Triple Cross in Montecito

Montecito-based-but-always-a-New-Yorker author Peter Lance’s latest book “Triple Cross; How bin Laden’s Master Spy Penetrated the CIA, the Green Berets, and the FBI – and Why Patrick Fitzgerald Failed to Stop Him,” is as replete with dark conspiracies and accusations as were his two previous 9/11-related tomes: “Cover Up,” and “1000 Years for Revenge.”

What Lance, a former ABC television correspondent, does in this 600-plus-page opus (over 100 pages of which consists of footnotes, appendices, and an index) is reveal how bin Laden’s master spy (and Anwar Sadat murder co-conspirator) Ali Mohamed, now sequestered in a federal Witness Protection program, infiltrated the CIA, FBI, and the U.S. Army, and passed on valuable and Top Secret information to bin Laden and al Qaeda medical muscle Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri. A glossy timeline with photographs in the center of the book follows the jihadists’ movements and deeds from October 6, 1981 through September 11, 2006.

From what I could gather (Peter talks, and apparently thinks, in double time) during a short interview recently, Lance believes the FBI and CIA have been scrambling to cover up decades of misdeeds connected to U.S. support for bin Laden during the Afghanistan resistance to the Soviet Union, and later for Saddam Hussein’s regime during its war against Iran. While both positions could be justified in light of events of the day, they are at least embarrassing and would perhaps be seriously damaging if revealed in full.

Along with his condemnation of the incompetence of the U.S. intelligence services, Lance makes a separate case against Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, calling him “the guy who has done more to erode the First Amendment and chill reporters than any single government official since the McCarthy era.”

Peter laments that except for the suspected 20th hijacker – Zacarias Moussaoui – no one has been officially indicted for the mass murders of September 11, 2001, and insists that the “cold case” of 9/11 “needs to be reopened and investigated with tenacity and courage.” He believes Ali Mohamed should be charged with seditious conspiracy against the United States of America, calling him the “Rosetta Stone” of the failure of U.S. intelligence agencies. “Has the FBI reformed?” he asks, and answers without taking a breath: “Clearly, they have not reformed. To this day,” he continues, “after spending a hundred seventy million on computers, they don’t have a computer system where they can type in a variation of all the names and do what I just did on my little Macintosh here in Montecito.”

Much of his 600-page book, you see, was produced and written here in Montecito, on his Mac, using Internet sources, Google, and other commonly available resources, along with, of course, Peter’s exclusive worldwide network of friends, contacts, and informants.

“Triple Cross” is now available at Tecolote, Read ‘N’ Post, Chaucer’s, and all the chain bookstores too.

Randy Makes the Top Ten

Actually, Montecito real estate agent Randy Solakian has been ranked eighth in the entire United States in sales volume for 2005; he was listed there in the inaugural issue of “Real Estate Top 200” put together by The Wall Street Journal and REAL Trends, a real estate newsletter and website.

Randy has been in the real estate business “going on thirty-one years,” he says, during a short telephone interview. Although he and his family only moved to Montecito about 20 years ago, he has devoted most of his energy to Montecito homes and estates “going on twenty-eight years.” Now one of Montecito’s super agents, Randy’s earlier efforts were slightly more modest. His very first sale, for example, was a house in Goleta that sold for just over $40,000, “and it did not have a continuous concrete perimeter foundation,” he laughs. “I was very pleased that Home Savings agreed to make the loan on it,” he continues, “because it was non-conforming to lending policies at the time, which required such a foundation.” That first sale came after seven months of hard work at McElhenny, Levy & Company.

Unusually, for such a high-producing real estate agent, Solakian has changed offices only once. He left McElhenny, Levy & Company (when it was sold) and joined Gene O’Hagen Associates, which sold to Jon Douglas, which eventually sold to Coldwell Banker. “I’ve stayed in the same place,” Randy jokes, “but the sign keeps changing outside.”

So, how does the real estate market look for Montecito’s $100-million man? “Don’t believe what you read in the papers,” Randy suggests. “The media is trying to sell everybody on the bubble theory,” he says, observing, however, that “the market refuses to cooperate. The market is stable and strong. We have experienced a correction,” he adds, “but nothing near a bubble bursting. You can’t compare the housing market to anything like the stock market… Interest rates haven’t skyrocketed like everyone predicted and sales haven’t collapsed; they’ve come down a little but nothing catastrophic. Barring any international disasters – which could happen any minute – we’re in good shape. At least, this part of the market in this part of the world.”

If you’d like to learn a little more about this part of the (multi-million-dollar) market in this part of the world (Montecito and beyond), you could call Randy Solakian at Coldwell Banker at 805-565-2208. He’s a busy guy, but judging from the number of sales he regularly produces, probably not too busy to take your call.

