January 22, 2008

Jerry Pournelle

The science fiction novelist and polymath, Jerry Pournelle, has some medical problems, which he discusses on his blog here, but his spirit still sounds indomitable.

My favorite story that Jerry told me about his adventurous life is the tale of his attempt to liberate communist Albania.

Back in the mid-1960s, Jerry, his mentor Stefan Possony, and Leka, Pretender to the Throne of Albanian -- who, by the way, is seven feet tall -- started to organize an invasion of Albania by patriotic exiles to overthrow communist dictator Enver Hoxha.

The larger strategic goal was to puncture the myth of communist inevitability by rolling back one country. Hoxha had alienated the Soviets by denouncing Khrushchev's 1956 policy of de-Stalinization. And he had earlier broken with Tito's Yugoslavia, making his nearest ally Red China. So, invading Albania wasn't likely to start WWIII.

King Constantine II, last King of the Hellenes, lent them his summer palace in Corfu, from which the hills of Albania are visible, as their headquarters.

Their sponsors in the U.S. government didn't want to be seen providing the crucial air cover needed to allow the invaders to cross the channel from Corfu. And without air cover, it would just be another Bay of Pigs.

So Jerry and Co. persuaded King Hussein of Jordan, who owed a lot of favors to the U.S. and was amenable to liberating his fellow Muslims in Albania from the godless Communist tyranny, to promise his British-built air force would wipe out the 11-airplane Albanian air force on the ground in a surprise attack. Jerry thus spent a lot of time in Jordan training their pilots on how to pull off a sneak attack.

Back in Corfu on June 5, 1967, Jerry was called to the radio to hear the news: the Israelis had pulled off their own sneak attack, wiping out the Egyptian air force, and in the subsequent fighting later that day destroyed most of the Jordanian air force.

So, the liberation of Albania had to be called off.

Decades later, Jerry met the President of Israel, Ezer Weizman, who had been Chief of Operations in the Six Day War. Jerry explained how Weizman had wrecked his invasion of Albania. Weizman exclaimed to the effect that: You were that foreigner who was training the Jordanians how to pull off a sneak attack? We thought you were a Russian training the Jordanians to attack us!

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


ziel said...

Could this possibly be the key to the USS Liberty affair? Perhaps the Israelis had intercepted earlier communications from the ship about safeguarding the Jordanian Air Force and considered her to be hostile. People say 'why would Israel attack an ally' but perhaps Israelis even then understood who was really in charge, or how easily the tail wags the dog. But I've seen enough discussion of the USS Liberty on Jerry's blog that I'd think he'd have connected these dots long ago, if anyone would.

Anyway, let's wish Jerry all our best.

Anonymous said...

Something that should forever disprove the idea that those "in the know" really know.

Anonymous said...

Evil Neocon is absent lately because he is training Spaniards to repel a Sharia Speedboat assault.

Anonymous said...

well that's what Israel said but is it possible they were helping the Communists out? Wouldn't be the first time (Pollard).

Berin M. Szoka said...

Fantastic. I always liked Jerry, but this is hard to beat.

Anonymous said...

My BS meter goes off a bit when Pournelle says the IAF wrecked the plan by its surprise attack. Because the Israelis only "surprised" the Egyptian Air Force on the ground in a pre-emptive strike at dawn on 5 June 1967. The Royal Jordanian Air Force got airborne and managed to get in a punch or two before it was shot out of the sky.

Anonymous said...

That's freakin' sweet!

Anonymous said...

In his book My Silent War Kim Philby recounts how he was sent to be joint ocntoller of an earlier attempt to send geurillas to topple the Albanian. The Albanian authorities apparently had no difficulty finding them.

Anonymous said...

hey anonymous, the post says the Jordanian air force was wiped out in subsequent fighting later that day. no difference from what you're saying. push reset on your bs meter.

Anonymous said...

Pure fruitloopery.

Anonymous said...

Good thing this didn't go ahead--they would have been destroyed.

Anonymous said...

A US citizen helping to organize an invasion of a sovereign nations -- isn't that as illegal as hell?

Steve Sailer said...


Right, Kim Philby betrayed the Anglo-American "Albanian Project" of roughly 1949-1952, at the cost of many lives.

Unknown said...

I wonder if the planes flown by the Royal Jordanian Air Force in 1967 had the range to make up to Albania and back.
Wikipedia says they flew Hawker Hunters at the time of the Six Day War.
The Wiki site on the Hunter comments on its short range;

Combat range: 385 nm (445 mi, 715 km)
Ferry range: 1,650 nm (1,900 mi, 3,060 km) with external fuel

Anonymous said...

