Updated: May 5, 2021
Dr. Richard Fuisz, the retired CIA operative, reached into his jacket pocket and produced a brand new Fujifilm X-Pro1 camera. “Here, Michael, this is for you. I want you to have it. Use it in your crazy project to help the people of Nepal. By God I know I can’t stop you. You are incorrigible, so I might as well support you in your mission,” the trained physician said. A few weeks’ prior, Dr. Fuisz had turned 76 years old, and I didn't get him a present, which made me feel more than a little awkward now that Dr. Fuisz forced me to accept such a generous gift. Over the years, my habitually generous friend and mentor had sent me all types of presents, all related to learning a certain set of skills. Intensive courses in Tibetan language, vintage typewriters, and other odd but strangely useful items found their way from Dr. Fuisz's Virginia home to me in Pittsburgh. Now we were sitting over dinner at Chaya Brasserie in Beverly Hills, with Dr. Fuisz sporting two of his many Kobold watches, one on each wrist. Pointing to a nylon bag on the chair next to him, the gregarious inventor said “there are all these lenses in here, including one that’s internally stabilized. That will help you take pictures while driving, in case it’s not safe for you to stop."
I protested and declared that I couldn’t possibly accept all of these gifts, but Dr. Fuisz would not take no for an answer. “Oh come on,” Dr. Fuisz said sternly, “don’t be silly, this is nothing. Here, take this stuff already. Take it. Michael, don’t get me angry now, you know I’ll just send it to your office if you don’t take it. Here, please!” Reluctantly, I reached for the camera and examined it carefully, still in disbelief. Richard continued: “This is one of the best cameras ever made, the top range of Fuji’s product line. The guy at the shop tried to explain it to me but it’s got so much technology jammed into it, I got lost. I’m sure you’ll figure it out. Plus, you’ll look like a tourist if you use this, nobody will suspect you of doing anything other than taking vacation pictures,” Dr. Fuisz added before laughing heartily. It was late December 2015, India’s blockade of Nepal was in its third month and with people in the Himalayas dying of hypothermia, the urgency of my mission to expose the blockade had grown exponentially. Back in Kathmandu, I already kept a large cache of cameras, but the quality of Richard Fuisz’s gifts surpassed that of any of my other photography equipment.
For years, Richard Fuisz and I had been close friends. Our relationship began when Dr. Fuisz started purchasing a large number of Kobold watches for himself, his sons and his friends. Based outside of Washington, D.C., Dr. Fuisz attended a number of Kobold events, as well as the premiere of James Gandolfini’s documentary Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq. At the time, I only knew Dr. Fuisz as a highly successful inventor whose discoveries in the field of time-delayed drug delivery had made him a large fortune. We shared a number of friends and acquaintances, including a former U.S. president, but it was our mutual admiration and support for U.S. military members and their families, that brought us closer together. Sitting next to Jim Gandolfini during the premiere of Alive Day Memories, which went on to receive critical acclaim, Dr. Fuisz had been visibly moved by the events depicted in the film. “Thank you, thank you so much, it was so powerful. I don’t know what else to say. Thank you for making this film and for inviting me,” a teary-eyed Dr. Fuisz humbly told my friend Jim.
At another event, I introduced Dr. Fuisz to Philippe Cousteau, the diver and environmentalist, with whom I had just unveiled a new Kobold watch. Dr. Fuisz not only purchased one of the new watches, but a few days later asked if he should support Earth Echo, Philippe Cousteau’s charity. Years later I learned that Dr. Fuisz donated tens of thousands of dollars to Earth Echo. When I informed him that I was concerned that Philippe Cousteau and his PR consultant were not honoring their part of the agreement, the charitable physician counseled me to just let it go. “He clearly has money problems, Michael, don’t bother with him. The other day he rang me up and wanted to meet. The only reason we met was for him to pick up another check,” Dr. Fuisz said. “He’s a good guy, but he’s inexperienced. So I help him from time to time. Don’t get worked up about the agreement, it’s not important. I’ll keep helping him out for now.” This was not the only occasion on which I witnessed Dr. Fuisz’s generosity and nonchalant manner.
One day, Dr. Fuisz declared that he had enough of Washington. He moved to Beverly Hills, California and installed himself in a mansion in one of the best parts of the affluent neighborhood. Not long after the move, someone extremely close to him walked off with a few hundred thousand dollars of Dr. Fuisz’s assets. “You see, people are like this, but why get upset. It’s just their nature. Life goes on. Let's order some ice cream,” Dr Fuisz said after telling me the story. When I remarked that if I were in the same position I would be extremely angry and feel betrayed, Dr. Fuisz just said “that doesn’t help anything, it’s counter-productive. Anyway, I just bought this car, it gives me so much joy, this thing, look at it, it’s a real beauty!” Dr. Fuisz turned around and smiled as he looked at his racing green Rolls Royce Corniche convertible, parked across busy Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood.
