Daily Notifications
Sign up for free emails to receive the feature story every morning in your inbox at


The spy who never was? L. Ron Hubbard and ‘Maj. Ian Macbean of the British Secret Service’

The South China Morning Post has published a lengthy piece by Paul French on L. Ron Hubbard’s trips to Asia as a teenager in the late 1920s. While much about this time in Hubbard’s life is already known and recapitulated in the article, it does a good job of highlighting one of the more mysterious figures to cross Hubbard’s path – a character Hubbard describes in his writings as “Major Ian Macbean of the British Secret Service.”

As it happens, this is an encounter I’ve been looking at too, for its possible relevance to Hubbard’s decision 40 years later to set up his own spy/dirty tricks agency in the form of the infamous Guardian’s Office. Who was Macbean, said to have been a resident of 1920s Peking (now Beijing) in China, and how did Hubbard come to meet him?

Scientology’s accounts of his travels in China have varied a lot over the last 50 years. The 1978 edition of “What is Scientology?” claims that Hubbard was up and down the “China coast several times in his teens from Ching Wong Tow (Qingdao) to Hong Kong.” But according to Scientology’s later account in the 1996 book “Images of a Lifetime,” Hubbard only actually made two trips to China: one with his mother en route to Guam in 1927 and a tourist visit from Guam in the company of his parents in 1928.

Scientology’s “RON Adventurer/Explorer: Daring Deeds and Unknown Realms” pinpoints the time he met Macbean as on his “second Asian venture” in 1928, and claims that the major took “a seventeen-year-old L. Ron Hubbard through a tour of British intelligence efforts from Peking through northern China.” The reason why, it adds sagely, “is not known.”

Hubbard is purported to have faced many dangers in Macbean’s company, including an “encounter with Cantonese pirates, the engineering of a jungle road across Guam’s denser corner, and the evening he decked an Italian swordsman named Giovinni. (Although not before he took a saber cut across the left cheek, and Macbean nearly lost a hand.)”


In reality, Hubbard’s second visit to China was part of a tour by a number of US naval families from Guam aboard the USS Gold Star, taking place between October and December 1928. The ship visited Manila in the Philippines and traveled on to Qingdao (Tsingtao), from where Hubbard and his parents traveled inland to Beijing, before returning to the ship for transport to Shanghai and Hong Kong and finally back to Guam.

At some point, Hubbard was photographed aboard a 116-ton schooner, the Mariana Maru. Scientology claims in “RON: Letters and Journals” that he travelled to China aboard the vessel “in the spring of 1928.” However, this isn’t recorded in his journal and it’s contradicted by the accounts from schoolmates and his aunt. He was still at high school in Helena, Montana in the spring of 1928 and participated in a parade on May 4th, 1928, where – as a local newspaper recorded – he won a prize for his entry as a pirate.

A few days later he skipped school to go and stay with his aunt and uncle in Seattle. He subsequently managed to get aboard the transport USS Henderson to travel to Guam, where his parents were posted. The Henderson’s deck log records that “L.R. Hubbard, son of Lieutenant H.R. Hubbard USN, reported on board for transportation to Guam” at 1620 hours on Saturday June 30.

A different Scientology source, Galaxy Press’s “L. Ron Hubbard: Explorer of Far-Flung Realms,” claims that Hubbard boarded the Mariana Maru to go to China “within weeks” of having arrived in Guam at the end of July 1928. But again, this isn’t recorded in his journal.

An extract from Hubbard’s journal, as published by Scientology, does contain an entry for “May 30. At Sea” which gives a first-person account of experiencing a typhoon aboard a sailing ship – but as we’ve just seen, this is set weeks before Hubbard was supposed to have been aboard the Mariana Maru. At the time, he was in Washington State. Typhoon records published by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also record no western Pacific typhoons in late May 1928.

The Mariana Maru was a Japanese-owned vessel used by a Japanese merchant to export copra (coconut kernels) from Guam to Yokohama, Japan via Saipan in the Mariana Islands, about 125 miles from Guam. It’s unclear that the vessel ever went to China; records of the ship’s journeys in the local Guam Recorder newspaper only show it travelling between Guam, Saipan and Yokohama. Hubbard supposedly signed up to be a supercargo aboard the Mariana Maru, but this is not independently corroborated. He is only recorded visiting Yokohama once, on a brief port stop during his first visit to China with his parents.

