame her again for bomb threats, this time against the Embassy of a Middle Eastern country—plans that were not carried out before Scientology itself was raided by the FBI in 1977 and Cooper was finally cleared of the charges that had been hanging over her.

Most of the above details are parts of a fairly well-known narrative of Cooper’s battles with Scientology, which make her the poster child for “fair game” abuses against a critical journalist. The story has been told many times with varying levels of detail, in most books about the history of Scientology written in the past four decades.3 But the story has, until now, been incomplete.

Journalist and blogger Tony Ortega, former editor of the Village Voice, executive editor of The Raw Story, and now executive editor at TheLip.tv, has written a new book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely, which is a comprehensive account of Paulette Cooper’s story. By tracking down sources no previous investigator had interviewed, digging into neglected documents, and with some help from individuals who have left Scientology as well as from his subject, Ortega has written the definitive account of the lengths to which Scientology went in its ultimately failed attempts to destroy Paulette Cooper.

Ortega was ideally suited to write this book. His blog, The Underground Bunker,4 is the most popular blog on Scientology. His daily posts document its decline, and he has cultivated numerous sources that include former senior officials in Scientology and even sources still inside the organization. Ortega followed Cooper’s path tracking down the sources she used to write her book and interviewing people who had been in her life—friends, family, and Scientologists operating covertly, such as Nancy Many and Len Zinberg, both of whom have now left the Church. Many’s own book revealed her refusal to break into Cooper’s psychiatrist’s office for Scientology’s Guardian Office (their covert operations and dirty tricks unit).5 Zinberg, who joined Scientology as a teenager, was the person who delivered Cooper’s teen diary excerpts to her father, an action he now regrets and for which he has apologized to Cooper.6

The Unbreakable Miss Lovely contains three main narratives—Paulette’s life story, focusing on her interactions with the Church of Scientology; the story of her biological parents, who were murdered by the Nazis during WWII; and the story of the Scientology’s Snow White Program, a project to infiltrate government offices and obtain information about its plans regarding Scientology. Each of these stories contains previously unpublished information; even Paulette didn’t know the details of what had happened to her biological parents before she came to the U.S. from a Belgian orphanage in 1948 at the age of six, and was separated from her older sister who grew up in Belgium. The first narrative is the shortest, told in a prologue and part of a chapter mid-way through the book. The second, on the Snow White Program, is told in two chapters, while the third makes up the bulk of the book.

Ortega’s account of the Snow White Program uncovers new details about how the FBI discovered Scientology’s government office break-ins, because he was the first journalist to interview Special Agent Christine Hansen. Hansen was the one who cracked the case, when, after she obtained warrants for the arrests of two suspicious men using fake identification cards in government offices, she noticed one of the two men at the main IRS building in Washington D.C. and arrested Gerald Wolfe on June 30, 1976. A year later, on July 8, 1977, the FBI simultaneously raided the Church of Scientology’s offices in D.C. and Los Angeles, carting out truckloads of boxes of documents, including plans of covert operations against Paulette Cooper, the unexecuted “Operation Freakout,” and the earlier bomb threat frame-up, “Operation Dynamite.”

While the book is a highly sympathetic portrait of Paulette Cooper, it is not a hagiography. Cooper sometimes comes across as gullible, as she repeatedly falls into Scientology’s traps. This appearance is no doubt partly accounted for by hindsight bias—in the 1970s Cooper did not have the benefit of knowing the lengths to which Scientology was willing to go to attack and harass her that we’ve learned from the FBI raid documents and the growing literature exposing Scientology’s activities. But many may find her gullible7 for signing a 1980 employment contract for a D.C. private investigator, Richard Bast, containing a clause that “expressly gives to the Employer her prior consent to intercept any of her wire/oral communications.” Bast, who claimed to be working for a wealthy Swiss man whose daughter had killed herself after joining Scientology, paid Cooper $2,000 a month to work for him, allowing her to quit freelance writing work and focus on researching Scientology.

In fact, Bast was working for Scientology, and therefore so was Cooper, unwittingly. Everything she uncovered was funneled to Scientology, giving them a heads-up on potential trouble and the ability to find out what their critics were up to. More recently, in 2011, former Scientology senior leader Marty Rathbun asserted that Vanity Fair writer John Connolly, who Ortega writes “regularly checked in with…Cooper” to discuss Scientology (p. 385), was also reporting back to the Church. Rathbun quoted the text of a 2006 Scientology document reporting a meeting by Connolly with Andrew Morton, purportedly to get details about the book Morton was working on about Tom Cruise.