Richard Fuisz and I first became acquainted in early 2002. Despite our rapidly developing friendship, Dr. Fuisz was cryptic about his past, revealing only that he had served in the U.S. Navy, had been assigned to the White House for a while, and that at one time he made documentary films for the military. Dr Fuisz, however, took a sincere interest in my dealings and counseled me on a vast range of matters, from business to personal affairs. I soon discovered that Richard Fuisz wasn’t just a regular acquaintance, but a deeply loyal friend and steadfast supporter.
In late 2002, I was charged by the U.S. government with a felony, namely making false or fictitious statements to a U.S. federal officer. The truth of the matter was so unusual that the government clearly couldn’t make sense of it, instead leading to an indictment. Unimpressed with the charges leveled against me, and confident in the U.S. legal system, I ignored my lawyers’ advice and decided to fight the government in court. Unfortunately, a jury also couldn’t believe –or make sense of- the facts surrounding the case and found me guilty. Years later, a U.S. chief district judge, who had reviewed my case, declared the trial “a travesty of justice,” but not before Richard Fuisz vowed to support my efforts to not get deported from the U.S. With a federal felony conviction on my record, mandatory deportation proceedings were initiated against me. Aside from the actor James Gandolfini and a small handful of other close friends, Richard Fuisz was the only person willing to associate with me.
Dr. Fuisz threw his considerable influence behind the campaign to avert my deportation: He contacted top government officials, wrote numerous letters of support, and spent hours counseling me by phone and in private meetings. My business had taken a huge hit following the very public trial, which received considerable media attention in the United States (“German watchmaker breaches security at Pittsburgh Airport”) and in Germany. Yet between the two of them, Jim Gandolfini and Richard Fuisz ordered enough watches to keep my ailing company afloat. When I asked Dr. Fuisz how I could possibly return all the favors, my new friend just said “oh Michael, don’t worry about that now. One day, you might be in a position to help me, or maybe not. It’s not important, don’t worry about it.” While Dr. Fuisz was extremely laid back about a lot of things, years later I would learn about a number of completely different, highly fascinating facets of the kind physician’s life.
With his professional reputation on the verge of collapse, Anup Kaphle, the editor in chief of the Kathmandu Post, resolved to do what a journalist does best - he hastily wrote an article, in which he defended his newspaper’s reputation. To take such a measure became necessary following a sustained series of revelations of racketeering by the Kathmandu Post and its owner, Kailash Sirohiya. While no evidence exists that Anup Kaphle himself has asked for protection payments from victims of Sirohiya’s scam, an overwhelming amount of evidence exists showing that when he accepted the offer to become editor in chief of the Post, Anup Kaphle was well aware of his employer’s sordid reputation.
A senior government of Nepal official told me by telephone “we all know about the Kathmandu Post. They are mafia. But now we are seeing more and more journalists here acting the same way, because the Kathmandu Post showed them how to do it.” This official then agreed to repeat the statement to western journalists who have taken an interest in the corrupt methods of the Kathmandu Post and its parent company, Kantipur Media Group. The official laughed at the way Anup Kaphle chose to whitewash the Kathmandu Post’s criminal activities.
Titled The Kathmandu Post’s Next Chapter, the July 17th 2019 article details how the newspaper’s new editorial and ethical standards are designed to ensure that its readers will be presented the truth, irrespective of any outside influences. In Anup Kaphle words: we’ve attempted to reflect in our journalism our belief that our duty is to the truth, to the community and to our readers…we’re taking that commitment forward with a promise to our readers: at a time when trust in the news media continues to decline, at home and abroad, we will practice our journalism with dignity, with earnestness, and honesty.
In light of this very public commitment to mend the ways of the notoriously corrupt Kathmandu Post, a recent major omission by the newspaper is highly curious – especially so, because Anup Kaphle is very familiar with this particular topic, and because of the Post’s previous coverage of the matter: India’s 2015-16 economic blockade of Nepal.
In November 2015, Anup Kaphle was still working as a deputy editor of BuzzFeed News, when he co-authored a lengthy article detailing the brutal effects India’s blockade had on his native Nepal. Among other things, Anup Kaphle described how pharmacies and hospitals were running out of medical supplies. Anup Kaphle also addressed the covert nature of the blockade and drew some logical conclusions about the Indian cover-up.
In March 2004 I received a telephone call from Richard Fuisz. Expecting the usual banter about watches and topics, I was surprised to detect tenseness in my friend’s voice. “That fucking snitch, who the hell does she think she is,” Dr. Richard Fuisz yelled into the phone, "look her up. Google Susan Linauder. She’s all over CNN with this shit." Moments later, Dr. Fuisz forwarded me a link to a recent CNN story about Susan Lindauer, who had been arrested by the FBI for illegal spying activities on behalf of the Iraqi government. I couldn’t make sense of this at first, but then discovered that Lindauer asserted that Dr. Fuisz was her C.I.A. handler.