Scientology later claimed that Hubbard had “made his way deep into Manchuria’s Western Hills and beyond – to break bread with Mongolian bandits, share campfires with Siberian shamans and befriend the last in the line of magicians from the court of Kublai Khan.” According to Jon Atack, one of his unofficial biographers, these occurrences are not mentioned in the diary that Hubbard kept of his trip.

It’s thus very unclear how or when Hubbard met Macbean, who Scientology describes as “the regional head of Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” There’s no doubt that Macbean existed. In the 1984 trial of former Scientology archivist Gerry Armstrong, an extract was shown from the China Yearbook 1929-30 showing the staff of the British legation in Peking, which included an entry for “Major Macbean I.G., M.C., Cypher Officer.” As Paul French shows in his South China Morning Post article, Macbean is also documented at the UK National Archives and in ”My Dancing Days,” the autobiography of his ballerina wife Phyllis Bedells.

After joining the Army, Ian Gordon Macbean served initially on the Western Front of World War I. He was awarded a Military Cross for “an act or acts of exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy on land” but suffered a foot wound in 1914. Probably as a result of his injury, he switched from front-line duty to working as a cypher officer, responsible for encrypting and decrypting confidential communications.

Macbean was sent to the Macedonian Front in Greece in 1916 and subsequently went to Baku in present-day Azerbaijan. In a little-known episode just before the end of World War I, British forces seized control of the city to restore order before handing it to the newly-established but short-lived Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. Macbean likely served as one of the 5,000 British troops commanded by the British military governor, General Sir William Thomson. Britain failed in its aim of keeping Azerbaijan out of Bolshevik hands after its withdrawal in 1919; the Red Army invaded and conquered the country in April 1920, incorporating it into the Soviet Union until 1991.

A cypher officer was not an intelligence officer, though he would have likely handled sensitive communications which could well have included some military intelligence. After the war, Macbean does seem to have had some kind of involvement in intelligence work in the 1919-1921 Irish War of Independence. A surviving memo from him to several regimental commanders involved in counter-IRA work in December 1920 advises them to “increase and speed up Intelligence activity and encourage people to give information and even to oppose the [IRA] extremists.”

Macbean was subsequently posted to British-ruled Egypt before taking a temporary posting in Peking in early 1927. He went on his own, with his wife staying in London to pursue her career, though she recorded that he had “amusing parties to go to as well as the more official function which he had to attend.”

It’s likely that Macbean came into contact with Hubbard during one of those parties. The arrival of a group of naval families on tour from Guam would certainly have attracted the interest of the US naval delegation in Peking, who would likely have organised a reception for the visitors. As a fellow English-speaking Western military officer, Macbean would have been a natural invitee to such events.

There is no independent evidence for Macbean having accompanied him on his tourist visits in China, and certainly no explanation for why a 17-year-old might have been given “a tour of British intelligence efforts from Peking through northern China.”


During the 1984 Church of Scientology vs. Gerald Armstrong trial, a peculiar letter was submitted as evidence to corroborate Hubbard’s relationship with Macbean. Accompanied by an envelope with the stamp of the British Legation in Peking, it’s dated to January 1st, 1929 – six weeks after Hubbard went back to Guam – and reads:

Dear Red,

You’ll probably hear this officially soon but I want to let you know first. You’re still a “Lieutenant.” You’ve been retained in spite of all the fuss the Ambassador made. He tried to convince everyone that you also worked for the S.S. [British Secret Service] That is the best I ever have heard. With you so blotto that you don’t know one end of a gat from the other.

Don’t resign now when you get the cable. You’ve time to catch the Mariana Maru if you decide quickly. Please come back up for although you’ve only been gone three weeks we all feel frownish and ugly. One day of your method of carrying on our business and we’ll all be fine again.

Giovanni never came out of it poor devil. Of course we know that you think different. He was a damned devil, Red, but just (illegible) one now. (illegible) guess your face got all right. That was a damned nasty slash he gave you, but I caught one on the hand that is giving me hell. Loosen up some time and give me the whole story.

Well, you and your perpetual “Godamn” will be back here soon teaching more wops how to use their own swords so

Pip pip!


P.S. Please bring me a mestizio [sic] from Manila.

There is no way of proving the authenticity of this letter, but its language immediately raises questions. It reads very unlike something that a 1920s British army officer – a highly-educated product of elite schools – would have written. In fact, with its quick-fire sentences and use of American slang (“gat” for gun) it reads far more like something a young American with an obsession for writing pulp fiction might have written. The context of the letter is also very unclear – Hubbard later claimed that Macbean was an expert swordsman and the penultimate paragraph seems to refer to duelling. There’s no explanation of what was meant by Hubbard being a ‘Lieutenant’ – at his age, it certainly wouldn’t have been any official rank.

