Last week’s Le Journal Hebdomadaire featured a cover story about the brief but very tangled chapter of Scientology in the history of Morocco and, appropriately enough, Tangier. No doubt the magazine was motivated by The Ubiquitous One, his naive fiancee, and their newborn daughter named for a shiny little carriage with a fringe on top. After last year’s kookery cementing the fringe status of Scientology, Tom has worked hard this year to rehabilitate its global image. But here’s another kooky story.
It begins in 1968 when L. Ron Hubbard, rejected and under investigation within most territorial boundaries, took to the high seas and launched the "Sea Org" flotilla with 400 followers from the Greek island of Corfu. Because Commodore Hubbard favored a naval uniform that resembled too closely that of the military junta ruling Greece at the time, he was banned from Greek ports.
The flotilla roamed around the Mediterranean for a while, eventually coming to spend most of its time wandering up and down Morocco's Atlantic coast, from Tangier to Agadir.
In June 1971, when the flotilla was docked in Safi, a young American woman on board committed suicide. At the urging of her father, the US diplomatic corps in Morocco investigated and issued threats, but they were stonewalled by Hubbard and local municipal officials, who appeared to be protecting him and who had the young woman's body quickly buried in Safi.
The seeds of Scientology's quick rise and devastating fall in Morocco were sown the following month, when an attempt was made on the life of the Moroccan king at a wedding party in Skhirat. Hubbard claimed that his great invention, the "E-meter," could discern the internal mental attributes of people. This made it very enticing to Moroccan authorities seeking to determine the extent of the conspiracy against the king.
Now, before you begin to judge, remember that at present, millions of ill-informed bureaucrats (like lawyers, police officers, and businesspeople) continue to rely on the "polygraph," a very similar device whose ability to detect lies has been disproved numerous times. But sheriffs and CEOs alike still swear by its voodoo.
Hubbard got close to General Oufkir, the king's right-hand man charged with investigating the coup plot, identifying conspirators, and establishing the loyalty of each member of the armed forces. As Hubbard began supplying E-meters to the Moroccan secret service to aid in accomplishing this task, Scientology set up shop at their "land base": the Operation and Transport Corporation, Ltd., which occupied an office building on the road to the Tangier airport.
The demise of Scientology Morocco came the following year, in August 1972, when a second major attempt was made on the life of the king. As the king was flying back from Europe, two Moroccan F-15 fighter jets opened fire on his plane. The king famously instructed his pilot to radio the fighter pilots and tell them that the king was dead and that the plane should be allowed to land so they could all celebrate. The fighter pilots were deceived. Once the king was safe on the ground a massive reprisal was launched. When General Oufkir was found guilty of leading the attempted coup, he and his followers were ruthlessly hunted down, along with their family members, friends, and acquaintances.
Hubbard and his followers were given 12 hours to get themselves and all they could carry onto the ferry to Lisbon. According to sources, up to 13 Tanjawis associated with the Scientologists might have been tortured and killed in the aftermath. All that remained of the Tangier "land base" was a pile of burned documents and some used furniture.
The story ends by proposing a final conspiracy. It appears that President Nixon and FBI strongman J. Edgar Hoover had been using Scientologists and the E-meter to ferret out Commies. The CIA had planted moles among the Scientologists in Morocco, and it's even rumored that the CIA was secretly backing Oufkir: in the days before the last coup attempt, he traveled back to his hometown of Tetouan and also passed through neighboring Tangier to meet with the Scientologists there.
Why would the US try to depose one of its most solid allies in the Arab world? According to some, President Ford was referring to the Oufkir affair when, in 1975, he confided to New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger that the CIA had recently done some unthinkable things, even the "attempted assassination of allies who had become burdensome."