A Wall Street friend just out of jail told him that prisons were filled with aspiring traders and about a system perfected there that yielded 100 percent annual returns; Bayou invested $5 million, losing most of it in a couple of weeks. Desperate, Israel turned to a father at his son’s private school, a cousin and friend to George W. Bush, for an investment pick—and not just any pick. “If you’re going to bring me a company,” he said, “make sure it’s going to go up tenfold, not just a few points.” At an investors’ meeting on the Isle of Man for the start-up the father had suggested, Israel’s CFO got wind of another company, Debit Direct, whose preposterous plan to compete with Western Union and MoneyGram wasn’t entirely clear, but whose pitchman, a six-foot-six venture capitalist named Jack O’Halloran, hugely impressed Israel—telling him he had acted in Superman, Dragnet, and King Kong, slept with Hollywood starlets, and fought George Foreman at Madison Square Garden. All of this was, improbably, true. O’Halloran also told Israel that he was the secret love child of a Gambino-family crime boss and that he was writing a firsthand account revealing the truth about the Kennedy assassination—that the president had been shot by his driver and the footage edited out of the Zapruder film by the CIA. Israel invested $2 million in Debit Direct, followed by $500,000 in O’Halloran’s book.
Worried about Israel’s emotional well-being, his new interior-decorator girlfriend suggested he talk to her psychic, who communicated with a Native American spirit named Silver Cloud. “Good things will happen in the next month or two,” the psychic told Israel. “A financial opportunity will present itself that could make a big change for you.” The psychic said that a man named Robert was going to enter Israel’s life and have a big impact. He couldn’t quite hear all that Silver Cloud was saying about Robert—the spirit’s voice was too faint. But Israel should be prepared.
Afterward, his girlfriend eagerly asked how the session had gone.
“It was a bunch of bullshit,” Israel said, rolling his eyes.
Days later, a man named Robert did enter Israel’s life. He was introduced by Jack O’Halloran, who was having Chinese food in the chapel when Israel began complaining that the hedge-fund business had gotten tedious.
“There are paradigm shifts on Wall Street every ten years,” Israel told O’Halloran. “When I started, it was insider trading and soft-dollar scams. Then it became IPOs and the dot-com bubble. Now it is high-frequency trading. The banks are front-running the market like crazy. I’m trying to figure out what’s coming next.”
“There’s a technology I’ve heard about that might be good for your trading system,” O’Halloran said. “But the guy who knows about it is really secretive. I shouldn’t even be talking about him. He’s very deep into CIA black ops.”
O’Halloran said the man’s name was Robert Booth Nichols—a national-security asset whom O’Halloran called a real-life Jason Bourne. “Bob is a keeper of the secrets of the world,” O’Halloran said. “That’s the only reason he is still alive.”
Later that night, Israel turned on his computer and typed the name “Robert Booth Nichols.” Hundreds of links appeared—Nichols seemed to be a kind of conspiracy-theory superstar. According to one manuscript Israel downloaded, Nichols was a CIA assassin, illegal-arms dealer, mob associate, and con man. He had been involved in virtually every nefarious covert plot carried out by the U.S. government for the past three decades, the book said: Iran-contra, the October “surprise,” MK Ultra. When the CIA dealt heroin to fund a war against Hezbollah, Nichols was supposedly there, and when three people were murdered on the Cabazon Indian Reservation, Nichols was there, too, developing biological weapons, a laser gun, and machine guns to arm Nicaraguan rebels.
But it was another story involving Nichols that captured Israel’s imagination. The manuscript described how, through front companies in the eighties, the CIA had covertly sold a computer program named PROMIS to banks and financial institutions like the Federal Reserve, then used a trapdoor in the program to secretly monitor financial transactions digitally. (Pieces of this story had been reported elsewhere, particularly after Inslaw, the company that had originally developed the program for use in the court system, sued the Department of Justice.)
“A lightbulb went off in my head,” Israel recalls. “If I had PROMIS, I could track the movement of money. I could see how the Fed operated. If money was going into semiconductors, then I could get there ahead of the market. The same for consumer goods or oil and gas. I would be at the ﬂux point. I would slay the market. I was going to make so much money it wouldn’t even be fun. It would be the ultimate inside trade.”