By MATT GOURAS, Associated Press
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Neil Livingstone's biography reads like a real-life man of international intrigue, where big paydays and dealings with dictators are commonplace. Now the counterterrorism expert says he wants to leave all that behind to become Montana's governor, where chairing the state land board and congratulating state football champions could count as an exciting day.
Livingstone lists his own exploits as exploring tunnels beneath the demilitarized zone separating the Koreas, fleeing from angry Nazis in Argentina, suffering interrogation in 1980s Libya and dining with Russian mafioso. He also says he was wrongly subpoenaed for gun running and involvement in the Iran-Contra affair. And that time he was on the yacht belonging to a swashbuckling pirate whose other guests included numerous hookers? He was on a mission, he says, securing private planes to spy on a foreign country.
Libyan documents leaked last year stated that Livingstone was among a small group seeking a multi-million dollar payday to help Moammar Gadhafi find a safe haven. Livingstone, who has been a vocal critic of Gadhafi, said he trying to bring quick end to the bloodshed. The deal was rebuffed by the Obama administration.
Livingstone, a Republican, doesn't think his colorful background or his list of controversial past clients harms his chances.
"Without going into detail that I can't, I have served as a liaison for my government and others in terms of dealing with most of the difficult people on Earth," Livingstone said in an interview. "There is a necessity to work with some of the bad guys in the world. You are not going to find these people in church or wherever."
"I am not recommending prostitution to anyone, nor did I say I engaged with prostitutes," Livingstone said of the yacht episode. "I took my wife. She was the only non-hooker on board."
This spectacular list of exploits was removed from his campaign website late last week after he decided that "salacious" excerpts from his long biography could give people the wrong idea.
Livingstone most recently ran a company he started in 2007 called Executive Action — the same term used by the CIA in the 1950s to refer to their assassination operations. He started that company after leaving another called GlobalOptions Inc., which billed itself as a "private CIA."
Livingstone said in an interview that he wound down operations at Executive Action in order to return full time to his home state and run for governor.
Two individuals with intricate knowledge of the business, however, told The Associated Press in interviews that Livingstone had no choice but to lay off staff and close the doors. The former associates, speaking only on the condition of anonymity due in part to the close-knit nature of intelligence-related businesses, said Executive Action's only substantial client stopped paying and it was unable to recruit other meaningful business.
Not true, said Livingstone. Unwinding the company was a "conscious decision," but he couldn't delve into details for "reasons that are obvious."
The front page of Livingstone's campaign website features revolving photos, including one of him and his running mate, former Navy SEAL and current state Sen. Ryan Zinke, standing back-to-back holding pistols. Governor 007, anyone?
Apparently not, at least so far. The unique biography isn't convincing Montana Republicans to rally to Livingstone's cause in a crowded GOP primary topped by a former congressman and two state senators.
"He is an interesting candidate. You never see a guy like that," said former State Sen. Corey Stapleton of Billings, among the leading fundraisers in the field of seven announced GOP candidates. "He comes from nowhere, for all practical purposes."
Stapleton, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, said state Republicans seem worried that Livingstone's politics are "moderate." That tag has also been used in an effort to undermine Zinke in the eyes of the GOP base.
A policy statement that launched Livingstone's campaign last year embraced typical Republican issues: Fiscal conservatism, more natural resource development, restrictions on lawsuits and lower taxes. But it also took the unique step of calling for increased spending on schools and funding for the Healthy Montana Kids program that the Republican-led legislature rejected.
Stapleton said Livingstone showed up at campaign functions wearing flashy suits, looking like someone who has spent their professional life in Washington D.C.
"I have never seen him get any traction at these events," said Stapleton, adding that Livingstone "doesn't appear to be a Montanan."
Livingstone has never been ordinary.
In high school, he scored a bargain on a rare coin collection and used the profits to buy a Ferrari — a rare sight in 1960s Helena. He arranges meetings in military time.
Livingstone's biography does not show that he has ever worked for the U.S. government or the CIA, other than a stint as a congressional staffer, but he said that is only because he has worked in classified capacities he can't discuss.
His only military experience came in the Vietnam-era Army Reserve.
He said "serendipity" led him into the unique counterterrorism world after he left a job working in politics in the 1970s and ended up taking a friends' advice to go work for Air America — covertly owned and operated by the CIA.
Over the years he says he has been a partner in Air Panama airlines, director of an Oregon helicopter company and a frequent terrorism expert for television news programs. He has authored many low circulation books.
Leaving that more exotic world behind, Livingstone is appealing in his campaign to out-of-work Montanans and day laborers, struggling families and others he says are frustrated by "the radical environmentalists (who) don't give a damn about working folks in this state."
He promises big changes and fast action if he is governor. He called his opponents with political histories in Montana "retreads from the past."
"I can promise you it will be a lot more exciting if I am governor," he said of the usual sort of meetings and hearings. "Ryan Zinke and I are different than any of the other candidates. We are running on a very different platform. We are going to step on toes and get things done."
He said they have promised to cut "red tape" by 50 percent, get rid of regulations that slow business and use the office to stymie environmentalists opposed to resource development.
"We aim to turn this state upside down in order to get it moving in the right direction."
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