Maurice Bernard Houghton was born in Texas on 25th July, 1920. The son of an oil driller, he studied business management at the Southern Methodist University (1939-1940). He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force Cadet Training Program. Luttle is known of his war record but he told one investigator that he "served alongside Australian servicemen and had gained a great deal of fondness and appreciation for them."
Houghton was discharged in 1946 and according to Houghton "went into business, restaurants, clubs, surplus war material and miscellaneous". In the same police interview he admitted to being in Vietnam during the early 1960s where he was involved in the construction of airport and military bases. Houghton told investigators from the Australian Joint Task Force on Drug Trafficking he worked for a man called Green in Saigon who was later killed.
According to Alexander Butterfield, Houghton worked with him as an intelligence officer during the Vietnam War. This is confirmed by Allan Parks, a former air force colonel who claims that Houghton "ferried C-47s, cargo airplanes" in South-East Asia. Parks adds that Houghton was also connected to General John K. Singlaub, who ran covert air operations throughout the Vietnam-Laos-Thailand war.
In January 1967 Houghton moved to Australia where he established the Bourbon and Beefsteak Bar and Restaurant in Sydney. He claimed that he met Michael Hand in the autumn of 1967. However, in one interview he admitted he had been told about Hand in 1964: "I had heard of Mike Hand's great combat exploits and courage, which was well-known in Vietnam."
Regular visitors to the Bourbon and Beefsteak Bar included two Central Intelligence Agency station chiefs in Australia (Milton Corley Wonus and John Denley Walker). Lieutenant Colonel Bobby Boyd, a Texan who was a former U.S. embassy military attaché in Latin America, also went to work for Houghton.
Houghton clearly had important contacts in Australia. When he applied for a new Australian visa in 1972, he gave the immigration officers the name of Leo Carter, director of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) in New South Wales, to support his application. Carter also arranged for him to get permission for unlimited re-entries to Australia in the future.
Allan Parks claims that Houghton was active in the drug trade in the 1970s. "There's no doubt about it, he'd fly anything. The Golden Triangle, that's where he got his opium from. There was one flight, he flew in slot machines. He did some deals over in India."
In the early 1970s Houghton spent a great deal of time with Michael Hand. A former CIA colleague, Douglas Sapper, claimed "Michael Hand showed up in Laos a lot. I saw him in Phnom Penh (Cambodia) from time to time." Sapper also saw Hand with Houghton in Vietnam. Houghton later told the police that he was with Hand buying surplus U.S. war material for resale.
In 1973 Frank Nugan, an Australian lawyer, and Michael Hand, a former CIA contract operative, established the Nugan Hand Bank. Another key figure in this venture was Bernie Houghton, who was closely connected to CIA officials, Ted Shackley and Thomas G. Clines.
Nugan ran operations in Sydney whereas Hand established a branch in Hong Kong. This enabled Australian depositors to access a money-laundering facility for illegal transfers of Australian money to Hong Kong. According to Alfred W. McCoy, the "Hand-Houghton partnership led the bank's international division into new fields - drug finance, arms trading, and support work for CIA covert operations." Hand told friends "it was his ambition that Nugan Hand became banker for the CIA."
In 1974 the Nugan Hand Bank got involved in helping the CIA to take part in covert arms deals with contacts within Angola. It was at this time that Edwin Wilson became involved with the bank. Two CIA agents based in Indonesia, James Hawes and Robert Moore, called on Wilson at his World Marine offices to discuss "an African arms deal". Later, Bernie Houghton arrived from Sydney to place an order for 10 million rounds of ammunition and 3,000 weapons including machine guns. The following year Houghton asked Wilson to arrange for World Marine to purchase a high-technology spy ship. This ship was then sold to Iran.
By 1976 the Nugan-Hand Bank appeared to have become a CIA-fronted company. This is reflected in the type of people recruited to hold senior positions in the bank. For example, Rear-Admiral Earl P. Yates, the former Chief of Staff for Policy and Plans of the U.S. Pacific Command and a counter-insurgency specialist, became president of the company. Other appointments included William Colby, retired director of the CIA, General Leroy J. Manor, the former chief of staff of the U.S. Pacific Command and deputy director for counterinsurgency and special activities, General Edwin F. Black, former commander of U.S. forces in Thailand, Walter J. McDonald, retired CIA deputy director for economic research, Dale C. Holmgren, former chairman of the CIA's Civil Air Transport and Guy J. Pauker, senior Republican foreign policy adviser.
