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FBI Records Released on Robertson Panel CIA Officer

FBI records obtained Wednesday from the National Archives on Frederick Durant III provide glimpses into the career of the guided missile expert who served alongside Dr. J. Allen Hynek as an associate member of the Robertson Panel. The Panel was a 1953 CIA-funded UFO think tank of which Durant authored the resulting document, sometimes referred to as the Durant Report.

The 67-page FBI file, compiled from July 1952 to December 1953, reflects Bureau investigations undertaken to apparently allow Durant security clearance to participate on the Robertson Panel in his capacity as a CIA officer. The file is also indicative of Cold War concerns Russian spies and Communist sympathizers were infiltrating U.S. intelligence agencies and accessing sensitive national security information.

The FOIA request was originally submitted to the FBI while this writer was composing Wayward Sons: NICAP and the IC. The Bureau advised in a 2020 FOIA response of the existence of the file maintained at the National Archives and Records Administration. A request subsequently submitted to NARA resulted in the eventual processing and release of the file, available below:

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Frederick Clark Durant III was born in Pennsylvania in 1916. He attended Lehigh University from 1934 to 1939, at which time he graduated with a degree in chemical engineering. Durant entered the Navy in 1941 and went on to work as the head of the engineering department at storied Wright Patterson Air Force Base in 1951, according to FBI records obtained. He also became a CIA officer in 1951. The career path of the Cold War aerospace expert:

Reports compiled on Durant by FBI Special Agents in 1952 consistently indicate his good community standing and lack of derogatory information to be found among law enforcement and credit agencies. Likewise, former employers and professional contacts repeatedly told the Bureau they would recommend him for a position of trust.

The findings and significance of the Robertson Panel, headed by physicist Dr. Harold P. Robertson, continue to be argued among UFO enthusiasts. The Panel, after hearing testimony from a variety of informed presenters, including representatives from intelligence agencies, advised the CIA it found no indication the reported phenomena constituted a direct physical threat to national security. It further advised that propaganda and resulting hysteria surrounding the topic posed a much greater risk and warranted attention.

Secrecy surrounding the Robertson Panel and its CIA funding fueled largely unfounded speculation among UFO proponents. The Panel's lack of concern about literal mysterious flying objects certainly contributed to criticism from the UFO subculture. Frederick Durant himself became the subject of conspiracies and accusations that he was employed by the Agency to undermine UFO research and extract information for CIA benefit from the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena, as explained in Wayward Sons.

Although Durant passed FBI investigations with flying colors, even the seemingly all-American rocket expert was not entirely without an episode of temporary and urgent concern from the Bureau. In late 1953, months after the conclusion of the Robertson Panel proceedings, the FBI discovered Frederick to be the nephew of one Kenneth Durant, the subject of investigations undertaken by its Albany office. Kenneth had been identified as a “manager of the Tass News Agency 1920-1944” and “closely affiliated with Communist Party members.”

FBI Director Hoover quickly called for investigations on Frederick Durant to be reopened and supplemental reports to be “submitted within five days without fail.” Others within the Bureau wanted explanations of the security lapse, asking, “How did we miss this?”:

The answers to that question involved cross-referenced material that apparently escaped notice, and, somewhat curiously, a woman no longer employed with the Bureau. She was given blame for failing to thoroughly search files she reportedly marked as “NR,” meaning “no records” of relevance to the investigation were found within them. The info pertaining to Kenneth Durant was later, in fact, located in the files.

Special Agents rapidly re-scoured the countryside searching for evidence of Frederick Durant interacting with and being influenced by his uncle. Interestingly, confidential informants included a telephone operator, a postmaster, and employees of the Kenneth Durant home, but much to (no doubt) the relief of the FBI, Frederick seemed to have little to no interactions with Kenneth.

The FBI file received from NARA has select redactions. FOIA exemptions provided in justification of withholding the 70-year-old material include b3, “Intelligence Sources and Methods.”

Those familiar with this writer's previous work and blogposts offered at Expanding Frontiers Research should not be entirely surprised to find a lack of UFO-related references in such records as compared to a relative abundance of espionage and counterintelligence implications, as suggested in the above screenshot. Such redactions will be appealed.

In 2020 this writer submitted a FOIA request to the CIA, seeking records on Frederick C. Durant III. In an October 2022 response, CIA advised it located responsive material yet determined it must be denied in its entirety on the basis of FOIA exemptions b1 and b3. An administrative appeal was submitted and remains pending as of this writing.

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