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Jessup Letters Reflect NICAP Turmoil

Researchers Emily Louise and Tanner F. Boyle recently embarked on a journey across West Virginia, visiting locations known for their famous paranormal lore. Among the numerous stops they made was the Clarksburg Public Library, home to the Gray Barker UFO Collection. Emily kindly passed along some documents she came across, correctly supposing they might be of interest due to this writer's previous work on the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP).

Emily shared five separate images, comprising four letters written to Gray Barker from Morris K. Jessup, an original NICAP organizer and UFO author. The letters were apparently typed in December 1956 and January 1957, a key time in the NICAP saga.

The organization's incorporation was officially approved in October 1956. Its inaugural three months saw three different treasurers and its director, T. Townsend Brown, was sent packing at the January 15, 1957, first annual meeting. Maj. Donald Keyhoe was then issued the hot seat.

“I think it's time to publically debunk NICAP,” Jessup wrote Barker on December 18, 1956, “and I am sorry to have been associated with Brown. It is now common knowledge that I have been denied a place in the organization...” Jessup went on to assert the NICAP governors should do a housecleaning or start a new committee. NICAP financial matters were under suspicion. Later years would see issues arise about the presence of the CIA and intelligence personnel.

In a letter written to Barker just four days after the first, December 22, 1956, Jessup interestingly stated he did not know for the life of him if he had already replied. He then shared more of his assessments of NICAP.

Jessup criticized Brown, took aim at NICAP finances, and shared his low opinion of the organization's personnel. “Brown proudly told me that de Rochefort knows absolutly [sic] nothing about UFO or the UFO field,” Jessup wrote.

On January 3, 1957, Jessup continued, “NICAP is still a mess. The frenchman [sic] has walked out until he can get pay and authority, but his resignation has not yet been accepted. The Baltimore free-loaders [sic] seem to have been sidetracked.”

Part of a January 3, 1957, letter from Morris K. Jessup to Gray Barker

The Baltimore freeloaders was a reference to Counsel Services, a public relations firm conclusively linked by your author to the CIA and State Department personnel. Counsel Services officers assisted T. Townsend Brown in incorporating the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena.

The Frenchman, Nicholas de Rochefort, was in all reasonable likelihood a CIA asset himself, and probably brought on by Counsel Services. His expertise was psychological warfare and the China lobby, all of which would have a lot to do with why he didn't know anything about UFOs, as Jessup correctly pointed out to Barker. To be clear, it could be considered highly unlikely his presence at NICAP had anything to do with UFO investigation.

A contract undertaken between Counsel Services and NICAP stipulated that Counsel Services officers, specifying by name Thomas D. O'Keefe, were empowered to hire consultants to work as NICAP regional managers (see page 7). O'Keefe listed among his previous positions sitting on the Selection Board for Foreign Service Officers with the Department of State (see page 41). That means he helped assign spies to work overseas. O'Keefe was a NICAP incorporator (see page 3).

From the NICAP Certificate of Incorporation

In 1975, writer and researcher Stanley D. Bachrack sued the CIA. He sought all records on relations between then-deceased Nicholas de Rochefort and the CIA and its predecessor agencies. Notably, Bachrack showed no interest at all in UFOs, but became convinced the Russian-born Frenchman acted on behalf of the CIA during his successful lobbying activities and influence campaigns against Red China. The lawsuit was ultimately dismissed when the presiding judge ruled that, while there is a strong public interest in government public disclosure, there is also a strong public interest in effective intelligence services, which could be greatly impaired by irresponsible disclosure (see page 61).

While it has not yet been conclusively identified why Nicholas de Rochefort either joined or exited the NICAP office, Jessup's description of de Rochefort's inability to gain authority could be challenged. We cannot know for sure what de Rochefort told people, or what Jessup heard, but records suggest de Rochefort had little desire to be the NICAP frontman, or at the least may have wanted to keep Brown around a bit longer.

Specifically, a December 17, 1956, NICAP Progress Report states a special meeting of the Executive Committee took place and appointed de Rochefort to succeed Brown effective December 18 (see page 89). However, a subsequent January 7, 1957, memo indicated the appointment was deferred when none other than Nicholas de Rochefort brought it to the attention of the Committee that, by its own rules and regulations, it lacked the authority to make the change (see pages 93-94). The appointment was therefore deferred until the Board of Governors could duly elect Brown's successor, which, for whatever reasons, became Donald Keyhoe. In contradiction to the news Jessup gave Barker, one could reasonably suspect de Rochefort was not aspiring to achieve NICAP authority, or at least not overtly, given the information contained in the memos.

Fascinatingly, records obtained on Nicholas de Rochefort from the FBI indicate he was the subject of Bureau investigations during the very time in question. An extremely interesting and heavily redacted memo, subject Nicholas de Rochefort and dated November 27, 1956, was written from a Special Agent in Charge at the Washington Field Office to Director J. Edgar Hoover. It stated a confidential informant supplied information in strict confidence, not to be disseminated outside of Hoover's office (see page 20):

Efforts have thus far been unsuccessful to have the memo further declassified. The FBI did advise, however, of the existence of an approximately 200-page file responsive to Nicholas de Rochefort in the custody of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). A 2020 FOIA request subsequently revealed NARA would process and produce the records for a cost of about $160. The estimated time of completion was originally September 2022. That was obviously delayed, and we hope to receive records sooner than later.

In the final letter shared by Emily, Jessup wrote Barker again, January 21, 1957, explaining the changing of NICAP personnel. He noted that few remained from the original group.

Other points of interest in the Jessup letters to Barker (shared by Emily) include Jessup's extreme doubt about the authenticity of statements from self-described contactees. Jessup expressed his befuddlement when he would find people he otherwise respected, “believing in some of the characters whom I have distrusted completely.” However, Jessup emphasized the importance to Barker of keeping his opinion confidential. “[P]ublically I feel I have to continue walking a tight wire in order to maintain public relations for future books.”

Likewise, Jessup explained to Barker that if ufologists are to retain any slight degree of sanity and self-respect, they must deal adequately with hoaxing. Frankly and confidentially, Jessup continued, he did not believe anyone is in communication with spacecraft. “But don't quote me,” Jessup reiterated, “for I still want to sell some books...” That arguably reflects some 75 years of high-profile personalities who go along to get along within the UFO subculture, if not sensationalize issues for self-serving purposes themselves.

Jessup seemed to be a restless soul and his saga serves as a cautionary tale in the annals of ufology. He was involved in a number of fascinating chains of events, but he ultimately lacked the fulfillment he so rigorously sought.

Morris K. Jessup was found dead in 1959 in a car near Miami. There was a hose running from the exhaust pipe into the vehicle. Authorities ruled the death a suicide.

FOIA efforts conducted in 2020 revealed NARA is in possession of an approximately 100-page file, subject Morris Jessup, Dr. Rulen Alred, Alex Joseph, John Ray and Shirley Joseph Baker. It was created between 1973 and 1974. "Dr. Rulen Alred" may be a reference to Rulon Allred, a chiropractor who led a fundamentalist sect and was assassinated in 1977. The file was requested and estimated to be processed for release by December 2023.

The above issues of overlap between the intelligence community and NICAP, and much more, are explored in substantially greater depth in Wayward Sons: NICAP and the IC.

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