More disturbing than the evidence of gullibility is the evidence of Cooper’s willingness to sometimes be ethically flexible about telling the truth, which comes out in the recordings Bast made of her. Ortega’s book recounts some of the more embarrassing excerpts, in which Cooper talks about planting drugs inside Scientology’s D.C. church and belittles her friend Nan McLean for her “stupid honesty” in paying a huge $800 bill for copying documents from the FBI raid while Cooper lied about how much she copied and paid only $89.50. She also criticized McLean for being unwilling to feign lapses of memory during depositions in Scientology legal cases. Ortega notes (p. 380) that some ex-Scientologists could not understand why he was writing a book about her, that they considered her to be unimportant and a “bad person.”

While the exposure of the Bast tapes damaged Cooper’s credibility, she still resolved her lawsuits with Scientology and received a substantial settlement before Hubbard’s death in 1986, and turned to writing about dogs and cats. Others have taken up writing about Scientology, but her book remains the earliest substantial critique of Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard, a classic of what is now becoming a well-populated genre. Ortega’s book, his first, now joins the ranks of the best of these, and Ortega has been on a speaking tour for the book, sometimes with the company of Paulette Cooper herself, often speaking to local skeptical groups.8 END

References
  1. Wikipedia’s page on the fair game policy is quite comprehensive.
  2. Cooper first learned about Scientology from: Gardner, Martin. 1957. Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (2nd ed).
  3. Cooper’s story is told in: Cooper, Paulette. 1971. The Scandal of Scientology: A chilling examination of the nature, beliefs, and practices of the “Now religion.” Online at http://bit.ly/1GdMR99; Reitman, Janet. 2011. Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion (pp. 116–117); Atack, Jon. 1990. A Piece of Blue Sky: Scientology, Dianetics and L. Ron Hubbard Exposed (pp. 223–224); Corydon, Bent. 1992. L. Ron Hubbard: Messiah or Madman? (pp. 172–178); Lamont, Stewart. 1986. Religion Inc.: The Church of Scientology (pp. 71–72), and Wright, Lawrence. 2013. Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (pp. 117–119, 140–141), among others.
  4. http://tonyortega.org/
  5. Many, Nancy. 2009. My Billion Year Contract: Memoir of a Former Scientologist.
  6. Tony Ortega, “The Scientology spy who came in from the cold: Len Zinberg, who apologized to Paulette Cooper,” The Underground Bunker, June 15, 2015,
  7. Skeptics may also wonder about Cooper’s gullibility in light of her work for the tabloid newspaper National Enquirer on celebrities, as well as her co-authorship (with her husband) of The 100 Top Psychics and Astrologers in America 2014 and 100 Top Psychics in America: Their Stories, Specialties—and How to Contact Them. Cooper also wrote two columns for the Huffington Post in 2014 about a psychic and a tarot card reader.
  8. Ortega’s speaking schedule is published at his blog; http://tonyortega.org/.
16 Comments »

16 Comments

  1. Menno says:

    The experiences of Paulette Cooper with Scientology are quite dramatic and extreme. Yet, beyond Scientology, there is much abuse in the name of religion, by all kind of so-called religious organizations, whose real aim, like Scientology, (also) seems to be considerable financial gain.

    Wouldn’t it therefore also be appropriate for Skeptic to also dedicate an investigation on such organizations, e.g. the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (a.k.a. the Mormons), with its (tax exempted) enterprise branch known as the “Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”?

    Organizations like these expect their membership to make substantial financial ‘sacrifices’ such as ‘tithing’ (i.e. 10% of your income), which, although legally described as ‘voluntary’, are emphasized by ‘divine threats’ such as these: “Behold, now it is called today until the coming of the Son of Man, and verily it is a day of sacrifice, and a day for the tithing of my people; for he that is tithed shall not be burned at his coming.” (Doctrine and Covenants, Section 64:23 https://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/64.23?lang=eng#22 )

    Shouldn’t even ‘gullible’ people not be protected one way or another against practices like these by large and financially strong organizations like these? I think they should.

