I am a journalist, author and attorney. My first book, a biography of Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele Mengele: The Complete Story, 1986 grew out of a pro bono lawsuit for some survivors of Mengele's medical experiments at Auschwitz. From there I went on to write about the international heroin trade Warlords of Crime: Chinese Secret Societies - The New Mafia; a novel about biological warfare The Bio-Assassins, 1989; about the second generation of top Nazis Hitler's Children: Sons and Daughters of Leaders of the Third Reich talk about their Fathers and Themselves, 1991; the murder of JFK Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK, 1993 - Case Closed was a finalist for the Pulitzer in History and a NY Times bestseller; a Ross Perot biography, Citizen Perot: His Life and Times, 1996; the MLK murder, Killing the Dream: James Earl Ray and the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr, 1998; the business story of one of America's most fabled record labels, Motown: Music, Money, Sex, Power, 2002; the story behind 9/11, Why America Slept: The Failure to Prevent 9/11, 2003; an investigation of Saudi Arabia, Secrets of the Kingdom: The Inside Story of the Saudi-U.S. Connection, 2005; the history of a city, Miami Babylon: Crime, Wealth and Power - A Dispatch from the Beach, 2009.

Over the course of writing these books, at different times I was a regular panelist on HistoryCENTER, the History Channel’s Sunday current events program. And I have been a freelance writer for many news magazines, and a regular contributor to NBC, the History Channel, CNN, FOX News, CBS, and MSNBC.

My latest book is GOD’S BANKERS: A HISTORY OF MONEY AND POWER AT THE VATICAN. It is the result of nine years of off an on again research and reporting and it follows the church’s finances for 200 years inside one of the world’s most powerful institutions. Ask me anything you like about the Vatican and its money!

My Proof: https://twitter.com/reddit_AMA/status/563760093976862720

Hi everyone, thank you so much for your a great AMA session. It was my first one on Reddit and I liked it so much I kept coming back to try and answer as many questions as possible, sorry I couldn't get to them all. And remember to check out my latest book, GOD'S BANKERS. http://books.simonandschuster.com/Gods-Bankers/Gerald-Posner/9781416576570?intcmp=ihp_bks_02032015_nr

Comments: 125 • Responses: 34  • Date: 

Warlizard27 karma

Aren't you worried that you're going to commit suicide by stabbing yourself in the back 17 times and then beheading yourself?

You're in a dangerous line of work.

Geraldposner25 karma

:-) Any good investigative journalist does the same. It is all about risk tolerance. For instance, I was in Paraguayan rain forest with a a neo-Nazi colonel, spent time with heroin traffickers in the Golden Triangle, and went to Kabul after 9/11. None of that worried me, I was focused on the work. But I don't skateboard because I think I might fall and break a bone and I don't smoke because I am afraid of cancer. Risk tolerance. Go figure.

jalebaron15 karma


Geraldposner32 karma

Great question. I cover this in a couple of chapters in the book. There is a case in the 1980s in which Italian prosecutors issued a serious multi-count indictment agains the American Bishop who ran the Vatican Bank, as well as his top two lay directors. The Vatican refused to accept the warrants, claiming it was an infringement of their sovereignty. Italy responded by saying that was a ridiculous defense. What if a priest living in the Vatican committed murder in Italy? He could not stay free from justice by simply going back inside the Vatican? But that is precisely what happened. Those three top Vatican Bankers stayed inside Vatican City. Over a couple of years the case of whether they could be forcibly extradited went to Italy's highest court, and the court sided with Vatican. No one was extradited or spent a day in jail for their role in a giant fraud. The unfortunate short answer to your question, is that they are not accountable in the past.

zubumafeau6 karma

What are your thoughts on Pope Francis' attempts to reform the Vatican bank and finances in general? I remember last year when he fired his entire financial watchdog board. Do you believe his efforts to reform the system will be effective?

