Maybe intelligence operatives wear tuxedos, drive Aston Martins, drink martinis, and say their names in reverse order, and maybe there’s no need to wonder about anyone who doesn’t fit that bill. On the other hand, if (just say) an intelligence operative might be good at covering his tracks and assuming the appearance of being something other than an intelligence operative (like a poet-novelist turned folk singer turned pop star, say), then maybe tracking his activities, seeing which people he associates with, where his money comes from, which groups are backing him, where he travels to and when, what sort of things happen around him or what kind of coded messages he leaves behind ~ crazy stuff like that ~ would be the logical way to proceed?
Please note, this post is not meant to assert that Leonard is now or ever has been an intelligence operative. Only he and his handlers would know that for sure, and only then if the answer were yes (which it may not be). This post merely presents a series of facts from the first forty years of Cohen’s life and lets them speak for themselves. With occasional testimony from Cohen’s ex-girlfriend, Ann Diamond, clearly indicated in italics.
Fact: Leonard Cohen born 1934 of predominant Jewish lineage. Officially “middle class” but his mother was the daughter of a Talmudic writer, Rabbi Solomon Klonitsky-Kline, of Lithuanian Jewish ancestry and his paternal grandfather was Lyon Cohen, founding president of the Canadian Jewish Congress. Cohen: “I had a very Messianic childhood. . . I was told I was a descendant of Aaron, the high priest.”
Fact: Cohen’s father, a clothing manufacturer, died when Cohen was nine.
Fact: In 1944, Cohen started attending summer camp as a 10-year-old at Camp Hiawatha in the Laurentians region north of Montreal.
Fact: Excelled at school and college, student council member.
Fact: As a teenager Cohen started a band called Buckskin Boys. Hung out on St. Laurent Boulevard to watch “gangster, pimps, and wrestlers.”
Ann Diamond Testimony (ADT): St. Laurent Boulevard was a largely Jewish-run crime district; Cohen may have had family who were involved in local business.
Fact: In 1950, Cohen became a counselor at Camp Sunshine, a Jewish community camp.
Fact: In 1951 (at 17) Cohen enrolled at McGill University, became president of the McGill Debating Union, and won the Chester MacNaghten Literary Competition for his poetry.
ADT: In 1951, Cohen took part in Dr. Donald Hebb’s notorious sensory isolation experiments, for which student volunteers were paid $20 a day.
Fact: Hebb was involved with CIA-backed mind control experiments at McGill Uni during this time. He did use student volunteers, and paid them $20 a day.) The notorious picture that’s been discussed at this thread is of one of them, or at least, it precisely matches the conditions they were subjected to. And yes, it’s perhaps not an entirely subjective statement to say that he does resemble Leonard Cohen.
Fact: Cohen published his first poems in March 1954 in the magazine CIV/n, and the issue also included poetry by Cohen’s poet-professor (who was on the editorial board), Irving Layton. Cohen graduated from McGill the following year with a B.A. degree.
Fact: In 1956 Cohen’s poetry Let Us Compare Mythologies was published as the first book in the McGill Poetry Series, the year after Cohen’s graduation (poems written largely when Cohen was between the ages of 15 and 20). Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye praised the book, and continued to endorse Cohen’s work thereafter. Frye is considered one of the most influential critics of the 20th century.
Fact: Cohen supported himself during this period and into his twenties without having regular work, supposedly thanks to “a modest trust income” from his father’s will.
Fact: In 1958, Cohen participated in counseling children at a McGill-affiliated camp. His main interest appears to have been sex, however.
Fact: in April 1959, both Cohen and his mentor Irving Layton received Canadian Council grants. Cohen’s “proposed project was to write a novel drawn from visits to the ancient capitals of Rome, Athens, and Jerusalem,” which the CC agreed to fund. With $2000 in his pocket, Cohen left Canada.
Fact: in late 1959 to early 1960 (apparently on his way to Jerusalem), Cohen sojourned in Hampstead, London, along with several friends from Montreal such as Nancy Bacal. (Bacal went on to be one of the first people to interview Pink Floyd, and became a teacher at Esalen. More on her in a minute.)
Fact: In London, Cohen met Jacob Rothschild, who suggested Cohen go to Hydra, with specific mention of Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas’s mansion. Ghikas had just married Barbara Hutchinson, Jacob’s mother, after she divorced Victor Rothschild, Jacob’s father.
Fact: Cohen arrived in Hydra in 1960, after his visit to Jerusalem, and allegedly took to it at first sight.
ADT: Cohen tried to visit the Ghikas mansion but was refused entry (presumably by a servant); he cursed the house and the next day it burned down. This may be true, but if so it did not happen until 1965. Ghikas was in London at the time and blamed his servant. He never returned to Hydra again. (link)
Fact: In 1960, at most mere months after arriving there, Henry Luce’s Life magazine (which was a major asset in the CIA’s Operation Mockingbird) published a photospread of Bohemian life on Hydra, in which Cohen was predominantly placed with his guitar.
