SocraticGadfly: Me, Poppy Bush, the Gulf War, a conspiracy theory and a vacation trip to Tsarskoe Selo

December 02, 2018

Me, Poppy Bush, the Gulf War, a conspiracy theory
and a vacation trip to Tsarskoe Selo

Betcha didn't know I visited the Romanov summer palace, did you?

Well, per Paul Harvey, with the death of George H.W. Bush, here's the rest of the story.


It was the late summer of 1998. I was the editor of my first own weekly newspaper. (Not in that I owned it, but I was the managing editor of a paper for my first time.)

I was living in southeastern New Mexico at the time. I got a bit of time off around Labor Day, including the holiday itself, and took a vacation.

No, not to St. Petersburg, Russia, sadly. But, I did visit Tsarskoe Selo. While there, I heard some very interesting claims about the Gulf War. Let this column I wrote after my return tell the details.

The old mining community of Mogollon, practically a ghost town, may seem innocent enough to the average hiker or other tourist.

Like many abandoned mining towns, some of its buildings have been reclaimed in recent years, mainly by people who are considered to be, or consider themselves to be, outside the normal bounds of society. In short, you may see men and women who appear to be hippies, or the children of hippies, living in old houses, general stores, and so forth, not only in Mogollon, but in Jerome, Arizona (another place I visited during a short Labor Day vacation) and elsewhere across the west.

But there is one difference in Mogollon, an old mining town about 70 miles northwest of Silver City, located in some of the most rugged country in our state.

It begins with the first, and only, business in the dozen or so buildings in Mogollon.
This business, located in one of the first buildings on your right as you enter Mogollon, immediately stands out due to its name: “The Tsarskoe Selo.”

To those unfamiliar with history, this was the name of a summer palace of the Russian Tsars (hence the name), just outside St. Petersburg, Russia.

Inside is a store selling collectibles one would never expect to see in the middle of nowhere, and possibly not even in a city as big as Albuquerque.

Owner Dan Ostler specializes is selling Faberge products. By this, I don’t mean cosmetics such as Brut cologne.

Ostler sells the high-dollar ceramic eggs, porcelains, and other collectibles made in Tsarist Russia by the French-founded company of Faberge. These are the fine items that you hear announcements about their traveling display in museums in Dallas, Phoenix, or Los Angeles, and nowhere lower on the American cities’ status pole.

Right there, as Ostler showed me some of the sample eggs he had (starting at $70 a pop, and rapidly moving upward). I realized that I was in a world just a little bit different than what I had expected when I opened the door to his shop asking directions to the famous Catwalk (at Glenwood, just south).

The next thing that caught my eye was one of several business cards of his that he had on his counter. The only readable things on the card were his name, in Roman letters, and a telephone number, in our normal Arabic numerals. The rest of the card, though, was also Middle Eastern, written in the Arabic language.

As I was interested enough to want to talk, and he seemed to welcome a little conversation, I stayed around beyond asking directions, and heard more than I was prepared for.

I first learned the “why” behind the Arabic business card. Dan Ostler said he is a former CIA agent with more than a decade of time spent in the Middle East. He then showed me some of the other business cards he had, noting that with connections such as this, he could run a high-dollar business such as his from his small shop and his modemed computer in the backwoods of western New Mexico.

As he showed me some of the cards he had been given by friends, perhaps ex-CIA contacts in some cases, I realized that he truly was a connected person.

The business cards included one from an Army Lt. Col. who is also a United Nations weapons inspector, and a reported “Friend of Bill” from Mt. Ida, Arkansas.

Ostler asked if I knew where Mt. Ida was, and I said, “I believe that’s near Mena,” which earned my first kudos from him.

Mena, if you did not read or hear about the exposé series last year by the San Jose Mercury News, is where the CIA has, for over a decade, reportedly flown in on its own airline, Air America, or at least turned a blind eye to CIA-connected smugglers such as Nicaraguan contras flying in, massive amounts of cocaine stemming from Columbia. By the way, this began in Reagan’s presidency, and so is not just tar on Clinton’s hands.

We talked more about the CIA in this regard, and Ostler soon revealed himself to be a man who definitely did not run the CIA up the flagpole and salute it every morning. He confirmed, from what he had heard and knew during his years in the agency,  that the CIA had been involved, or at least connected with drug smuggling, for at least 15 years before Nicaragua. The latest issue of the magazine The Progressive confirms this, noting that the CIA, in the name of supporting anti-Communist governments, helped smuggle heroin out of Pakistan in the 1960s and Laos in the 1970s. (CIA top brass, both past and present, of course refused to comment to the magazine for that article.)

He also told me what sounded like a conspiracy theory, but one that is halfway believable, for how the Gulf War got started.

Supposedly a well-connected older-money New Englander, a month or two before Iraq invaded Kuwait, gave undercover Iraqi defense officials a special tour of some of Kuwait’s defense installations?

Why? According to Ostler, Kuwait was at this time one of the biggest producers of pirated computer software, music recordings, and so forth, and so some of this businessman’s friends decided there was a simple way to teach Kuwait a lesson. This also, according to Ostler, is why Bush’s State Department never came clean to Congress and the public what they may have known in advance about Iraqi intentions.

I did an Internet search for the gentleman in question, but other than finding someone with a name to match in a Cambridge, Massachusetts, electronic telephone directory, could find no further information. To me, that doesn’t mean Ostler’s story is not true; rather, it may testify to the low radar profile of the man in question, whose name I have obviously omitted from this story.

In any case, for anybody traveling in the Silver City area, consider a trip to Mogollon. You might find a whole lot more than you expected, as well as some nice Christmas or anniversary gifts for special loved ones. (Ostler also sells Lionel trains, and ceramic displays for under the tree.)


I went back there in 2010. Tsarskoe Selo was still there (and remains listed today on some business information websites and even Yelp), but, sadly, unoccupied. I did a teh Google, well, actually, a DuckDuckGo for the site plus Ostler's name. Got an email address on one hit. No idea if it's live as of the time I write this piece or not, but we'll find out, won't we?

Update: I forgot to mention in that original column that ceramic displays for "under the tree" weren't the only type of such art. Ostler also sold authentic Hummel.

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