Geraldposner7 karma

Too early too tell, but I do think Pope Francis is sincere in his efforts to reform the bank. Part of whether he will be successful is whether he is Pope long enough for the reforms to really take hold. He is, after all, 78. And the bureaucracy of the bank is resistant to change.

courtiebabe4206 karma


Geraldposner13 karma

I started at Cravath, Swaine and Moore in 1978 before moving to my own firm in 1981. There I began a pro bono lawsuit against Germany and the Mengele family on behalf of a survivor of Mengele's medical experiments at Auschwitz. That suit was not successful, but I had gathered some 25,000 pages of documents about Mengele, many of which were not public. So with a British journalist, John Ware, I turned it into a biography of Mengele for McGraw-Hill. And while in Paraguay I had met some Corsicans who were fugitives from justice in the heroin trade. They regaled me with stories about how the heroin business had been taken over by Chinese Triads. That became my second book. I still am a member of the NY and DC bars but do not actively practice. Check out this article about me in Bitter Lawyer with more details about how I went from lawyer to author, http://www.bitterlawyer.com/gerald-posner-cravath-to-controversy/

CharlesTMunger5 karma

Can you describe your standard investigative process? I.e. how you peel back the layers of the onion on something like IOR? What methods separate the good from the great investigative journalists?

Geraldposner14 karma

I think the difference with successful investigative journalists is that we never, ever take 'no' for an answer. That does not mean that we can turn a 'no' into a yes, but it means we will figure out a way to get the information another way. Case in point. The Vatican said no to my request to get into the Secret Archives. How could I then determine whether the Vatican Bank, created in the middle of World War II, did business with the Nazis? I had to get information from national archives, and private company files, in Europe and the U.S. and South America. And I pored over litigation files, and banking documents that were hard to find but ultimately accessible. So, the answer is that a good investigative reporter will take a 'no' as a challenge to still get the information from an alternate route.

Jux_4 karma

If you had one "holy crap!" fact to sell me on the book, what would it be?

Geraldposner20 karma

That I uncovered a classified U.S. intelligence document that raises the likelihood that the financial wizard who founded the Vatican Bank, in the middle of World War was in fact a Nazi spy. Enough of a hook? :-

Geraldposner4 karma

Thank you for taking the time to AMA with me. I have to leave now to tape some radio interviews. I will not close this AMA as I intend to return to it later tonight, or possibly tomorrow, and I will answer some more of the questions pending. In the meantime, I hope some of you will check out my latest book, God's Bankers. Thanks. http://books.simonandschuster.com/Gods-Bankers/Gerald-Posner/9781416576570

BeneathTheRainbow3 karma

Hi Gerald. Thanks for all of your work.

1) Many people, such as Karen Hudes (I don't find her to be credible), claim that the Vatican and Bank of England are who our tax payments go to. Is there any veracity to this claim? If not, what confusion would cause her to make that claim in the first place?

Reference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CjgRw78x960

2) Can you please enlighten us all about the saga of Neal Keenan and the Dragon Family that have filed a very large lawsuit surrounding a banking controversy that I don't fully understand? It appears to involve an alliance of wealthy Chinese families who are going after wealthy Europeans.

references: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LxgwcqRY9aI and http://neilkeenan.com/

3) What does the vatican use as it's "enforcement" arm? It used to be the swiss guard and I have a hard time thinking of a major religion that didn't have a violent component to enforcing its "rules" throughout history.

Geraldposner7 karma

Great subjects. As for Karen Hudes, I think of that issues a bit differently. I do not conclude that our tax money goes in part to the Vatican, but rather that the Vatican (as does every other religion) gets the equivalent of a giant tax subsidy by being exempt from taxes.

I know and have read about Neal Keenan and the Dragon Family, but unfortunately I cannot enlighten Reddit users about it since I have never investigated it. All I know is what you know from the links such as the one you posted.

The Vatican is fortunate is has not had the need for an 'enforcement' arm in a long time. In its history, it had its own army, of course, until 1870. And it controlled some 15,000 square miles of Italy in its own empire, the Papal States. But after that, the only time it feared for its existence was when the Nazis took over Rome in 1943 and the Pope was worried Hitler might seize the Vatican and possibly even take him a prisoner.

icameforthecookies3 karma

What do you plan on working and covering next?