Surprised by this revelation, I began to wonder who my new friend really was – maybe they sent him to spy on me? I quietly wondered, reading the article. “My name is ruined. This is a fucking disaster. This lady is crazy,” Dr. Fuisz said, angrily. Until that telephone call, I was under the impression that Dr. Fuisz was simply a highly successful inventor with a predilection for mechanical watches. Faced with the revelation of his C.I.A. connection, I was slowly beginning to understand why Dr. Fuisz had talked to me about all manner of topics unrelated to watches.
During my time at Carnegie Mellon University, I had heard stories of the N.S.A. collecting all emails, messages and telephone calls in the United States and abroad. Nothing that gave me concern, but I assumed my calls were also tapped, especially after a number of royal family members from Middle Eastern countries began calling my company and later my personal cell phone. A Jordanian royal called with some regularity, and we often spoke for an hour or longer about watches and about Middle East politics. This was casual banter, but I nonetheless assumed that the calls were being monitored, due to the individual’s international prominence and his position in the Jordanian royal family. Dr Fuisz, I suddenly realized, had for many years been the C.I.A.’s man in Damascus. So the idea of him being sent to snoop me out seemed somewhat plausible.
Then it hit me! Maybe Richard tried to see if I might become an asset, the rascal, I thought as Dr. Fuisz continued with his monologue about Susan Lindauer. I didn’t dare ask any questions about the true nature of our interactions. Instead, I tried to wrap my mind around the results delivered by a preliminary Google search of “richard fuisz”. Maybe he thought if he helps to keep me in the U.S. I owe him or the C.I.A. a few favors.
Over the course of the next year, most of our interactions revolved around the latest developments in the Lindauer case. Richard Fuisz emailed links to new stories and his personal interpretation. As it turned out, the kind physician was involved in a large number of major scandals, including the Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, the attacks on September 11th, 2001, and the case of Elizabeth Holmes and her blood testing company, Theranos. “You’re really like Forest Gump,” I told Richard over dinner at Boa Steakhouse in Beverly Hills, “your stories are unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. There you are, directly connected in all of these major cases. It’s amazing! We should make a movie about your life. Nobody would believe it, but it would be a great movie.”
In an effort to make Richard’s story public, I enlisted my dear friend Josh Dean to write a biography on the outed C.I.A. operative. Josh flew to Los Angeles, met Richard for dinner, and called me later that evening. “There’s no way I can write a book about him, he won’t go on the record about any of the stuff he’s done, I can’t just write a book based on some crazy woman’s allegations. Get him to open up to me and then maybe it’ll work, but right now there’s no chance,” Josh said, matter-of-factly. Jim Gandolfini agreed with Josh’ assessment. “You need to get this man to reveal his dark side to you, the C.I.A. doesn’t hire choir boys. Then you have a movie. Otherwise, it’s just not interesting to watch,” Jim said. For years I tried to pry Richard’s ironclad secrets open, but the only response I received was some variation of “that’s not something I can talk about.” Richard’s youngest son, Justin, was a little more forthcoming about his father's activities. “My dad’s the real deal. One time, I was sitting in his car while he’s pumping gas and the car phone rings. I pick up and on the other end of the line is Muammar Gaddafi asking for my dad,” Justin said. Richard denied this call ever happened, just like he denied everything else.
Instead of regaling me with stories of his many exploits, Richard took delight in schooling me in some of the tactics used by him during his active years. Most of this stuff was over my head, but Richard pressed on, undaunted by my incapacity to master the subject matter. For example, he explained to me on four separate occasions the significance of being taken at gunpoint into a bar in Syria where he met a Syrian intelligence official. Behind the official, in a distant corner of the bar, was a cage with a green parrot. Years later, Richard said, someone approached him in a café in Paris and asked him if he was, indeed, Richard Fuisz. When Richard answered in the affirmative, the stranger sat down opposite him and asked if he remembers the red parrot in this bar in Damascus. “The parrot isn’t red, it’s green!” Richard protested.
“What does that mean,” I asked, confused. “Oh Michael, you’re so fucking dumb, why did I ever think you could be useful one day,” Richard said, shaking his head. “The parrot,” Richard said loudly, a shock of impatience piercing through his otherwise calm demeanor, “the parrot wasn’t red, it was green. By getting me to confirm what color the fucking parrot was, the guy could establish my identity.” Still confused, I said “he could have just googled you!” Richard looked at me for a moment, then looked into the distance behind me and slowly breathed in. Then he looked at me again and quietly said “my God, where did they find you, how did you end up at Carnegie Mellon. I thought that’s a place that only accepts smart people. This is all in the 80s and 90s, Google didn’t exist yet for another twenty years!”
Over the course of several years, I was able to catch up enough to Richard in order to comprehend a number of topics that previously had not made sense to me. “One day, you might have to do something else besides watches, and this stuff will help you. At least they won’t think right away that you’re really as naïve as you really are. Jesus,” Richard said, smiling. I could tell that Richard had a strong desire to impart his lessons on me, but I always felt inadequate. Still, Richard's biting sarcasm was highly entertaining. Even better, Richard was always ready to extoll his advice on any issues I brought to his attention, and he volunteered to help on countless projects and initiatives.