Speaking only for myself, this story makes my BS meter scream, burst into flames, and explode.

Note that there's no record anywhere of a proposed or attempted invasion of Albania in 1967. And for those who say there wouldn't be, note that there's abundant documentation of the (failed) incursions of 1946-52.

Note also that the Albanian Royalists were weak and poor even by the low standards of Eastern European monarchies-in-exile. There weren't a lot of them, and they didn't have a lot of resources. (Very different from, say, the Croatian Ustashes, who were still bombing and kidnapping 30 years after the Ustashe regime fell.) The Royalists didn't manage to do anything against the Hoxha's regime in 1967 /or at any other time/. There just weren't enough of them.

(Part of Leke's problem? He, and most of the Royalists, were Ghegs -- and if you don't know what a Gheg is, you shouldn't be talking about Albania. But he couldn't get into Gheg country by sea -- the coast was /very/ well guarded -- and the land approach was via Tito's Yugoslavia, which was content to leave Albania alone.)

Anyway. Then there's the idea of Jerry Pournelle "teaching the Jordanian Air Force how to launch a sneak attack". Yes, that seems plausible.

And Hussein, the Middle East's wiliest, canniest political survivor -- the only Middle Eastern monarch to survive without massive oil revenue -- throwing his air force (which, um, didn't have the range to reach Albania) into an insane gamble against a distant country where he had no interests whatsoever. Sure. Makes total sense.

[shrug] If Pournelle has written down this story somewhere, I'd be very interested to see it. Or if there's any other corroboration. If a serious invasion was imminent, there'd have been a lot of people involved. Right? And goodness knows all sorts of things have come to light since the end of the Cold War.

But failing that... well, no.

Doug M.

Steve Sailer said...

Anonymous writes:

"If Pournelle has written down this story somewhere, I'd be very interested to see it."

You should try following the links in my posting. One of them would have lead you to this February 1999 blog posting by Jerry:

"I haven't seen HM Laika since 1968 or so, when Possony and I were consulting on problems associated with an attempt to cast out the Communist hermit regime in Albania; my part had to do with using some Arab air resources (Albania is mostly a Moslem nation and Laika had a close relationship with the Saudi and Hashemite dynasties). This was just before the 6-day War made use of Jordanian air force elements moot…

"It would have been a very interesting thing, to recover a Communist nation for the West in 1968/69. Of course nothing came of any of it."


Steve Sailer said...

In general, I've found Jerry to be highly scrupulous in his stories about his remarkably varied career, which goes back to being a teenage artillery officer during the bloody retreat from North Korea after a million Chinese poured in.

For example, when I asked him about the period when he was Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles, he explained with much detail that the post did not exist at the time, and exactly what his role was, although, in my mind, it added up to pretty much the same thing.

And then there was the period when he was the Air Force's resident Dr. Strangelove, although he would describe his role in much less vivid terms.

I've always encouraged Jerry to write his autobiography, but he feels it would be too much of a bureaucratic hassle to get all the security clearances.

Anonymous said...

You're making my BS meter go off even more, Steve. I always figured that JP would tell the truth also. But just that last few sentences from you makes me wonder if there is a pattern of exaggeration. Plus the guy argued for the Dean drive. What a putz.

Anonymous said...

"since 1968 or so, when Possony and I were consulting on problems associated with an attempt [that never happened] to cast out the Communist hermit regime in Albania; my part had to do with using some Arab air resources"

That's rather more vague than your post. Actually, it's a lot more vague than your post.

No offense. But you've got mysterious "sponsors in the U.S. government" supporting the proposed coup, and "Jerry and Co. persuading King Hussein of Jordan" to lend his air force" and "Jerry [spending] a lot of time in Jordan training their pilots how to pull of a sneak attack". That's all much more specific than "my part had to do with using some Arab air resources".

If you can back that stuff up, great. Otherwise, well, you know.

Doug M.

Steve Sailer said...

Dear Doug M.:

Don't be an idiot.

You should have followed the link to Jerry's posting before you posted your comment demanding I show where Jerry ever mentioned this. Now, you're just acting stupid to avoid admitting you were wrong.

Of course what I wrote is more detailed -- I'm summarizing a half hour conversation over lunch that began when a fellow patron got up from his table and he turned out to be almost seven feet tall. I said something like, "Wow, he's tall!" And Jerry replied, "Yes, but he's not as tall as Crown Prince Leika." And I said, "Who's that?" ...

Anonymous said...

I agree that Jerry's posting is even more vague than yours.


Anonymous said...

I'm not seeing it, Steve.