Geraldposner5 karma

I WISH I knew that answer. Life would seem a lot less stressful right now. When you finish a book project, it is almost anti-climatic. In some ways, if you really love your subject, there is almost a sadness that goes along with the publication because you are sorry to see it end. The difficulty is finding that same passion for a new subject, and one that a publisher wants as well, and that is difficult. Some ideas are percolating, but nothing definite yet.

ChuckEye3 karma

The phrase "God's Banker" is most closely associated with Roberto Calvi. While I realize your book takes on 200 years of finance, I was wondering how large a part, if any, he or the conspiracy around his murder, take in the book?

Geraldposner4 karma

While it covers 200-years it does have two big arcs. One is around World War II and the other is around the 60s through 80s, Calvi, Sindona, P2, questions of foul play, dead prosecutors, all of the great scandals that almost took down the bank. The book opens with Calvi's body under Blackfriars

boogalymoogaly3 karma

historically/anthropologically speaking, the Vatican is fascinating. Would you say that, although their true expressive power has considerably waned, how would you rate their soft power status?

Geraldposner9 karma

Hard power, you are right, was never the same after they lost their earthly empire in 1870. Once Pope/Kings became simply Popes, the did not have the same secular power. But they still carry considerable soft power. In Western, Latin and South American democracies, the Catholic vote (although not homogenous) gives the church extra clout. And a populist Pope, like Francis, means that secular politicians - even non-believing ones - want to get some of his magic in their own favorability ratings. So they court the Vatican at times. Hence the historic invitation to Pope Francis to address both houses of Congress this fall...

Empigee3 karma

Hello, Mr. Posner. As a history buff, I'm curious-what was it like to immerse yourself in the life of someone like Josef Mengele?

Geraldposner6 karma

It was a fascinating and dark journey. Fortunately, in my published biography, 19 of the 20 chapters are about how he got away. Only one is about Auschwitz. That doesn't mean the work was any easier, but it meant that much of my concentration was on 'how did he get away' versus ' what were his crimes at the death camp.' There is a segment from a 1986 Phil Donahue show I did, together with Mengele's only son, Rolf (an attorney). It might give you, especially as a history buff, an insight into the complex personal drama that plays out in such a story. You can watch it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFQaDSv1IKg

FisherOfMen7773 karma

Have you experienced any threats, either personal or professional as a result of investigating the vatican and it's finances? they are powerful. Some may even argue the most powerful and oldest institution in the world, logic stands to reason they are not a fond of having their dirty laundry aired out for the world to see/read. Have you been stoned-walled as a result of your research?

Geraldposner2 karma

I got no help from officially from the Vatican. They rejected my request to get access to the Secret Archives. And my many requests for interviews were never answered by the chief press officer. On my own, I did manage to get an on the record interview with Rene Brülhart, the head of their new enforcement division, and some very brave clerics and laymen talked to me on the condition of anonymity.

LFCameron72 karma

Most interesting thing you've ever investigated/uncovered?

Geraldposner8 karma

The reason I say that is hard to answer in an easy way is that each book seems to reveal to me 'the most interesting' item I have discovered. For instance, during Mengele, I thought I would never have a bigger story than disclosing how he had been caught twice by American forces and then mistakenly released, or how the Israeli Mossad found him but cancelled the team to kidnap him because of other pressing priorities in the Middle East. I've been there again with information about 9/11 and how I believe the Saudis financed terror that might have led to the attack on America. And I think my big discovery now is the fact that the financial wizard who founded the Vatican Bank in the middle of World War II might have been a Nazi spy. See, it's not easy to put one at the top of the discovery list :-

Geraldposner1 karma

No relation. I wish I had a connection, he is a great jurist.

WoahhhManRelax2 karma

How can you call it a secret if you can write a whole book on it?

