May 032017

Outrageous Good Fortune, A Memoir by Michael Burke

CBS and Mike Burke paid for the move from Posillipo to Paris. He saw that the Paris news bureau found us an apartment and arranged to have our baggage moved into the building.  It took four months before I discovered his reason for wanting me nearby. One night he took me to meet an old friend to the Hôtel de Crillon on the Place de la Concorde.

The friend was Allen Dulles, the head of the CIA in Switzerland. I was introduced and Dulles accepted my television credentials. Mr. Dulles said he had an acute recruitment problem, and although I was not to join his organization, he thought my television producing skills might help.

His recruiting problem was James Bond…007.

CBS had optioned the rights to the Bond novels, but for his own reasons Chief Executive Bill Paley wanted the deal undone. The author, Ian Fleming, was paid $70,000 and the rights were returned to him.

Espionage had become the latest chic and CBS wanted to be fashionable.

The CIA wanted a less lurid series than James Bond. The agency was not interested in recruiting a womanizer and gadgeteer. Their recruitment officials felt too many applicants had spying and seduction on their minds. The agency could not permit CBS an on-screen seal of approval as the FBI had given NBC, but the CIA would cooperate in other ways.

Burke had been so successful a spy that Dulles asked him to re-do the Bond saga.

Mike was handsome, and had been an all-American running back at Penn State. During the war he had fought undercover in occupied Italy and France. His exploits had been made into a movie in which Gary Cooper played Burke and Mike himself played a bit part.

Wild Bill Donovan, the head of the OSS, predecessor to the CIA, had first recruited him. The Office of Strategic Services, the OSS, a highly Protestant group, was often called “Oh So Social” by its envious rival, the FBI, a heavily Catholic group. Dulles’ agency was a small unit, recruited from Ivy League colleges and tutored by the British intelligence services. Mike had been on the unofficial board of directors under Donovan.

When Burke and I began work he spoke at length about his activities as an ex-spy—except he neglected to say that he and CBS were still aiding the agency. He was wearing two hats. At first I saw only one.

007 had Sean Connery; 008 could be Mike Burke. Not quite so handsome, but women found him attractive and he liked women a lot.

When he first worked for Allen Dulles his code number was 101. The projected series took its title from the cipher—101 became the successor to 007.

(Mike told me tales that he could not repeat in his published memoir, Outrageous Good Fortune. He had signed an agreement giving the agency complete censorship of his writings. However, I read the galleys before the company tore the book apart. I had made extensive notes and sent them to Burke)

Mike was not permitted to name the countries into which he had sent agents. He was not allowed to name the people who had betrayed his colleagues and sent American and allied agents to their deaths. Years later I understood why the agency had cut his work to ribbons; in all cases it reflected badly on the work of the CIA and had little to do with national security.

I thought the following story would make a good pilot film:

The Burkes were living in Italy. Albania was across the Adriatic.  Just after World War II the Allies made plans to deter the Hoxha Communists from taking over that small nation. Many Albanian refugees were in Rome, and Burke began a recruitment and training program for a clandestine airdrop to upset and take over the red regime.

Timmy Burke, Mike’s wife, was a beautiful and elegant lady who sat outside the fashionable Excelsior Café on Via Veneto. Mike had recruited his wife as a courier. Vogue Magazine was the drop point. The Albanians who wanted to forward a message to Mike would slip a paper into the open magazine. The distinguished lady would close the periodical and open another. In the Roman afternoon Mike would meet his wife for Cinzano and together they would page through Vogue the fashionable spy contact.

Timmy’s beauty complicated the last airdrop.

Burke had to find an airfield close to Rome, deliver his trained Albanians by truck to the plane, see their equipment loaded, and work out the radio contacts. The schedule was tight. It was a complicated affair in a foreign country. Help came from the British Intelligence Service.

Unfortunately, a local policeman had noted that the beautiful American woman was often alone. He tried romancing Timmy, to the point of an attempted forced entry into the Burke home.  The next time the officer put his foot in the door to coax the bella signora, Mike had just returned from a dinner with the British allies.  Mike slugged the cop and was arrested and jailed for assaulting a police officer.

