White House glass house
Cinema in Istanbul is a spine-tingling experience. Turks have no inhibitions about displaying emotions — Hanna knows that I can’t watch an old-fashioned tear-jerker without a box of mansize tissues, but she has never seen me weeping, wailing and blubbing like the audience in the multiplex tonight.
I love the idea that no one could keep any secrets. Cabinet ministers would no longer be able to claim expenses for living in two houses at once, if we could see where they really laid their heads.
And the rest of us would quickly get used to the lack of privacy. We’ve adapted to the millions of CCTV cameras that photograph us every time we step out of doors. Privacy, as any celebrity knows, is a state of mind.
The magnificent views across the Kent countryside enjoyed by my friend Remy Blumenfeld convinced me that a glass house is like an open mind — it brings an exhilarating consciousness of the world’s beauty. Remy’s home was designed by the brilliant architect Michael Manser, one of the most influential modernists in Britain.
Manser, a fierce critic of Prince Charles’s traditional beliefs about architecture, is best known for the immense steel-and-glass hotel he designed at the new Wembley Stadium, but he has also changed the face of cities as far-flung as Dar-es-Salaam.
Remy’s glass house was built on a plot where Jane Austen’s family lived more than two centuries ago — the remains of walls owned by her grandfather are still standing in places.
I met Remy in Cannes at the Mipcom media festival, and it was no surprise to discover he lived in such an unconventional place. He comes from a long line of artists: his mother is Helaine Blumenfeld, the sculptor, and his grandfather was the radical Thirties photographer who defined Vogue’s style.
Erwin was captured by the Nazi’s in 1940 and interned in a French camp, but he was able to flee to New York a year later. He was lucky to escape with his life — not only was he Jewish, but he had published montages mocking Adolf Hitler.
Helaine has three exhibitions currently on show — one in Cambridge, another in London and a third in Holland. I know from staging exhibitions of my own art that it is a mindblowing challenge to collect and display pieces in just one show: to put together three simultaneously is amazing.
While we were driving down to Kent, I stretched out on the back seats and took the chance to catch up on the American newspapers — I buy them whenever I can, to see what my friends in the US, and especially my children in California, are reading. The media is a global machine now, but American newspapers are still completely different to British titles.
One headline caught my eye: the Pentagon is investing millions of dollars in telepathy research, hoping to develop noiseless communication techniques for soldiers in combat zones, where any breach in radio silence can be fatal.
The US military has been intrigued by human mindpower for decades — in fact, 32 years ago I was a guest at the White House for Jimmy Carter’s presidential inauguration, on a mission for the CIA to promote telepathy research.
And because mental communication was the key, I was under orders to say nothing to the new president. My message had to be delivered straight into his mind.
My links with the CIA were forged in Mexico, where I was living as a close friend of President Jose Lopez Portillo and his wife, Muncy. To begin with, I was just acting as an observer with one eye on the nearby Russian Embassy, keeping a note of who went in and out, but my contact — who called himself Mike — had bigger plans for me.
I don’t have space this week to reveal all my Mexican missions for the CIA, or the ‘Company’ as Mike always called it, but if the editor is willing to let me expose a few official secrets, I hope to write about my adventures in my next column.
The Company booked me on a flight to Washington when the Democrats won the 1976 election. My briefing was simple: the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) wanted to develop serious investigations into psychic powers, and they wanted a substantial budget to be made available with no fanfare. The media, and the Russians, were to know nothing about it.
Darpa was the military think-tank which started the internet. They had also partly financed the experiments at Stanford Research Institute which took me to California in the early Seventies.
It was a freezing cold January morning when I walked up the White House steps. I had already met Rosalynn Carter at a dinner, where she was astonished and excited to see me read Henry Kissinger’s mind.
Kissing was less thrilled. “What else did you learn in my head?” he demanded. I told him that I didn’t want to discuss issues of national security in public — and then, when I saw how agitated he was, I pretended I had been joking.
Rosalynn knew instinctively that mind-reading was no joke, and she introduced me to the President, telling him, “This is the young Israeli I’ve told you so much about.”
I beamed my message into Carter’s mind as I shook his hand. Within a few days, rumours began to spread that the new President had sanctioned $8m for Darpa experiments in telepathy.
A group of mothers with cancer visited my home with the Israeli charity Ezer Mizion this week. It was a privilege for Hanna and me to welcome them.
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