Geraldposner6 karma

It isn't really that the entire book is new and secret, but that revelations in it are news. I think that is the way it is with most investigative books.

Meunderwears2 karma

How much of the Vatican Bank's operations were autonomous versus being directed/influenced by the popes? Meaning, was the bank an institution unto itself apart from the rest of the Vatican that each pope had to come to terms once elected?

Geraldposner5 karma

Good question. I had originally expected to find that the Popes operated at a much higher level, overseeing the general operation of the church, and that the bank was left off on the side and was run fairly autonomously by the directors there. However, I discovered through my research that was not always the case. In part, that is because Vatican City is so small. Only about 1,000 clerics at any time, living and working in the same small postage-stamp-sized parcel of land. Although the church is a giant institution, the Vatican itself is not. So if a Pope is a details person, a hands-on micromanager, then he will be involved with the bank. Pius XII, the Pope who formed the Vatican Bank, was someone involved in the details. The next Pope, Paul VI, was also fairly involved at least through the late 1960s. But Pope John Paul II, who used the bank to send money covertly to support the Polish resistance against the communist government in his native Poland, did not like financial details and did not get involved in the running of the bank. Same with Pope Benedict. As for Pope Francis, his focus is reforming the bank, and on that issue, he is involved in the details.

ManOfLaBook2 karma

Hi Mr. Posner, how do you go about writing a biography? Do you try to stay neutral or give some insight into the events you are writing about? What do you think is an appropriate time to wait to write a history book?

Geraldposner5 karma

Please allow me to answer your good questions in reverse order. As for the time to wait, I do not think there is any set period. It depends on the subject. For instance, I wrote a book about the failure of U.S. intelligence and government to prevent 9/11 (While America Slept), and it was published in 2003. That was far to close to the event to be a history with the benefit of real perspective. But it was a current history, an investigative snapshot of a the decade leading up the 9/11 attacks. Other historians in the future will use work like mine in deciding how contemporary journalists viewed events. As for your first question, all of us have some preconceived notions when approaching a biography or subject. The key is not to allow those early opinions to block you from following the evidence. So, for instance, on JFK, I started the research on that book leaning to thinking that the mob likely killed Kennedy (because of Ruby's murder of Oswald). But I let the evidence take me to the conclusion of Oswald alone. So I might not start neutral, but I investigate neutral, if that makes sense.

BeneathTheRainbow4 karma

The assassination of Kennedy was the watershed event that changed the US policy from having some moral framework to one that justified everything "in the name of national security".

Long story short... Kennedy was not well-liked and threatened a lot of very powerful people. They killed him and used the excuse of "he was a threat to national security" and have operated in that capacity ever since.

If you view the government through this lens and know who the actors are, then the nonsensical things the country has done for the past 50 years begin to make sense. Kennedy's murder was the big event that allowed powerful people to operate unencumbered by "the rules". Dulles and Bush tried it one before in "The Business Plot" and succeeded in Dallas.

SirJumbles0 karma

I just watched the video. Seems clear that the driver had a pistol. I heard that JFK wasn't going along with CIA efforts abroad and was ultimately terminated. Do you have any idea what was going on and what led to the presidents internal assassination?

BeneathTheRainbow2 karma

Of course the driver had a pistol. Why wouldn't you expect him to?

It was a confluence of things that led to his demise; not just one thing. The biggest event that got the military on board with his assassination was his handling of the cuban missile crisis.

Curtis LeMay and company hated that JFK wanted to do everything he could to avoid a war with Russia. Without their cooperation and influence, I don't think the CIA could have gotten away with it. CIA had their own reasons for doing it... it appears to me that JFK was going to stop the gravy train of using the CIA for private business (as they did for the Bush family with United Fruit) and diminish the power of those who were already entrenched in that system.

I can't verify it, but I always wondered what would have motivated George HW Bush to kill Kennedy. He was very clearly involved, so there is really no argument about that aspect. But what was his motivation?