    • Bill says:

      Well if Scientology, for whom you are covering, didn’t do these wicked things they wouldn’t get the coverage and there would be more time for the people who you want to distract from the CoS’s.

  2. awc says:

    When someone believes they are serving the devine and ultimate truth.

    All things are possible, the ends justified the means.

    Well actually the means are an ends in themselves. Whether feeding the hungry or killing the innocent.

  3. badboyscientist says:

    It is amazing how easy it is to get decent humans to commit heinous acts on other humans – you can use country, family, god, neighborhood, race, gender, research projects, approval from authority … just about anything can be used to motivate people to do despicable things to one another.

    What makes Scientology so special is that they take this to “James Bond Super-Villain” levels.

    • Bob Pease says:

      Hubbard claims that humans are really “Thetans” ( advanced spiritual beings )
      who presently reside in “meat bodies”

      they are above human law.
      “Treatment M45 ”
      is suggested for people who give them trouble

      Dr Sidethink

  4. Paulette Cooper says:

    Just because one writes about a group of people doesn’t mean one believes in them or believes them. I have also written about right wingers although I’m a liberal Democrat.
    Paulette

    • Jim Lippard says:

      Paulette: Thanks for stopping by. I certainly agree with your point, that writing about a group of people doesn’t necessarily declare an alignment with their beliefs. But your books on psychics and astrologers are neither fiction nor sociological analyses of psychic and astrological practices–they give the impression that they are founded on the assumption that there are genuine and reliable psychics and astrologers, whether you believe that or not. If you do not believe that there are genuine and reliable psychics and astrologers, but merely market these books to those who do, then perhaps this footnote should have been moved to the penultimate paragraph. Whatever the case may be, given an audience of skeptics, your authorship of those works was, I felt, worthy of mention.

  5. tpaine says:

    It’s sometimes difficult to comprehend that “any means necessary” really means “any means” to some organizations. This story is incredible in exposing the depth of those means, but expose’s like these are becoming less shocking to the conscience every day.
    The imagination runs wild with the possibilities.

  6. Dawit Tesfazghi Ghebrmedhin says:

    Shalom,
    2nd Samuel 24:1 vs.1st chronicles 21:1 and 2nd kings 2:11-12 vs. 2nd chronicles 12-14.
    Deuteronomy 4:4,29:29 Jeremiah 8:8, 1st Timothy 6:20,2nd Timothy 3:16-17.

    • Bob Pease says:

      If you want anyome to reply
      state your point and display the verses

    • Jim Veihdeffer says:

      As Bob says, what’s your point? All I see are some biblical verses cited without any reference to what connection they have to Lippert’s article.

  7. Bob Pease says:

    If ypu want anyone to read this or respond,
    you need to display the texts separately and what the point is

  8. John Hodge says:

    awc has it. Islam, Christians in the past and now, and all nations. The US has its Army whose job is to kill others, the CIA (spy and black ops undermine), its cyber spies, spying on friends and foes alike. This behavior is standard for groups of people. The only limiting factor is the possible retribution and the present need. Because the group in the US under its laws, the group’s killing of competitors is somewhat dampened. The same in true of all religions. Of course, within a political structure groups have learned to claim to be “peaceful” to hoodwink the gullible. Some even claim to be “tolerant” – at lest until they become dominant, then they are “spreading the word” through coercion.

    badboyscientist: Any mother’s son can be a soldier dishing out punishment to others for a cause as instructed by someone with authority. A few articles ago, we saw a researcher get student do nasty things to other students with only a slight instruction from the authority. Churches and religions teach based on authority (from God of course) and repetition not facts.

    Nature makes the universe as it is not as some would have it. Extinction of the weak is common and nature’s way. “Decent humans” are servants or dead.

    • Bob Pease says:

      “Nature makes the universe as it is , ( puctuation supplied) not as some would have it. ”

      nature’s way is
      “conquest and assimulation or replacement by those marginally more fit ”

      hopefully, we can count on better stuff than this for the eschatology
      for us guys !

      Dr S

      • John Hodge says:

        Unless we can demonstrate better fitness, your hope in in vain. For that we need to get rid of the humanism.

  9. Augustus Vaine says:

    In this week s eSkeptic, Pat Linse examines the surprising origins of cow tipping. This article was originally published in Skeptic magazine 20.

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