There is, however, a direct connection between the letter and Hubbard’s first forays into fiction. On his way back to Guam, Hubbard began filling his journal with one-paragraph synopses of short stories that he presumably planned to write. One of them was called ‘Secret Service’: ‘Adventure. All in a day’s work. Casual laddie in Hankow. Saves town. Joins Brit SS to carry out such orders as “Giovinni [sic] in Mukden exciting Communists. Use your own judgement. C13”.’ Was ‘Giovinni’ based on a real person, or was he one of Hubbard’s literary inventions?

Finally, was Macbean really the “regional head of British Intelligence”? Unfortunately the British Secret Intelligence Service – otherwise known as MI6 – doesn’t release its historical files to the UK National Archives. However, its authorised history by Keith Jeffery (“MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service 1909-1949”) does provide insights that strongly suggest that Macbean didn’t work for MI6.

According to Jeffery, MI6 was represented in China by a man named Harry Nathaniel Steptoe, who was a Shanghai-based consular official recruited to MI6 in early 1923. In 1925, Steptoe was posted to Peking, where he remained until 1934 despite suffering chronic ill-health. Steptoe was something of a ‘one-man band,’ partly as a result of a lack of funds for any extensive organisation but also due to his own preference for having a personal relationship with his Chinese agents. Steptoe effectively handled MI6’s China operations by himself, making it difficult to find even a temporary replacement for him. He was eventually replaced by a new MI6 representative based in British-ruled Hong Kong.

Given this account of Steptoe’s career, it seems very unlikely that Macbean played any role with “British Intelligence.” He may have exaggerated his own role, in which he probably did handle secret communications and likely did know some interesting people, for the benefit of the impressionable teenaged Hubbard. One observer quoted by Jeffery described Steptoe as being “afflicted with a weakness that I have noticed in so many other ‘hush hush’ men. He loves to weave a veil of mystery over his doings and whisper strange warnings. No doubt he has to be careful of what he does and says, but this pose is apt to defeat its purpose.” A similar affliction may have affected Macbean.


Whatever the truth, Macbean evidently made a lasting impression on Hubbard despite their brief acquaintance. Hubbard was still spinning anecdotes about the major thirty or forty years later. He continued to be fascinated by secrets and covert intelligence until, convinced in his paranoia that he was under attack by MI6, the CIA and the KGB, he started his own intelligence agency – with results that were eventually disastrous for Scientology and himself.

— Chris Owen


Technology Cocktail

“As the Time Track is created by an involuntary response of the thetan, it is and exists as a real thing, composed of space, matter, energy, time and significance. On a Level (8) Case the Time Track is completely submerged by charge even down to a total unawareness of thought itself. At Level (7) awareness of the track is confined by extant charge to opinions about it. At Level (6) charge on the track is such that pictures of pictures of the track are gratuitously furnished, causing delusive copies of inaccurate copies of the track. At Level (5) charge is sufficient to cause only inaccurate copies of the track to be viewable. At Level (4) charge is sufficient to obscure the track. At Level (3) charge is sufficient to wipe out portions of the track. At Level (2) there is only enough charge to maintain the existence of the track. At Level (1) there is no charge and no track to create it.” — L. Ron Hubbard, 1963


Now available: Bonus for our supporters

Episode 5 of the Underground Bunker podcast has been sent out to paid subscribers, and it’s a conversation with Sunny Pereira dishing secrets of Scientology’s Hollywood Celebrity Centre. Meanwhile, we’ve made episodes 1 through 4 available to everyone, with Bruce Hines on the crazy life in the Sea Org, Jeffrey Augustine on recent Scientology court cases, Claire Headley exposing Tom Cruise, and Marc Headley on what it must be like for David Miscavige living in Clearwater, Florida. Go here to get the episodes!


Source Code

“Do you realize the value of auditing is not measurable in dollars and cents to a person who is being audited properly? It is just not measurable. A hundred thousand dollars an hour would be something he would talk about. Got the idea? He would talk about. He might not be able to pay it but he could consider it. Now, that’s quite interesting. He could consider it, without gaping and jumping out the window and so forth.” — L. Ron Hubbard, July 29, 1958



Avast, Ye Mateys

“The enemy seeks by false reports to blunt our org image and this by depressing stats recoils into Div III making finance hard. It is interesting that the enemy is also depressing world stats in this same way. False alarming reports of conditions are made so that the finance of nations is being injured. The World Bank loans the bulk of its funds to India. It has now pressured India to nationalize its banks. It also forces birth control and unpopular measures on India to cause civil unrest and give the government a bad name with its people. The world bank’s biggest debtors are forced to act in criminal and unpopular ways. False reports are spread to injure credit. We were smart enough never to borrow or subsidize. Thus we are still alive.” — The Commodore, July 29, 1969


Overheard in the FreeZone

“LRH describes in the Philadelphia Doctorate Course taped lectures, that one can ‘scan’ the time track of a room or a house. LRH scanned the past track and the future track of the room he was doing the lecture at.”


Past is Prologue

1998: Chris Owen reported on the archive of Scientology NOTS materials in Sweden. “I visited the Swedish Central Archives in Nrrmalm, Stockholm, where government documents are stored for public access under their admirable offentlighetsprincip. It was no great surprise to find a solitary, very bored-looking clam sitting in the tiny reading room of the Central Archive building. He had a well-thumbed copy of the NOTS with him, but he was not reading it: instead, he was just sitting at his desk, working on several rather tatty pieces of notepaper. I went into the archivist’s private office, where he explained that the Scientologists were working shifts to prevent anyone from looking at the NOTS. When the building opened, one was always waiting outside first in the line to enter; he was relieved later during the day, with other Scientologists sitting on the NOTS through to closing time. The archivist made it clear that he and his department took a pretty dim view of this, and he rang a colleague in the Justice Department who also had a copy of the NOTS – it seems that there are no less than three separate departments holding the thing. You can obtain it from any of these three departments, but it’s on public display only at the Central Archive. So I went across the street to the Justice Department, where I was asked if I wanted to ‘sell the NOTS’ [sic] for 400 Swedish Kroner (about GBP 31). I said yes and handed over the money; shortly a bound and covered copy was delivered to me. Evidently they receive a fair number of requests for it, as this must have been one of a pile of pre-copied NOTS.”



Random Howdy

“I want a cheap E-meter so I can sec-check my cats and I can get to the bottom of mysteries like, why do you chew on plastic bags? Why do you eat your own hair? Why do you refuse to help me do the dishes?”


Full Court Press: What we’re watching at the Underground Bunker

Criminal prosecutions:
Danny Masterson charged for raping three women: Trial scheduled for October 11, pretrial conference August 17.
‘Lafayette Ronald Hubbard’ (a/k/a Justin Craig), aggravated assault, plus drug charges: Last hearing was on January 18, referred to grand jury. Additional charges also referred to grand jury after January 5 assault while in jail.
Jay and Jeff Spina, Medicare fraud: Jay sentenced to 9 years in prison. Jeff’s sentencing to be scheduled.
Rizza Islam and other family members, Medi-Cal fraud: Readiness hearing scheduled for August 22 in Los Angeles
David Gentile, GPB Capital, fraud: Next pretrial conference set for September 19.
Yanti Mike Greene, Scientology private eye accused of contempt of court: Found guilty of criminal and civil contempt.

Civil litigation:
Baxter, Baxter, and Paris v. Scientology, alleging labor trafficking: Complaint filed April 28 in Tampa federal court, Scientology moving to compel arbitration. Plaintiffs filing amended complaint on August 2.
Valerie Haney v. Scientology: Forced to ‘religious arbitration.’ Selection of arbitrators underway. Next court hearing: February 2, 2023.
Chrissie Bixler et al. v. Scientology and Danny Masterson: Appellate court removes requirement of arbitration on January 19, case remanded back to Superior Court. Stay in place, next status hearing October 25. Scientology petitioning US Supreme Court over appellate ruling.
Brian Statler Sr v. City of Inglewood: Third amended complaint filed, trial set for December 6.
Author Steve Cannane defamation trial: New trial ordered after appeals court overturned prior ruling.
Chiropractors Steve Peyroux and Brent Detelich, stem cell fraud: Lawsuit filed by the FTC and state of Georgia in August, now in discovery phase.



We first broke the news of the LAPD’s investigation of Scientology celebrity Danny Masterson on rape allegations in 2017, and we’ve been covering the story every step of the way since then. At this page we’ve collected our most important links, including our four days in Los Angeles covering the preliminary hearing and its ruling, which has Danny facing trial and the potential sentence of 45 years to life in prison.