Well, like I stated before, Bush and his family's involvement in Brown Brothers Harriman (now Halliburton) and the use of the CIA to perform their dirty work would be one reason. Another might be that George HW Bush was heavily involved in the Bay of Pigs. It is well known that JFK was not happy about it and may have been planning to use this as evidence of CIA misdeeds and the Bush family as a prime example of how "criminal families" infiltrate and use the government for their private interests. (Kennedy's were not saints, either, but this is politics, after all.) Between the Bush family's involvement in the Business Plot and then the Bay of Pigs, I wouldn't have been able to think of a better example of a grave internal danger to the country.

They couldn't have that.... Boom headshot!

One misnomer that most people have about Kennedy is that he was this beloved president who died too soon. In fact, the day of his death, you would be able to find fliers and posters around Dallas disparaging him.

SirJumbles1 karma

Thank you for the answer. I have a couple other questions for you. Eisenhower warned about a military industrial complex. Was this an example of such? Also, what is United Fruit?

Geraldposner1 karma

Eisenhower's warning was prescient. The military-industrial-surveillance state is what it has morphed into. As for United Fruit, Google "1954 coup in Guatemala" - an interesting history for an American company....

ManOfLaBook1 karma

Thanks for the reply.

How do you decide on which subject to write about?

Geraldposner6 karma

Has to have a few features. A subject that has not been covered to death by other journalists, author, and historians. A topic on which I might be able to uncover some new information and thereby add to what history buffs know about it. And something about which I am passionately interested. Otherwise you cannot keep up working on it every day with the enthusiasm and freshness that is required to do a comprehensive job.

youfuckingslaves-2 karma

You concluded wrong about JFK watch the driver at the 8 second mark. http://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=eqzJQE8LYrQ

The driver killed him (killshot) but the previous shot I believe that went through him and hit the governor was Oswald. He was the scapegoat, hence his immediate murder. Case closed.

Geraldposner2 karma

I have heard the 'driver killed him' theory before. I address it in Case Closed. I hope you will look at my book and see what I write about that before writing off the possibility that one lone 24-year-old sociopathic loser in life, Lee Harvey Oswald, did in fact kill the president on his own that day.

reebee72 karma

Mr. Posner,

I'm an unusually young Kennedy assassination buff. I did some research for Larry Sabato for his recent book on the matter, and have read several books on the subject, yours included. The more I've learned about Mark Lane, the less I respect him. Yet I know you hired him yourself to represent you in a lawsuit. Do you have a good professional relationship with him? Are my judgments unfounded?

Also, can you sit through Oliver Stone's JFK? Or does it get you frothing angry?

Geraldposner1 karma

I certainly don't agree with Mark Lane or Oliver Stone when it comes to the JFK assassination. As for the "JFK," I've said before that Stone is a very good filmmaker but a very bad historian. Good luck on your own research into the case, I'm sure you will end up deciding for yourself what is accurate and what is not.

msadvn1 karma

What kind of access to Vatican archives did you have when researching God's Bankers?

Geraldposner2 karma

None. They rejected my request for access to the archives.

candidly11 karma

Is there a ballpark valuation of the antiquities stored in the catacombs?

Geraldposner6 karma

This is one of the great mysteries that is really impossible to put a figure to. In part, no realistic estimate can be made because the Vatican has not provided a full inventory of everything they have. But there is little doubt that just the historical documents - like Pope Leo X's excommunication decree against Martin Luther, or Michelangelo's note to the Pope warning that Vatican guards were about to walk off the job due to no pay - are hard to put a price on.

beernerd1 karma

How do you choose your subject matter for your books?

Geraldposner4 karma

My wife, Trisha Posner (http://www.trishaposner.com) works with me on all my projects. So when choosing a new subject it has to be something with which we are excited to live with for a few years. And since it is all encompassing at times, it has to be subject that is challenging. Finally, even if we are enthusiastic about a topic, we have to find a publisher who is willing to go with it. Most important we need to find a publisher who is willing to not know what the final book will look like since we do not know what we will uncover until we do the reporting. On the Vatican, Simon & Schuster allowed to to turn a proposal about World War II and the church into a 200-year history of follow the money in the Vatican. That is critical, to have that support and leeway from a publisher.

toughthrone1 karma

Have you watched the Borgias?