He got out in time to bring his Albanians to the airfield and see them leave to liberate their country from the communists. They were dropped in the assigned area and were expected to contact the same plane by radio the next night.

The next night and the following night, his Albanian Allies did not make the scheduled radio contacts. They were, as it turned out, seized immediately after they landed. Probably killed.

The reason the CIA had cut the manuscript to shreds was that Mike’s British contact and social companion had passed on the plans to Moscow. Kim Philby was one of the highest-ranking intelligence officers in the UK’s counterpart to the CIA, but was also a mole planted by the Soviets for many years. After the Albanian action, Philby moved to Moscow.

The CIA had had its suspicions about Philby and should have passed them on to Mike.  They didn’t, so Mike had to kill the story in his memoirs. Burke was moved from Italy to Germany and given a raise.

I thought it would make a fine opening show for 101, and wrote a treatment. Burke asked me not to submit it.  He never told me why. I found out later that almost a million dollars was missing and it probably went to Philby.

Mike vetoed the outline and suggested another story.

The CIA needed help in a half-Communist, half-capitalist Germany. Just after WWII ended, the agency made a deal with the Nazis.  It recruited Reinhard Gehlen. Gehlen ran the Nazi intelligence apparatus in the war against Russia, and against the Allies.  He brought with him dozens of agents and a structure that had the same purpose as the CIA—infiltrate the Soviets, recruit agents, and gain knowledge of Soviet plans.

Mike told me that spying was a mind-shattering job. The CIA had recruited a number of bilingual psychoanalysts to treat both German and American agents. One patient was Otto John who was the head of the West German Secret Service. Unfortunately, Herr John, after an emotional session with his psychiatrist, defected to the Soviet Union. Otto John knew too much about the clandestine American efforts.

“In the espionage business, Mike told me, “There is no strip tease. Once you lose part of your cover, you‘re naked, you’ve lost it all.”

Burke received a message from Washington. Because of the defections of John and an analyst, all the safe houses—shelters in Germany—were to be closed down at once. Trucks came to his home and picked up his belongings. He and his family were flown to Bremershaven and shipped to the states. Mike was blown, no longer of use in the job he had. The whole intelligence apparatus was to be rebuilt—but the Nazi spy leader Reinhard Gehlen was to be kept in place.

The story was censored in Mike’s book, but at the time I thought it should be the first in the CBS series, 101. I wrote a draft.

Mike had another story I thought might make a sexy 101 episode. An American spymaster and a British lady spy finally go to bed together. The American man believes the woman has faked her orgasm, and extrapolates from that that she has faked her information. Knowing Mike, I knew this to be autobiographical.

I would see Mike at his Paris hangout, the Hotel Vendôme. When he unpacked, he kissed a framed photograph of a woman and put it on the mantel. It wasn’t a photograph of his wife or anyone I knew, and Mike never explained.

Burke left the Vendôme one evening for his home in London. I received a terse phone call from him, asking me to go to the hotel at once. He had called and told the management not to enter the room until I got there. He asked me to pick up an address book that had fallen under the bed.

I found the book where he said it was. I did not read it, but Mike thought I had. From then on he assumed I knew he was working for American intelligence sources. That’s probably why he let me vet his autobiography.

A few years later I asked Mike to help me see the CIA film library for the year 1945.  I went to Langley and was well received by two guides. One was on crutches, the other approaching senility. They mistakenly considered I was one of the company, and lauded Mike for his “undercover work while he was working for CBS.” They thanked CBS and a current employee for the help they were still receiving. A specific person in the newsroom and archives was sending copies of films made behind the Iron Curtain, but never broadcast.

This was a violation of CBS policy, and I gave the name to Dick Salant, the head of CBS News who promptly fired the employee.

I don’t think there was an organized CIA cell within CBS. But the man on crutches did mention three people high up in the CBS hierarchy as friends of the company.  (His company, not mine.)

Although I spent two months in New York writing a pilot film, CBS decided not to go ahead. Mike was reassigned to New York. The network bought the New York Yankees and he became the head of the ball club.

Later, when I helped him with the manuscript, I asked him what had happened to the series. He was cryptic.

“CBS and the company broke off relations and I was compromised.”

“And me?”