After the success of their double-Emmy-winning, three-season A&E series ‘Scientology and the Aftermath,’ Leah Remini and Mike Rinder continue the conversation on their podcast, ‘Scientology: Fair Game.’ We’ve created a landing page where you can hear all of the episodes so far.


An episode-by-episode guide to Leah Remini’s three-season, double-Emmy winning series that changed everything for Scientology watching. Originally aired from 2016 to 2019 on the A&E network, and now on Netflix.


Find your favorite Hubbardite celeb at this index page — or suggest someone to add to the list!

Other links: SCIENTOLOGY BLACK OPS: Tom Cruise and dirty tricks. Scientology’s Ideal Orgs, from one end of the planet to the other. Scientology’s sneaky front groups, spreading the good news about L. Ron Hubbard while pretending to benefit society. Scientology Lit: Books reviewed or excerpted in a weekly series. How many have you read?


[ONE year ago] How insidious is Scientology? Cathy Mullins on how she got sucked back in after escaping
[TWO years ago] Scientology donor Jim Mathers has your L. Ron Hubbard mantra for sending kids back to school
[THREE years ago] Driving people away (and begging them back) was built into Scientology from the start
[FOUR years ago] Nancy Cartwright goes home as Scientology ‘Ideal’-izes the world
[FIVE years ago] Jon Atack: The biggest thing L. Ron Hubbard got wrong about Buddhism
[SIX years ago] Arlene Cordova, 1933-2016: In her 80s, she took on Scientology and reunited with her daughter
[SEVEN years ago] How Scientology schools prepare young minds for the rigors of the Sea Org
[EIGHT years ago] Hana Whitfield: What it’s like to be stalked by Scientology
[NINE years ago] Jim Lynch, Scientology’s Shill, Dies at 59
[TEN years ago] ‘Tom Cruise Worships David Miscavige Like a God’: The John Brousseau Story, Part Two
[ELEVEN years ago] Scientology’s Hollywood Landmarks: More from THR Reporter Daniel Miller


Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley (1952-2019) did not see his daughter Stephanie in his final 5,667 days.
Valerie Haney has not seen her mother Lynne in 2,740 days.
Katrina Reyes has not seen her mother Yelena in 3,245 days
Sylvia Wagner DeWall has not seen her brother Randy in 2,795 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 1,785 days.
Geoff Levin has not seen his son Collin and daughter Savannah in 1,676 days.
Christie Collbran has not seen her mother Liz King in 4,981 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 2,851 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 3,625 days.
Doug Kramer has not seen his parents Linda and Norm in 1,956 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 4,429 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 3,745 days.
Dylan Gill has not seen his father Russell in 12,311 days.
Melissa Paris has not seen her father Jean-Francois in 8,230 days.
Valeska Paris has not seen her brother Raphael in 4,398 days.
Mirriam Francis has not seen her brother Ben in 3,978 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 4,240 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 3,276 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 2,991 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 2,516 days.
Julian Wain has not seen his brother Joseph or mother Susan in 871 days.
Charley Updegrove has not seen his son Toby in 2,046 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 6,597 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 3,746 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 4,066 days.
Roger Weller has not seen his daughter Alyssa in 8,921 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 4,040 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 2,396 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 6,699 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 2,805 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis in 3,203 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 3,079 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 2,662 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 3,157 days.
Mary Jane Barry has not seen her daughter Samantha in 3,411 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 14,520 days.


Posted by Tony Ortega on July 29, 2022 at 07:00

E-mail tips to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We also post updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Our new book with Paulette Cooper, Battlefield Scientology: Exposing L. Ron Hubbard’s dangerous ‘religion’ is now on sale at Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats. Our book about Paulette, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook versions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.

The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2021 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Underground Bunker (2012-2021), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)

Other links: BLOGGING DIANETICS: Reading Scientology’s founding text cover to cover | UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists | GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice | SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts | Shelly Miscavige, 15 years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ

Watch our short videos that explain Scientology’s controversies in three minutes or less…

Check your whale level at our dedicated page for status updates, or join us at the Underground Bunker’s Facebook discussion group for more frivolity.

Our non-Scientology stories: Robert Burnham Jr., the man who inscribed the universe | Notorious alt-right inspiration Kevin MacDonald and his theories about Jewish DNA | The selling of the “Phoenix Lights” | Astronomer Harlow Shapley‘s FBI file | Sex, spies, and local TV news | Battling Babe-Hounds: Ross Jeffries v. R. Don Steele


Tony Ortega at The Daily Beast


Share Button
Print Friendly, PDF & Email