French Consul at Coffee Bean

Consul General Philippe Larrieu of France, accompanied by Sebastien Oolland, and now-retired Opera Santa Barbara President Fred Sidon, paid a brief visit to Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on Coast Village Road before heading off for a radio interview and a speech. Mr. Larrieu was in town to speak at the University Club later that day on French-American relations and recent changes in France and the U.S.

During a short interview on the patio at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, we asked whether – and why – Americans should consider doing business in France, rather than say, Ireland. He responded that he was “pleased” that I had brought Ireland up. “The Irish have the best skilled workers as far as science and technology,” he admits, but adds quickly, “France is number two… The Irish have the best tax system for R & D investments,” he notes, “and [the French] completely copied this system (one or two years ago).” He then plugged for France: “The only real difference in doing business in France rather than Ireland,” he offers, “is that France is directly in the middle of a four hundred-million-inhabitant market; that it has the busiest airport on the continent – Charles De Gaulle. France has infrastructure that Ireland has not,” he continues, “such as a high ratio of high-speed trains per inhabitant.

“FedEx,” he boasts, “chose Charles De Gaulle Airport as its platform in Europe, for example.” He joked that France continues to be buffeted by its infamous “thirty-five-hour workweek,” but claims there is more workforce “flexibility” in France than there is in the U.S.

We speculated about sister cities, and Mr. Larrieu, while expressing interest in developing one for Santa Barbara, warned that finding “the most relevant city in France, the most appropriate,” would be difficult; he didn’t know what that would be without some study. He suggested that sister city programs would fail or falter unless both interpersonal and business relationships were involved. I suggested La Baule, a beach town in Brittany. Fred Sidon said there was talk of Nice as a sister city, and Mr. Larrieu thought St. Tropez or St. Raphael might be right.

“It takes time; it takes energy,” Philippe says. Fred adds, “There must be a clear objective, otherwise it just doesn’t work.”

Philippe noted a particularly successful sister city agreement is one that has developed between Phoenix, Arizona and Grenoble. “The reason,” Philippe explains, “is that both mayors are very active and have an ambition to develop links between the two cities; secondly, there is an obvious convergence of interests: Honeywell is in Phoenix; in Grenoble, there are biotech, biomed, and computer scientists; Grenoble is well known for its labs.”

We don’t know what La Baule has to offer other than miles of broad sandy beaches and a couple of really fine golf courses, but we remain open to the possibilities of a sister city program and to a search for the perfect match.

Garden of the Finzi-Continis

Italian filmmaker Vittorio De Sica received the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film (1971) for “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,” a lush, often erotic, but bittersweet tale of a wealthy Jewish-Italian couple whose large estate garden became, for a time, a refuge for their children’s Jewish (and some non-Jewish) friends from the surrounding and growing anti-Semitism outside the gates of their garden in pre-World-War-II Italy. The impending and relentless collapse of the world they knew and loved was painstakingly chronicled in the film, but the family, the real family, survived nevertheless.

The Finzi-Continis were, among other things, winemakers, and their family label, Conti Contini, a hearty red wine made of 100% native Tuscan Sangiovese, continues to flourish. Last year, one of the children from the Finzi-Contini family, whose parents were represented in the film, visited California to interest some selected restaurants in her wine; one of those establishments that responded positively, reports co-owner Soemi Carmel, is his Tre Lune on Coast Village Road. Since then, Conti Contini has become, at $32 the bottle, one of the most popular wines at the eatery.

Now, as radio commentator Paul Harvey would most definitely say, you know the rest of the story.

The Boating Party

When Café au Lait existed at La Cumbre Plaza, one of its best-known and certainly best-loved features was the giant (7-foot-by-10-foot) mural in the back dining room, a copy of Auguste Renoir’s “The Boating Party.” The painting has since been sold and now hangs in a Montecito kitchen, but the painter – Phoebe Brunner – continues to create her own brand of masterpieces.

Ms Brunner’s recent output, called “Visions,” is currently on display at The Easton Gallery on Hot Springs Road in Montecito (by appointment) and will be until Sunday, November 26. She specializes in landscape paintings, although generally not of specific places, other than her memory and/or imagination. Ms Brunner attended the Chouinard Art School, which became the California Institute of the Arts, and she earned a BFA from the College of Creative Studies, UCSB. Her paintings are in collections worldwide; she held many solo exhibitions from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and her art has been displayed in conjunction with dozens of art shows throughout the United States.

Phoebe is not only an accomplished artist, she is also a really interesting person. Go. Admire her art. Buy some if you can afford it. Call 805-969-5781 for an appointment.