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Judy Garland Manager Became CIA Asset

Carleton W Alsop, 1939, Miami Herald

FBI records recently obtained from the National Archives indicate the Bureau compiled a file from 1950-1971 on Carleton W. Alsop, once considered the CIA's most valuable asset in Hollywood. Alsop was a member of a political and psychological warfare unit assembled within the Office of Policy Coordination, a covert arm of the CIA and State Department, which officially operated from 1948-1952. The unit was led by Joseph Bryan III, who went on to be an influential and long-term member of the Board of Governors of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena, as explored in this writer's book, Wayward Sons: NICAP and the IC.

The FBI opened what is known as an applicant investigation on Alsop in 1950. Select details continue to be redacted and numerous entire pages of responsive records were deemed exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, but the investigation almost certainly reflects Alsop's formal induction into the CIA.

From a May 2 email received from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA):

From the files received:

FBI agents composed some nine reports on Carleton Alsop and his then-wife, actress Sylvia Sidney, during the applicant investigation. While there is no direct correlation in these specific files between Alsop's CIA affiliation and his career management of actress Judy Garland, the circumstances nonetheless provide a dark backdrop through progressing FBI reports and memos.

From Bureau files:

An apparent truth of the Carleton Alsop files is that those reported for decades to have abused and exploited Judy Garland seem to have included a man who became a CIA asset, or at least his neglect and complicity potentially factors, even if that is not the primary takeaway of the Carleton Alsop story. One might consider the circumstances somewhat reminiscent of the George White saga, an apparent rogue narcotics squad cop with a drinking problem who became an MKULTRA asset, haphazardly managing Agency brothels under its notorious Operation Climax.

Judy Garland, 1950

Alsop was often described by those the Bureau interviewed as an excessive drinker, as well as accused in multiple divorce proceedings of cruel and abusive behavior. Nonetheless, Alsop was often given highly supportive assessments from those interviewed by the FBI, many acknowledging his drinking habits but stating the behavior didn't seem to impair his judgment, and certainly not his patriotism. Confidential informants similarly stated his several divorces did not reflect unfavorably on his character, but were attributable to understandable circumstances, such as differing career paths.

A minority of informants were much less generous, expressing concerns about Alsop's trustworthiness and even his ability to keep his mouth shut, given his fondness for night life. Obviously, he was ultimately considered loyal to the causes and retained for Federal service.

The Stockton, CA, native and University of Southern California class of 1926 grad became well-connected in the circles of the rich and famous in both Los Angeles and New York City. According to Watergate “plumber” E. Howard Hunt, Alsop and he were the only members of Bryan's team who were not Princeton alumni (Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles was also a Princeton man). Alsop was undoubtedly seen as beneficial to intelligence services for any number of potential reasons during the 1950s Red Scare and Cold War climates.

As a matter of fact, the Bureau's deep concern with the women in Alsop's life (they even investigated a man who became the husband of one of Alsop's ex-wives) probably reflects the hunt for Communists in Hollywood. In this writer's experience, the mid-20th century FBI typically had a tendency to lack interest in the potentially criminal activities of females, if not to a sexist fault (That opinion is not necessarily shared by professional historians, but just happens to have been developed through the material explored to date). It therefore seemed significant that FBI took such interest in women during this specific investigation. The Bureau also tapped some 16 redacted confidential informants in addition to many interviewees directly named, the latter consisting of people ranging from co-workers to telephone operators.

Frances Stonor Saunders, author of The Cultural Cold War, reported Alsop worked with the CIA as part of a larger campaign to discredit Soviet efforts to attract attention to U.S. racial tensions and discrimination against people of color. Alsop monitored and reported on potential Communist activity in Hollywood and furthered CIA objectives through introducing specific themes into films. He and fellow psychological warfare asset Finis Farr secured the rights to Orwell's Animal Farm from the writer's widow, and E. Howard Hunt assisted with CIA-funding for production of an elaborate animated film version which began in 1951. These were the things Carleton Alsop did.

Joseph Bryan III makes an appearance in the Alsop files in a 1953 FBI memo, Subject: Carleton William Alsop, when D.M. Ladd reminded the director an investigation of Bryan led the Bureau to conclude the man talks trash about the FBI:

Disrespecting the FBI is not necessarily a bad thing, depending on who you ask and when you ask them, but it's safe to say Director Hoover would disagree adamantly, under any scenario. Incidentally, and arguably fascinatingly, all of the men referenced in the memo above and scheduled to visit the FBI lab, Bryan, Alsop, and Hugh Troy, worked together on the Office of Policy Coordination political and psychological warfare team. This all ties into a few obscure letters located in a previously obtained Joseph Bryan FBI file as described in Wayward Sons.

The murky gist of the situation is Hoover was corresponding in 1950 with a Judge Edward Allen Tamm, who forwarded the director a letter from Cornelius Vanderbilt. All of this somehow relates to Bryan, but FOIA requests have not yet fully clarified the circumstances. What is clear is Bryan, like Alsop and many of his fellow Ivy League CIA recruits, rubbed elbows with those of influence who were attractive to the CIA for reasons ranging from control of newspapers to personal wealth. Interestingly, the Alsop FBI files specify to refrain from interviewing Vanderbilt about Alsop.

What is also clear is that while some of these people overtly professed interest in UFOs, FBI files fail to demonstrate that to actually be the case, and UFO evidence is rarely to never so much as referenced, much less observable. For instance, another personal feud in which Bryan became embroiled during this same historic time period involved Robert A. Winston, a retired Navy and CIA man. As the work of James Carrion showed, Winston was curiously the author of a 1946 intelligence report which significantly called into doubt the legitimacy of the so-called ghost rockets of the era.

It all keeps looping back around on itself. FBI records contain accusations of the spreading of derogatory rumors and the Bureau's efforts to find their sources and counter the narratives. Much like the UFO chase of today, the circumstances descend into personal arguments and conflicting statements from one instance to the next. One might reasonably question if creating confusion and chaos were some of the players' intent for reasons that had little to nothing to do with ghost rockets, UFOs... tic tacs or UAP.

So, why did the Alsop FBI files extend into the 1970s if it started as a 1950 applicant investigation? The answer to that may lie in this writer's observations that once a person becomes the subject of an investigation to clear them for security purposes, they often stay under surveillance indefinitely. That may be to ensure they remain a low security risk. In other words, keep tabs on who they hang out with and watch for signs they become compromised and start spying for adversaries. Just because someone was apple pie in 1950 doesn't necessarily mean they're not fed up and drowning in debt in 1952.

Records on Alsop show he and Hoover publicly spoke favorably of one another and employed similar language in personal letters exchanged. Hoover even eventually stated in written FBI orders that he considered Alsop a personal friend. Alsop and his family were to be extended the highest courtesies as they traveled abroad. FBI men were positioned to receive the family at airports and even assist them through customs, in one instance removing their car from a cruise ship for them.

Was this protecting the safety of a United States asset, or perhaps something more akin to offering an encouraging slap on the back while keeping a watchful eye on a man deemed to have poor self-control and subject to changing loyalties with the direction of the wind? Perhaps only Hoover – and more research – could truly tell.

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