I didn't "demand" anything; I said "if Pournelle has written this down anywhere, I'd be very interested to see it."

You directed me to the link, I read it, and you know, /it doesn't say what you said/.

And now you're not claiming the link as your basis. Rather, we now discover -- twenty comments down -- that your post is "summarizing a half hour conversation" with Pournelle some years ago.

Other than your memory of that conversation, can you give us anything to show that Leke was seriously preparing an invasion? Or that King Hussein was really going to lend his air force? Or that Pournelle was involved in "training their pilots how to pull of a sneak attack"?

You've posted this story twice now. Can you produce anything -- other than your memory of what Pournelle told you -- to substantiate it?

Doug M.

Steve Sailer said...

Doug M.

You really are an idiot, aren't you?

Jerry told me the story at the Good Earth restaurant on Ventura Blvd. and on our walk back to Chaos Manner in 1999 or 2000. Several years later he posted on his blog a very brief summary of what he had told me at length, which confirms that I'm not just making it up.

Did Jerry just make it all up? I wasn't there so I can't say for sure. But, I've known Jerry for 9 years and I've heard him recount a lot of remarkable stories about his life. I've never found any evidence that he made any of them up.

Anonymous said...


I agree with Nony. He has accurately assessed the basis of your statements. Which is thin. Of course it might be right. But he is still fair to judge the basis as thin. There is no aha here.

P.s. You tend to rate movies high when they fit your worldview or a point that you like to make, even if they are mediocre as films (Idiocracy prime example).

Hal said...

"In general, I've found Jerry to be highly scrupulous in his stories about his remarkably varied career... For example, when I asked him about the period when he was Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles, he explained with much detail that the post did not exist at the time, and exactly what his role was, although, in my mind, it added up to pretty much the same thing."

In that case, you haven't done your homework.

Mayor Sam Yorty had a Deputy Mayor, the city's first. Her name was Eleanor Chambers. Not much documentation on her directly on the web, but this picture of the Eleanor Chambers Memorial Fountain at LA's City Hall East (and it's plaque) provide some context. Searching for "deputy mayor eleanor chambers" at the LA Times' archives yields 43 hits.

One of those hits is also among the 5 hits for the pre-writer Jerry Pournelle. That would be an article from Sep 30, 1969, titled, "Key Assistant to Yorty Quits After 2 Weeks."

{blockquote} "Dr. Jerry Pournelle has resigned as executive assistant to Mayor Sam Yorty in charge of reseach--a post to which he was appointed just two weeks ago, the mayor's office disclosed Monday.

Dep. Mayor Eleanor Chambers said Pournelle notified her Friday he was quitting..."

Etc., with many quotes from Mrs. Chambers.

To be fair, the reason given for Pournelle's resignation is he, "found he needed more time to complete a book he is writing with Dr. Stefan Possony..."

But leaving aside the issue of title, I would wonder how often Jerry has told you that he held the job for only two weeks. Because that would've been the "highly scrupulous" path to take.

Hal said...

Another few pieces of info:

* Yorty had not one but two Deputy Mayors. "Designation of 2 Deputy Mayors OKd," Los Angeles Times, Oct 21, 1965. In addition to Mrs. Chambers, the 2nd one was Joseph M. Quinn.

* Here's a picture of Mr. Quinn, looking like something out of a James Ellroy novel. For our purposes, though, the interesting thing is the image includes his business card, showing both Mr. Yorty as Mayor, and Mr. Quinn's title of Deputy Mayor.

Pretty much puts the kibosh on the idea the job didn't exist by that name.

Hal said...

Another few pieces of data (what can I say -- this story just keeps intriguing me):

* You know how we keep being told how difficult an air raid from Israel to Iran to knock out the Iranian nuclear program would be, because modern fighters don't really have all that much range? That, essentially, such a mission would be one-way, due to fuel consumption?

Tel Aviv to Tehran: 988 mi/1590 km
Amman, Jordan to Tirana, Albania: 1101 mi/1773 km

..and that's straight line. It doesn't allow for the various peregrinations one would probably have had to do because of air rights over countries that might have objected.

* The Summer Palace on Corfu is known as "Achilleion." It was built in 1892.

It was also leased to a German company for 20 years starting in 1962, and converted to a casino.

Perhaps the German tenants would have put up Pournelle and Possony as a courtesy to Constantine in 1967. But it's also likely Constantine wouldn't have bothered because...

* On 21 April 1967 there was a military coup in Greece. Is it possible Constantine would have given permission for a black op on Greek soil by Americans, when he was negotiating frequently with the American ambassador? Sure. It's possible.

Is it likely? Enhhhhh...