One of those that Earl P. Yates brought in to help the Nugan Hand Bank was Mitchell WerBell. Yates later told the Joint Task Force on Drug Trafficking he recruited WerBell as a consultant because he "had extensive experience in Central America".
Former CIA agent, Kevin P. Mulcahy later told the National Times newspaper "about the Agency's use of Nugan Hand for shifting money for various covert operations around the globe." Records show that Houghton received $364,000 in expenses over the eighteen months he was an executive of Nugan Hand Bank.
The investigative journalist, Jonathan Kwitny, became convinced that the Nugan Hand Bank had replaced the Castle Bank and Trust Company in Nassau, as the CIA's covert banker. The bank, run by Paul Helliwell, was forced to close after the Internal Revenue Service discovered that he Castle Bank was laundering CIA funds and drug profits.
On 7th January 1980, Robert Wilson (House of Representatives Armed Services Committee) and Richard Ichord (chairman of the Research and Development Subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee) had dinner with Bernie Houghton at the Bourbon and Beefsteak Bar and Restaurant in Sydney.
On 27th January, 1980, Frank Nugan was found shot dead in his Mercedes Benz. With his body was a Bible that included a piece of paper. On it were written the names "Bob Wilson" and "Bill Colby". Robert Wilson was a senior member of the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee and William Colby was a former director of the CIA.
Bernie Houghton was in Switzerland at the time and he immediately rang his branch office in Saudi Arabia and ordered the staff to leave the country. Houghton also visited Edwin Wilson's office in Geneva and left a briefcase with bank documents for safekeeping. Soon afterwards, a witness saw Thomas G. Clines going through the briefcase at Wilson's office and remove papers that referred to him and General Richard Secord.
Two days after Nugan died, Michael Hand held a meeting of Nugan Hand Bank directors. He warned them that unless they did as they were told they could "finish up with concrete shoes" and would be "liable to find their wives being delivered to them in pieces".
Michael Hand, Pat Swan, Bernie Houghton and his lawyer, Mike Moloney, spent the next few days removing files from Nugan's office. They also began paying back selected clients. One estimate is that over $1.3 million was paid out in this way.
Frank Nugan's inquest took place in April, 1980. Testimony from Michael Hand revealed that Nugan Hand was insolvent, owing at least $50 million. Hand then promptly fled Australia under a false identity on a flight to Fiji in June 1980. Bernie Houghton also disappeared at this time and it is believed both men eventually reached the United States.
According to one witness, Thomas G. Clines helped Bernie Houghton escape. Michael Hand also left the country accompanied by James Oswald Spencer, a man who served with Ted Shackley in Laos. The two men traveled to America via Fiji and Vancouver. One report published in November, 1980, suggested that Michael Hand was living in South America. It claimed that he had managed to escape with the help of "former CIA employees".
An investigation by the Joint Task Force on Drug Trafficking discovered that the clients of the Nugan Hand Bank included several people who had criminal convictions relating to drug offences including Murray Stewart Riley, Donald William McKenzie, James Lewis Williams, Malcolm Craig Lord, Charles Robertson Beveridge, Barry Graeme Chittem, Murray Don Newman, Bruce Alan Smithers, James Sweetman, James Blacker, Colin Courtney, Stephen Demos, John Brooking and John Ceruto. According to the records the bank was making $100,000 a year from tax advice. In reality, it was receiving it for money laundering.
One right-wing organization called Accuracy in Media defended the Nugan-Hand Bank claiming it was really an honest but hard-luck banking organization that had been maligned by an anti-military press.
In 1981 Bernie Houghton was found selling arms to Egypt. According to Jonathan Kwitny this was probably part of a deal organized by Ted Shackley and Edwin Wilson to obtain $71.4 million from the U.S. Treasury in commissions as shipping agent for the sale of jets, tanks, missiles, and other arms to the Egyptian government.
The Australian government asked the Royal Commissioner D. G. Stewart to investigate the Nugan-Hand Bank scandal. The Stewart Royal Commission was published in June, 1985. It stated that the "Nugan Hand Ltd. was at all times insolvent... and flouted the provisions of the legislation as it then stood in that large volumes of currency were moved in and out of Australia".
Stewart went on to blame the dead Frank Nugan and the missing Michael Hand for the illegal activities of the bank. Rear-Admiral Earl P. Yates, William Colby, General Leroy J. Manor, General Edwin F. Black, Walter J. McDonald, Dale C. Holmgren, Guy J. Pauker and Bernie Houghton were considered blameless. Despite the evidence, Hand and Patricia Swan, Nugan's secretary, were accused of being the only ones "responsible for the shredding of documents".