Fact: In 1961 (still working on his CC-funded novel?), Cohen visited Cuba, after the revolution and right before the Bay of Pigs US invasion occurred. He was arrested as a spy on the beach, but eventually released. The invasion began and he was again arrested at the airport while trying to leave, supposedly having been mistaken for a Cuban solider trying to escape. He was miraculously able to escape.
(In passing, the short article about this which I linked to a couple of months ago, both at my blog at and at Disinfo.com, is now offline. Considering that Cohen’s PR people and lawyers appear to be busy monitoring this discussion and my own blog, this may not be coincidental.)
Fact: in 1962, Cohen returned to London and hung out with Bacal and her boyfriend, the gangster-turned-black activist Michael X. X and Bacal formed the London Black Power Movement. Cohen later joked/boasted about his friendship with Michael X on Canadian TV, how X had promised him a country. For followers of the Occult Yorkshire/Crucial Fictions investigation, another of Cohen’s Montreal pals in London during this period was Robert Hershorn, seen here with Roman Polanski)
Fact: Having had his poetry picked up by the leading Canadian publisher McClelland and Stewart in 1961, his novels The Favorite Game andBeautiful Losers were published in 1963 and 1966. None of these sold especially well, and by 1965, by all rights, notwithstanding the strangeLife magazine photo-shoot and an unusual degree of prizes and government funding, Cohen ought still to have been a fairly little-known poet. Despite which:
Fact: In 1964-5, National Film Board of Canada (NFBC) (founded to create propaganda during the Second World War) produced an hour-long documentary about Cohen called Ladies & Gentlemen, Mr. Leonard Cohen. The documentary begins with a humorous anecdote about Cohen’s visit to an unnamed mental institution. Later on, Cohen talks about why he went to Cuba, his “deep interest in violence,” and how he “wanted to kill or be killed.” He also refers to his friendship with Michael X (without naming him). Towards the end, the documentary shows Cohen mingling with a young Bohemian crowd, with a voice-over about how Cohen is especially “interested in young people.” He is also seen playing guitar and singing at a party.
Fact: Soon after this film is released, Cohen professes to be disillusioned by his lack of success as a poet and novelist, and opts to change horses mid-stream and become a folk singer. In 1967, he moves to New York and joins Andy Warhol’s Factory crowd, hanging out with Lou Reed and Niko (and Bob Dylan). In no time at all (after playing a few folk festivals), he signs a contract with John Hammond, Jr., one of the most famous talent scouts in music history, as well as a Vanderbilt.
Fact: Cohen’s song “Suzanne” became a hit for Judy Collins before Cohen had even recorded a single song.
Fact: In 1967, Cohen appears (as “Singer”) in The Ernie Game, directed by Ladies & Gentlemen co-director Don Owen for the NFBC. The film is about a man released from an asylum, struggling to survive in society.
Fact: Also in 1967 (before his first album was even released, in December of that year), Cohen returned to London where he played live on the BBC’s Julie Felix program. Julie Felix belonged to a countercultural circle along with Michael Hollingshead, purportedly a major player in the (MKULTRA-linked) CIA-LSD operation of the period, who supplied LSD to the likes of Roman Polanski, Cohen’s buddy Alex Trocchi, William Burroughs, Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Donovan, and the Rolling Stones (link).
Fact: Also during this period, (according to Acid Dreams), Cohen was said to have visited the LSD guru John Starr Cooke, in Mexico (along with Andrija Puharich).
Crucial Fictions readers familiar with the London ‘68 nexus may be interested to know Cohen was in London in 1968 also, and recorded songs for (alleged pedophile) John Peel.
Fact: After releasing two more albums, Cohen began touring for the first time in 1970. He named his band The Army, and ended his concerts with a military salute.
ADT: When Ann Diamond first saw Cohen, she and her friends experienced themselves entering into a trance state while listening to him. Cohen’s hypnotic stage talents were able to calm down an unruly crowd at the Isle of Wight festival in 1970, after which Kris Kristofferson allegedly said, “Leonard’s our boy.” KK’s father was a U.S. Air Force Major General and there are lots of unsubstantiated claims (including by David Icke, one of the first people to finger Jimmy Savile) about his being an operative or worse. None of these claims are as yet within the realm of documented historical fact, however.
Fact: By Cohen’s own account, when Cohen first met Janis Joplin at the Chelsea Hotel (widely rumored to have been an operations hub for the CIA), he introduced himself as Kris Kristofferson, whom Joplin was looking for.
Fact: In 1973, a few days before the Yom Kippur war began, Cohen travelled to Israel. He joined the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) but did not fight, being considered more useful as a singer to boost soldier morale.
Fact: Immediately after his stint in the IDF, Cohen flew from Israel to Asmara, Ethiopia, where he supposedly wrote “Chelsea Hotel” (about Janis Joplin). The Ethiopian revolution/civil war began soon after his visit, in early 1974. In Cohen bios, AFAIK and based on a Google Books search, the only mention of Asmara refers to his writing a song there. Whatever his reasons for being there, they appear to have been lost to history (deemed immaterial).
Fact, in “Field Commander Cohen” released in 1974, Cohen refers to himself as “our most important spy.” But that’s OK, he’s just being ironic: