Holy Hollywood! The Secret Message and Hidden History of the Hollywood Blockbuster

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Opening the door to the real Rosslyn

It's the blue blanket, an ancient symbol of Edinburgh, said to date back to the time of the Crusades and raised whenever the city's tradesmen were called upon to defend the king. For he and another historian, Mark Oxbrow, have just published Rosslyn and The Grail, their take on the Holy Grail myth which surrounds the Midlothian chapel and which has spawned a major tourism industry and a Hollywood blockbuster starring Tom Hanks.

But what about the blanket?

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How on earth did he come to have it? With a modest shrug, he says: "I got friendly with the couple that used to look after it and when they decided it was time to move on, my fiance Vivienne and I were asked to move in. What he's skirting around is that he is now the custodian of the private craft museum of the Incorporated Trades of Edinburgh at the Trades Maiden Hospital in Melville Street. And the blue blanket is one of their most important relics. However, he's been there done that in his last book Quest for the Celtic Key.

We meet - a day before he is due to get married to Vivienne, but not in Rosslyn Chapel - to discuss his latest obsession. It's easy to see why. Sat on a hillside on the outskirts of the Capital, situated near a stream and overlooking fields and forests, the tiny medieval Rosslyn Chapel, built in by Lord of Rosslyn, Sir William St Clair, is certainly magical and captivating. And, of course, thanks to Dan Brown it's also is now one of the most famous and mysterious churches in the world.


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But the year-old historian, who as a pupil at Penicuik High detested history - "I blame my teacher" - had always been interested in his local church long before it became a magnet for tourists desperate to find out if Brown's book contains any truth. As such he is somewhat of a Rosslyn buff. Indeed, Brown has nothing on this man. His book, with Oxbrow - another Edinburgh historian, who now lives in Glasgow - is the result of decades of reading, researching and devouring all the legends. And this time there's no fiction, no sensationalism. Instead, Ian claims, after years shrouded in mystery and myth, the secrets of the chapel, the castle, King Arthur and the Quest for the Holy Grail have been revealed in their book.

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IT must have been fate. Together they have been working on the chapel's complete history - and they found rather large anomalies. There may be historical facts that have been elaborated, but as academics we questioned the sources and have only put together legends that add up. I think people have really been too fluid with stories. Ian and Mark, who are also speakers on Arthurian and Grail legends, British folklore, Freemasonry and are both Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland jokingly call themselves "anoraks". For its part, Norway carried out only one inspection visit, in Israel's nuclear-weapons project could never have got off the ground, though, without an enormous contribution from France.

The country that took the toughest line on counter-proliferation when it came to Iran helped lay the foundations of Israel's nuclear weapons programme, driven by by a sense of guilt over letting Israel down in the Suez conflict, sympathy from French-Jewish scientists, intelligence-sharing over Algeria and a drive to sell French expertise and abroad. On the way back he told an aide: "It's exactly like a meeting of gangsters.

Everyone is putting his gun on the table, if you have no gun you are nobody. So we must have a nuclear programme. And as it built its arsenal, Paris solds material assistance to other aspiring weapons states, not just Israel. In Dimona, French engineers poured in to help build Israel a nuclear reactor and a far more secret reprocessing plant capable of separating plutonium from spent reactor fuel.

This was the real giveaway that Israel's nuclear programme was aimed at producing weapons.

The American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh wrote in his book The Samson Option: "French workers at Dimona were forbidden to write directly to relatives and friends in France and elsewhere, but sent mail to a phony post-office box in Latin America. The British were kept out of the loop, being told at different times that the huge construction site was a desert grasslands research institute and a manganese processing plant. The Americans, also kept in the dark by both Israel and France, flew U2 spy planes over Dimona in an attempt to find out what they were up to.

The Israelis admitted to having a reactor but insisted it was for entirely peaceful purposes. The spent fuel was sent to France for reprocessing, they claimed, even providing film footage of it being supposedly being loaded onto French freighters. Throughout the 60s it flatly denied the existence of the underground reprocessing plant in Dimona that was churning out plutonium for bombs.