Geraldposner1 karma

Yes, it was one of my favorite series. Not always historically accurate, but a wonderful adaptation of the excesses of the Papal court at the time and intrigue inside the Vatican. A former seminarian once joked with me that the only difference between the Borgias and the current day Vatican is that they no longer use poison.

VaticanCattleRustler1 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA!

1) What is the most outrageous conspiracy theory you've heard?

2) What is your favorite book?

3) What are some subjects that you really want to write a book on?

Edit: I just realized my username......

Geraldposner2 karma

Great username :-) Not sure what it means, but I like it.

There are so many wild conspiracy theories, it is too hard to pick my fav. Just when I think one can't be topped it is. Sometimes my fav changes depending on the news. One that I like a lot now is a popular one in some Middle Eastern countries: that ISIS is a CIA-Mossad-Saudi intel operation and none of the terrorists are real.

As for books, I really like Inside the Third Reich, and for fiction, 1984.

Other subjects? I'm thinking about it....

CLone41 karma

My uncle says Pope John Paul the first was assassinated because he was going to dig around into the vatican's finances. Is that true?

Geraldposner1 karma

A book has been written about that, and I address it in God's Bankers. I do not think he was murdered, but there is little doubt the Vatican bungled just about everything after his death - including no autopsy. And they had a coverup of how the body was found because they were embarrassed that a nun had found it early in the morning, which some clerics thought could lead to speculation about why a woman was at the Pope's bedroom door first thing in the morning (she brought coffee to him every morning and put it on a tray outside his door). Everyone expected him to be a reformer when it came to the Vatican Bank, but he lasted only 33 days, therefore all the conspiracies started.

WhiskeyTangoFubar1 karma

Are all the finance people in the Vatican guys and priests?

Geraldposner1 karma

Until the last couple of years, when a lay woman was appointed to an oversight role, everyone in its history had been a cleric or layman. And all Catholic. In the past many of the laymen were also members of Opus Dei.

LouFancy1 karma

Did the unexpected reaction to Case Closed change the way you write or select book topics?

Geraldposner1 karma

No. It just made me realize that some people will never change their minds based on what I consider the presentation of credible evidence. Some issues - like who killed Kennedy - are like religion: people believe what they believe and they get very angry if you tell them something to the contrary. I've still selected book topics since then that are as equally contested and controversial.

WhiskeyTangoFubar1 karma

Do any women work inside the Vatican in a major role or is it the Oldest and Largest Guys Club in the world?

Geraldposner2 karma

One of the most influential women ever (and one of the very few) was a German nun, Pascalina Lehnert, who was a confidant to the World War II Pope, Pius XII. Some clerics despairingly called her La Popessa (the female Pope). She is in the book.

dasbeidler1 karma

Hi Gerald!

I heard you on NPR a week or two ago and boy, what a fascinating subject matter! I know you mentioned that you believe Pope Francis is doing God's work (pun intended) to try and oust the corruption from the bank, so I guess my question is, if you were given the opportunity to get a completely truthful answer from him on any one question, what would you ask him?

Geraldposner1 karma

If he would be brave enough to open the the church's and the Vatican Bank's Holocaust-era files.

asking1comma231 karma

Why would the Vatican have picked a populist Pope?

Geraldposner1 karma

As I describe in my book when reporting on every election for Pope since 1963, there has been a division among the cardinals between traditionalists and progressives. This time a real progressive won. That might make the traditionalists work even harder to try and retake the Papacy after Francis's death.

Lufernaal1 karma

Did you ever find any contradiction in the moral standards of the religion as oppose to its financial activities?

Geraldposner1 karma

Yes, plenty of contradictions that seem at times very hypocritical. I think that Pope Francis understands that contradiction and that is why some of the money men in the Vatican are nervous with him as Pope.