The Conover Cover

False books used to conceal a spy camera

False books used to conceal a spy camera

Conover-Mast Publications was a New York book publisher incorporated with offices in Chicago and grew to include locations in other major cities internationally. Burdette Pond Mast Sr. and Harvey Conover Sr. were formerly magazine sales representatives who founded Conover-Mast Publications, Inc. during nineteen twenty-eight. Their first publication was Mill and Factory magazine and by nineteen forty-eight, Mast Sr. became Conover-Mast's Chairman of the Board. His son Burdette Mast Jr. joined the company in nineteen forty-eight and became a vice-president in nineteen fifty-six after working as the publisher of the "Construction Equipment" periodical.i ii Mast Jr. would eventually become the President of Conover-Mast subsequent to the death of both corporate founders.

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Harvey Conover the other cofounder of Conover-Mast was likewise a former business magazine salesperson, and he met Burdette P. Mast in the nineteen twenties. For years, Mast and Conover worked together on two magazines until they subsequently founded their publishing corporation. Conover and Mast had each grown rich and influential as the company expanded during the passing years. This income was from the creation, publishing, and distribution of periodicals and books such as the "Plant Purchasing Directory. Industries Buying Guide" 

Yet in nineteen fifty-seven, the publisher faced a lawsuit filed by the Domestic Engineering Company for copyright infringement. Domestic Engineering alleged after it created an industrial magazine in nineteen thirty-seven and Conover-Mast had created a nineteen fifty-three periodical that nearly copied their longstanding work. Additionally, Domestic Engineering accused Conover-Mast of reusing copyrighted material for promotions that Domestic Engineering had prior created. The defendant responded claiming that Domestic Engineering had used one of its articles and that their allegations of unfair competition were unfounded.iii This legal filing is one among the lawsuits Conover-Mast subsequently would face and survive. 

Harvey Conover enjoyed his success and friends noted his love of sailing; he purchased a new forty-eight foot yacht named the Revonoc and set sail with his family during nineteen fifty-eight. Conover, his wife, their son Larry, his wife, and their executive friend William Flugelman boarded the Revonoc at Key West the morning of New Year's Day nineteen fifty-eight. Miami was reportedly the final destination of Harry Conover where he scheduled an appointment for the morning of January fourth. Others support that he might have planned to sail to Nassau and then head for Miami but various members of the public have debated his intentions and the weather reports that morning did not speak of the eventual stormy seas. 

Harvey Conover and Richard Nixon at a public ceremony

Harvey Conover and Richard Nixon at a public ceremony

Unfortunately, Conover while possessing a radio receiver for weather broadcasts did not possess a radio transmitter to request aid. By 4pm, the weather reports had changed but the Conover family was already three hours into their ocean journey. In the early morning of January second, strong weather services predicted 40 mph winds and squalls; these became gale force winds capable of reaching over 50 mph by the early the next morning. A northeaster with nearly Hurricane force winds reaching 70 mph likely battered the Revonoc and portions of the Caribbean. These winds later slammed into Miami rending storefronts, disturbing shipping lanes, and damaging homes. Authorities scrambled to answer a mass of calls for aid that smaller craft were sending in the affected region, but the Revonoc had no means to call. The Coast Guard deployed a number of search groups as January 4, 1958 passed.  At the height of these activities, officials dispatched over twenty airplanes in the following days to locate the missing captain and passengers of the Revonoc. Pieces of the yacht were later located strewn in multiple locations with no sign of survivors.iv    

Now with a single founder at the helm Conover-Mast expanded its publications to include many various new business and industrial themed offerings during the early nineteen sixties. However the corporation had already proved of value to the Central Intelligence Agency. Among the benefits of using such a business as cover for Agency personnel was its wide access to rival companies, business groups, and expanding intelligence opportunities.v Such access would also provide the chance to learn information about businesses held in enemy nations, corporate targets of interest, and even targets for defection or agent infiltration possibilities for industrial espionage. 

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One related document reveals Agency officials working on the distribution of publicity to support CIA Project CHALICE that collaborated with leaders of the US military to undertake joint operations for photographic intelligence gathering using troop, marine, and aerial vii viii ix x xi xii xiii Among the related undertakings was Project CHALICE-V that launched operations from JMWAVE the CIA's domestic base in Miami and included but was not limited to paramilitary infiltration of Cuba, setting up weapons caches, and the maritime gathering of photographic and observational intelligence. Additionally, later Watergate burglar James McCord was among the Security Staff for Project CHALICE-V. In one related document, the commenting official discussed their communications with various magazines that would feature information provided by the Agency with noted corrections. Among the businesses related to aiding in the dissemination of desired information was Business Commercial Aviation Magazine "...a section of Aviation Age...It is published by Conover-Mast Publications, Inc."xiv  

During two thousand-twelve Professor Joan Mellen referred to documents she reviewed stating that Conover Mast-Publications was the identity of the CIA cryptonym LPOVER. Subsequently researcher William Kelly reviewed and supported her book's contentions regarding the LPOVER designation. Similarly, Mellen in a prior book also revealed the Casasin Memo a document that supports Lee Harvey Oswald was indeed at least considered for use by a then unidentified CIA officer using the pseudonym Thomas B. Casasin. 

