Nonprofit Newswire | Spies Like Us—Or Not

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June 30, 2010, 2010; Source: Charlotte Observer |In the category of very unusual nonprofit happenings, we take note of the arrest of a bunch of alleged “sleeper” spies working for the Russian government. The press has detailed their ordinary lives under various aliases in the U.S., but little attention has been paid to one particular character and his connection, of sorts, to the U.S. nonprofit sector.

Donald Heathfield, of Cambridge, Mass. was on one of the various advisory boards of a nonprofit called the Lifeboat Foundation, described in an AP account as a group that “encourages scientific advancements.” Actually, Lifeboat doesn’t encourage just any old scientific advancements. The Minden, Nev.-based nonprofit is dedicated to helping humanity survive existential risks through technologies such as an asteroid shield, a “nanoshield” (a repellant against nanoweapons such as self-replicating ecophages), “Ark I” (a self-sustaining space colony built to ensure that humanity could survive if disasters make Earth uninhabitable), an “antimatter shield”, and an “alienshield” (actually a diplomatic and communications protocol “to minimize frictions caused by a first contact situation, be it friendly, unfriendly, or neutral”).

There may be a for-profit and a nonprofit side to Lifeboat, given the dot.com website, but the organization does file 990s which are posted on Guidestar. Its total nonprofit income through gifts, grants, and contributions from 2004 through 2008 is only about $140,000, though the website has a professional look to it with numerous advisory boards containing the names of what looks like well over 400 people—including Heathfield at one time or another, according to the press accounts. His Lifeboat Foundation bio, apparently now deleted, says that Heathfield invented “Future Map”, “a continuously updated ‘Big Picture’ of the future that can be built for any organization, country, or specific domain of interest . . . composed of events anticipated to occur in the near- and long-term future”.

The Boston Herald described Lifeboat as a “bizarre” futurist organization, but among its many advisory board members are actor Ed Begley, Jr., conservative political commentator James Pinkerton, and science fiction author Ben Bova. Our favorite Lifeboat advisor, joining Bova on the Futurists Board, is one “RU Sirius”. If this is how Putin’s alleged spies planned to infiltrate “typical” American society, we may not have all that much to fear, at least until we find ourselves desperately needing the antimatter shield.—Rick Cohen