The Octopus Conspiracy, Explained: What Did Daniel Casolaro Find Out?

The whole idea of this Netflix Original documentary was to bring up old stories and make the current millennial understand the kind of incidents that took place in America decades ago. This is Netflix foraying into the political documentary genre and bringing back to life a case that was speculated about when it broke decades ago. This was the year 1991, when freelance journalist Daniel Casolaro was found dead in a hotel bathtub. Though the police dubbed it suicide, the deceased’s family, friends, and acquaintances were sure he would never take his life. 


Daniel’s untimely death opened Pandora’s box thirty years ago, and there was lots of speculation regarding the story he was working on. It was revealed the man was working on something huge that could potentially bring down the American government at the time. There was never any confirmation from either the media or the government on what happened, but many began to speculate about the existence of “The Octopus Conspiracy,” a scam so huge that it would put America to shame if exposed by anyone.

Thirty years later, New York Times photojournalist Christian Hansen was obsessed with the work left behind by Daniel Casolaro. He wanted to dig up the bodies and discuss what exactly the conspiracy was about and what the allegations were that were raised by Daniel’s story. Daniel had got hold of many papers and transcripts from his friends and family and was interested in finding out more about the Inslaw Inc. lawsuit. 


The Inslaw Inc. lawsuit took Daniel further back into the history of the American intelligence agencies and how they operated. Bill Hamilton, who started Inslaw Inc. and created the state-of-the-art software “PROMIS” for the Department of Justice, was ridden bankrupt by the same government body. On Daniel’s further investigation, there were allegations of the government body trying to resell the company and the software to a certain Earl Brian. A decade ago, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan were campaigning for the presidential election, and the Iran hostage situation was at its peak. There were allegations that Ronald Reagan’s campaign had funded the Iranian government to keep the hostages in the country and derail Jimmy Carter’s negotiations with the hostile country. 

Earl Brian spearheaded this deal and Ronald Reagan, after winning the election, offered the software “PROMIS” to him, developed by Bill Hamilton. The software was one of a kind, and there were allegations of the government wanting full possession of the same for their benefit. It was believed that Daniel’s research into “The Octopus Conspiracy” got him to the Iran Hostage and Ronald Reagan connections. He further tried to dig deep into finding out what the government was further hiding from plain sight.


The other allegation that came up during Daniel’s research was about the usage of Bill Hamilton’s software, “PROMIS.”  There was speculation about Earl Brian, who had connections with organized crime and took the assistance of Michael Riconosciuto to tweak the software. It was assumed that the software was altered and shared across the intelligence agencies of many countries by America. American intelligence planned to use this software to spy on those countries, which included many of their allies. A copy of the software was also sent to Canada, but via illegal channels, as stated in the documentary by several experts. These details mentioned in above were part of “The Octopus Conspiracy,” and Daniel’s itch to expose the government and its unethical practices made him go down the rabbit hole, in search of information which could help him further implicate them. 

Daniel’s research took him to an Indian reservation in Indio, California, which was run by the Cabazons, the mafia syndicate. The biggest supporter of the Cabazons and the development of the native American land was John Philip Nichols. Citing social development, John Philip Nichols established a cigarette factory and casino, which promised multiple jobs. Fred Alvarez was another influential local who objected to John Philip Nichols’ expansion into the Indian reservation. He was asked to gather evidence that would prove John Philips Nichols was carrying out illegal work on the land. Fred Alvarez was quick to acquire the same, but he and his friends were killed, and the lack of investigation by the police indicated the influence of the Cabazons and John Philip Nichols. The deal with Cabazon also involved using the Indian reservation land for the trial of several kinds of firearms and weapons. 


Daniel could get access to all these details through Michael Riconosciuto, and he was very close to attaining more data about the government and its misgivings. The presence of the Cabazon mafia indicated the intelligence agencies and the Department of Justice were involved with the narcotics mafia in carrying out many operations, and they could be funding the campaign as well to keep their power afloat. There was an assumption that the Iran Contra scandal was also a part of “The Octopus Conspiracy,” and it turned out to be true. The connection between America and Iran was caught, and this could be the reason why the intelligence agencies were keen on keeping everything hidden and were successful in eliminating Daniel.

The involvement of Robert Booth Nichols created further speculation in “The Octopus Conspiracy.” Robert was not just a mediator between the intelligence and government agencies; he was instrumental in stringing along Daniel, who was desperate for further evidence against the Department of Justice and intelligence agencies. Michael Riconosciuto came close to revealing his role in messing with the software “PROMIS,” but he was sent to prison before he could go public with his affidavit drafted in support of Bill Hamilton. Bill Hamilton at times claimed the involvement of the mafia with intelligence and the Department of Justice in dragging his firm to bankruptcy. Bill Hamilton, though, never had any evidence to prove his allegations, while Daniel had come very close to exposing these misgivings. 


It is assumed that Robert Booth Nichols may have lured Daniel to West Virginia in the hope of acquiring more evidence. Sadly, Daniel was found dead in a few days. “The Octopus Conspiracy” remains a subject that has never had any conclusion. Michael Riconosciuto was willing to speak to Christan Hansen, but only off the record. This conspiracy will remain ambiguous unless the American government plans to declassify those documents after several decades when nobody will face any repercussions for their actions, especially those involved in the deaths of Daniel Casolaro and Fred Alvarez.

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Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan is a cinema enthusiast, and a part time film blogger. An ex public relations executive, films has been a major part of her life since the day she watched The Godfather – Part 1. If you ask her, cinema is reality. Cinema is an escape route. Cinema is time traveling. Cinema is entertainment. Smriti enjoys reading about cinema, she loves to know about cinema and finding out trivia of films and television shows, and from time to time indulges in fan theories.

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