Following the prior documents and one document from the last JFK Records Act release eventually led me to the identity of this formerly hidden officer as Jacques Richardson. In the Casasin memo following his consideration of Oswald for use as a source of intelligence information, Richardson states he was shifting into his "LPOVER cover assignment".xv Since Richardson was a Non Official Cover (NOC) agent and not protected by the Geneva Convention he required a plausible cover for his Agency undertakings abroad. 

The nineteen sixty-two University of Michigan Alumnus publication offered announcements and biographic material on notable former students. Among those students in the class of nineteen forty-seven graduates was Jacques Richardson. The Alumnus guide states he had "...been appointed to the recently created position of European editorial representative for Conover-Mast Publications, Inc., New York. He has established offices in Paris and is responsible for editorial contact throughout the European area. Mrs. Richardson and their two daughters accompanied him to Europe."xvi This would verify Conover Mast provided intelligence cover and supports the prior identifications of LPOVER being the now defunct publisher. The announcement further reinforces additional verified documents that place Richardson and his family in Paris, where he later retired. 

Jacques Richardson was in control of this new position at Conover-Mast with access to stores of information acquired internationally by its own sources and staff. Not only could someone access all the business contacts of Conover Mast and exploit them for intelligence but also they could wield editorial controls and kill or promote literature to support their operational goals. Richardson served the interests of the Central Intelligence Agency by infiltrating a media corporation and this would not be the last Agency operation using a corporate mask. With all the possibilities for intelligence gathering, there is no reason these methods do not still endure today.  
C.A.A. Savastano
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i. Burdette P. Mast Sr. 72, Dies, (April 25, 1964), New York Times,
ii. Vice Presidents for Conover-Mast, (April 7, 1956), New York Times,
iii. Domestic Engineering Company v Conover Mast Publications, United States District Court N.D. Illinois, E.D., June 7, 1957
iv. Nature Keeps A Grim Date At Sea, (January 20, 1958), Sports Illustrated,
v. Report of Contact with a representative of a public information medium: John J. Ford, CBSB/LSD/SI and Michael F. Wolff, Senior Editor Innovation, CIA Library Reading Room, March 4, 1969,, Central Intelligence Agency Identifier: CIA-RDP90-00845R000100420006-5  
vi. Central Intelligence Agency, Library Reading Room, Procedures for the handling of CHALICE material, May 13, 1958,, CIA ID: CIA-RDP62B-00844R000200090103-0
vii. CIA, Library Reading Room, Subject: CHALICE Security System, September 18, 1958,, CIA ID: CIA-RDP61S-00750A000200120073-5
viii. CIA, LRR, Preparations for the briefing at Honolulu, September 11, 1958,, CIA ID: CIA-RDP61S-00750A000200120090-6
ix. CIA, LRR, Subject: Concurrence in Amendment No. 2 Contract No. SP-1919 with Lockheed
Aircraft Corporation Burbank, California Oarfish 5, Project AIR Force (CHALICE), June 18, 1959,, CIA ID: CIA-RDP89B-00487R000300620012-2
x. CIA, LRR, Subject: CHALICE (redacted) Operations Plan, October 23, 1958,, CIA ID: CIA-RDP33-02415A000300090124-1
xi. CIA, LRR, Memo for Mr. Bissell, Subject: Concept of Operations, May 9, 1958,, CIA ID: CIA-RDP33-02415A000400380179-8
xii. CIA, LRR, Subject: Use of CHALICE Photography for Geodetic Control Purposes, February 5, 1959,, CIA ID: CIA-RDP33-02415A000100100022-4
xiii. CIA, LRR, Memo from Mr. Bissell, Subject: Aerial Survey of Yemen, July 15, 1958,, CIA ID: CIA-RDP62B-00844R000200100062-4
xiv. Typhoon Kit publicity for Project CHALICE, CIA Library Reading Room, June 4, 1958,, CIA ID: CIA-RDP62B-00844R000200250001-5
xv. CIA file, Russ Holmes Work File, Dispatch: Lee Harvey Oswald/Forwarded memo by Thomas B. Casasin, November 25, 1963, National Archives and Records Adminstration Identification Number: 104-10429-10239
xvi. The Michigan Alumnus Volume LXIX, Number 2, The Alumni Family, Class of 1947, UM Libraries, November, 1962

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