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Steven Seagal Gets a Shot at Stardom

February 14, 1988|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

Maybe so. But don't tell that to Gary Goldman, a close friend who offers substantiation for Seagal's claims. The 46-year-old Army veteran is perhaps best known as one of the key participants in an unsuccessful 1982 Laotian POW rescue mission led by retired Green Beret Lt. Col. James G. (Bo) Gritz.

Goldman has been described in newspaper accounts as a soldier of fortune trained in anti-terrorist techniques. However, he prefers to dub himself an "unconventional warfare and intelligence specialist."

A short man with a mustache and a muscular build who is an avid marathoner, Goldman keeps a low profile. When Seagal first gave the reporter Goldman's phone number, he referred to Goldman by the code name of "Carol." After speaking with the reporter several times over the phone, Goldman provided his real name--and agreed to meet for an interview at a breakfast spot in Brentwood.

"When something is going on in the world that Uncle Sam would like to influence, but doesn't want to get directly involved in, the problem gets handled in a covert fashion," said Goldman, who drives an ivory Alfa-Romeo and said he served several tours of duty in Vietnam from 1965-69. "An agency's case officer will find someone who's not officially involved with an agency--which is euphemistically known as a contract agent--who can perform that job.

"I think it would be fair to say that at some point in time, Uncle Sam recruited Steven because they thought he had particular talents that would prove useful on certain assignments."

And this shadowy Uncle Sam figure--is he the CIA? "It could be the CIA or several other intelligence organizations that might be conducting clandestine operations. That could be the ONI (Office of Naval Intelligence) or the ISA (Intelligence Support Activity), which is a unit of Army intelligence."

Goldman tapped his hand on a coffee cup. "I know this much--I've been out with Steven on several missions, and he knows how to get things done. He has a certain high level of skill that you don't just pick up reading fantasy magazines. I don't think anyone would question his capabilities."

Goldman said he and Seagal first bumped into each other in Asia, then later home in the States, where they--as he put it--"had reason to share information" and worked on several jobs together. What kind of jobs? Again Goldman was extremely circumspect.

"One involved the recovery of some items that were some place they shouldn't have been," he said. "Another time we were hired to do a quiet investigation which could confirm the location of someone who was, well, an unpleasant sort of person who our employers wanted to locate because he had caused problems for people."

What did they want to do after they located him?

"Who knows?" Goldman said with a shrug. "Maybe just wanted to talk to him. Maybe take him to Jesus. Whatever."

The Message

The average moviegoer may see "Above the Law" as just more Hollywood action, with duplicitous secret agents, sleazoid drug dealers and an avenging hero.

As director Andy Davis put it on the film set one afternoon: "What we're really doing here with Steven is making a documentary."

Seagal's character--a former CIA operations officer in Vietnam--discovers that the agency is linked to domestic political corruption, a Central American drug connection, even an possible assassination attempt of a prominent U.S. politician.

But Seagal insists that the fiction is only a slight exaggeration of the truth. Some of his charges, particularly those about CIA-inspired disinformation and attempted coups, are no more grandiose than the admissions that the late CIA Director William Casey made in "Veil," Bob Woodward's controversial tale of CIA chicanery.

And much of the film's story line could easily be adapted from this week's headlines about Panamanian strongman Gen. Manuel Noriega's alleged ties with U.S.-backed Contra rebels and international drug runners.

However, you need more of a conspiratorial mind-set to buy some of Seagal's other beliefs.

He suspects that AIDS "may have originated" with a botched CIA chemical warfare experiment, a charge that the U.S. government has claimed surfaced through a Soviet disinformation campaign.

And yes--he's also a conspiracy theorist when it comes to John F. Kennedy's assassination. When a visitor seemed skeptical, Seagal snapped: "If you can't figure out what went on behind the Kennedy assassination, then you're not only not a rocket scientist, but you must have an IQ of about 16."

Seagal often sounds like a zealot eager to exorcise the evil heathens--the heathens in this instance being his former comrades in skulduggery.

"The whole motivation behind me doing this film was my trying to make up for all the things I've seen--and done," he said. "I'm tired of seeing us try to destabilize governments, prop up dictators and get involved with drug smugglers and crooks.

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