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US physicists were dispatched to Dimona but were given the run-around from the start. Visits were never twice-yearly as had been agreed with Kennedy and were subject to repeated postponements. The US physicists sent to Dimona were not allowed to bring their own equipment or collect samples.

The lead American inspector, Floyd Culler, an expert on plutonium extraction, noted in his reports that there were newly plastered and painted walls in one of the buildings. It turned out that before each American visit, the Israelis had built false walls around the row of lifts that descended six levels to the subterranean reprocessing plant. As more and more evidence of Israel's weapons programme emerged, the US role progressed from unwitting dupe to reluctant accomplice.

In the CIA director Richard Helms told President Johnson that Israel had indeed managed to build nuclear weapons and that its air force had conducted sorties to practise dropping them. The timing could not have been worse. The NPT, intended to prevent too many nuclear genies from escaping from their bottles, had just been drawn up and if news broke that one of the supposedly non-nuclear-weapons states had secretly made its own bomb, it would have become a dead letter that many countries, especially Arab states, would refuse to sign.

The Johnson White House decided to say nothing, and the decision was formalised at a meeting between Richard Nixon and Golda Meir, at which the US president agreed to not to pressure Israel into signing the NPT, while the Israeli prime minister agreed her country would not be the first to "introduce" nuclear weapons into the Middle East and not do anything to make their existence public.

In fact, US involvement went deeper than mere silence. At a meeting in that has only recently become public knowledge, the CIA deputy director Carl Duckett informed a dozen officials from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission that the agency suspected some of the fissile fuel in Israel's bombs was weapons-grade uranium stolen under America's nose from a processing plant in Pennsylvania.

Not only was an alarming amount of fissile material going missing at the company, Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation Numec , but it had been visited by a veritable who's-who of Israeli intelligence, including Rafael Eitan, described by the firm as an Israeli defence ministry "chemist", but, in fact, a top Mossad operative who went on to head Lakam.

Everyody was open-mouthed," recalls Victor Gilinsky, who was one of the American nuclear officials briefed by Duckett. A few years later, on 22 September , a US satellite, Vela , detected the double-flash typical of a nuclear weapon test off the coast of South Africa. Leonard Weiss, a mathematician and an expert on nuclear proliferation, was working as a Senate advisor at the time and after being briefed on the incident by US intelligence agencies and the country's nuclear weapons laboratories, he became convinced a nuclear test, in contravention to the Limited Test Ban Treaty, had taken place.

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It was only after both the Carter and then the Reagan administrations attempted to gag him on the incident and tried to whitewash it with an unconvincing panel of enquiry, that it dawned on Weiss that it was the Israelis, rather than the South Africans, who had carried out the detonation. Someone had let something off that US didn't want anyone to know about," says Weiss. Israeli sources told Hersh the flash picked up by the Vela satellite was actually the third of a series of Indian Ocean nuclear tests that Israel conducted in cooperation with South Africa.

The US policy of silence continues to this day, even though Israel appears to be continuing to trade on the nuclear black market, albeit at much reduced volumes. In a paper on the illegal trade in nuclear material and technology published in October , the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security ISIS noted: "Under US pressure in the s and early s, Israel … decided to largely stop its illicit procurement for its nuclear weapons programme.

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Today, there is evidence that Israel may still make occasional illicit procurements — US sting operations and legal cases show this. Avner Cohen, the author of two books on Israel's bomb, said that policy of opacity in both Israel and in Washington is kept in place now largely by inertia. It has in many ways become a burden for the US, but people in Washington, all the way up to Obama will not touch it, because of the fear it could compromise the very basis of the Israeli-US understanding.

In the Arab world and beyond, there is growing impatience with the skewed nuclear status quo. Egypt in particular has threatened to walk out of the NPT unless there is progress towards creating a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. The western powers promised to stage a conference on the proposal in but it was called off, largely at America's behest, to reduce the pressure on Israel to attend and declare its nuclear arsenal.

It seems to me it's very difficult to get a resolution of the Iran issue without being honest about that. Topics Israel. Reuse this content. Order by newest oldest recommendations. Show 25 25 50 All. Threads collapsed expanded unthreaded.