UFOs Shape Legacies of CIA Officers
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) recently declined to further declassify a heavily redacted 1949 FBI letter to the Director sent from the New York Field Office. NARA explained in a Dec. 2 email it identified biological warfare as the subject of the records composed as part of a domestic security investigation. Download the letter below:
The letter is part of a large, partially released FBI file identified as number 100-HQ-93216 and maintained by NARA. The file consists of some 8,500 mostly not yet released pages pertaining to mid-20th century investigations of potential bacteriological warfare threats. It first came to the attention of this writer in 2019 when the Bureau advised that the file contained material responsive to a FOIA request submitted on Col. Joseph Bryan III, a deceased former CIA officer and member of the Board of Governors of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP).
After publishing a blogpost about the records subsequently obtained, an attentive reader pointed out an interesting item they found while browsing the hefty FBI file on bacteriological warfare: A May 31, 1949, FBI memo in which Asst. Director Ladd updated Director Hoover on an advisory committee operating under the Secretary of Defense. The committee consisted of representatives from universities and intelligence agencies, including the CIA, which met at a doctor's apartment on Park Avenue in New York City.
Clearly indicative of the 1949 Project Bluebird, which was a forerunner to Artichoke (1951) and MKULTRA (1953), Ladd informed Hoover that a CIA chief scientist, Dr. Willard Machle, told the advisory committee the Agency was seeking its support “for a program of vigorous exploration” using drugs and hypnosis for “methods of isolation of the subconscious mind.” Of particular historic interest was Machle's apparent claim the 1949 Advisory Committee to the Secretary of Defense was the first group outside the CIA notified about the ongoing research. Ladd further informed Hoover the Committee reportedly expressed “considerable interest.”
This writer subsequently requested NARA do a Mandatory Declassification Review on the intriguing document, resulting in some further clarification of committee attendees and activity. From the further declassified May 31, 1949, memo:
Bryan and Hillenkoetter
Additional FOIA research revealed the FBI conducted investigation of Joseph Bryan III in 1947. By 1948, Bryan was touring FBI headquarters with Asst. Director Nichols and meeting with Director Hoover. According to FBI records, this was because Bryan, an accomplished writer in addition to his military service, was identified by the Bureau as a favorable choice to author a series of articles profiling the FBI in the Saturday Evening Post. The articles never materialized, at least not from Bryan, for reasons quite possibly including his 1949 recruitment into the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC). These and related circumstances are documented at length in Wayward Sons: NICAP and the IC.
Bryan was destined to lead a psychological warfare team, operating as a covert arm of the CIA and State Department within the OPC, from 1949 into the early 1950s. That was before the colonel became a staple of the board of NICAP, which was incorporated in 1957. Along the way, Bryan was reportedly responsible for a variety of skilled and colorful characters, ranging from future Watergate plumber E. Howard Hunt and accomplished perception manager Hugh Troy, to Lewis “Pinky” Thompson, who was implicated heavily in providing support for behavior modification projects, both domestic and abroad. Such were the members of Bryan's psy warfare unit.
Among other items of note, Dr. Charles Geschickter testified in 1963 court proceedings on Pinky's behalf when a racehorse Pinky owned failed a post-race drug test and was disqualified. History might view the doctor's testimony and Pinky's integrity more favorably were it not for the fact Geschickter managed a foundation, the Geschickter Fund, he later acknowledged during 1977 Senate hearings operated as a conduit for distributing CIA funds. Geschickter was integral in MKULTRA Subproject 35, which involved the infamous construction of a wing at Georgetown Hospital, enabling the CIA free roam and cover for “research involving covert biological and chemical techniques of warfare.” Pinky's 1965 obituary identified him as an official of the CIA and a related death announcement requested in lieu of flowers contributions be made to the Geschickter Fund for Medical Research, Georgetown University.
Bryan was similarly obstructive without apology when it came to non-explaining such activities as his presence in Paris and New York during 1951, which included meeting with senior officials of New York Times offices in each city. He later claimed he could not remember details of the purposes of the meetings (See “The CIA and the New York Times: An Unanswered Question”, Athan G. Theoharris, Government Publications Review, Vol 10, pp257-259, 1983).
The OPC, which hosted Bryan's psy warfare squad, unquestionably provided a variety of support for Bluebird during the MKULTRA formative years. At a bare minimum, Col. Bryan was well aware of the culture in the Agency both in the United States and across the globe, arguably much more so than most. To the other extreme, he was potentially an influential asset to human rights atrocities on an unconscionable scale.
Bryan is more currently and most often intermittently described as either a proponent of UFOs or a NICAP villain who sabotaged the UFO org to thwart it from disclosing the proverbial truth, depending on which Bryan quote and who's school of thought you happen to be browsing. The popular public perception of Bryan's CIA boss, however, is now much more – and arguably much less deservedly – reduced to a rather one-dimensional stream of Pollyanna pro-UFO quotes.
Adm. Roscoe Hillenkoetter was the Director of Central Intelligence from 1947-1950. That means eventual family jewels were not just somewhere down the hall while he worked there, but under his guidance and direction. Specifically, under Roscoe Hillenkoetter the Office of Policy Coordination was set up and received CIA financial backing; Bluebird was launched and soon morphed into Artichoke; and the OPC provided Bluebird operational support. Documentation is provided by the CIA itself: Hillenkoetter signed off on Bluebird budget and project plans, which included psychiatrists setting up an office in Washington, DC, as cover for experiments and “indoctrination.” OPC was explicitly identified as a provider of support personnel for the office and operations abroad. The above referenced Dr. Machle, it could be emphasized, worked in the Hillenkoetter administration of the 1949 CIA.
Hillenkoetter was later reunited with Bryan on the NICAP board, which the admiral chaired from 1957-1962. Today, one is much more likely to see quotes attributed to Hillenkoetter about purported intelligently controlled flying saucers – lines NICAP distributed far and wide in its day – adorning the banners of UFO websites and UFO-themed social media accounts than they are apt to hear anything about his key role in initiating mind control research. Would Hillenkoetter have a different, much less respected and more nefarious legacy had he never become involved with NICAP and mouthed off about UFOs? It might seem that way, certainly among UFO enthusiasts. It's a relevant question and raises intriguing implications for both the past and present, but there are other issues to consider as well.
Let's circle back to the latest response from NARA, the one in which it declined to further declassify the 1949 letter to the Director located in the large bacteriological warfare file. The letter from the New York Field Office to Hoover is dated June 20, 1949, just three weeks after the above referenced May 31 memo in which Ladd briefed Hoover on developments within the Advisory Committee to the Secretary of Defense – which was meeting in New York.
Among the few lines released of the heavily redacted June 20, 1949, letter are the opening words. The author of the document initially indicated a forthcoming message regarding Bureau letter (“rebulet”) of May 13, in which the New York Office was assigned to study a topic which has been redacted from view. The author then goes on to indicate the Bureau desires to place a trustworthy Communist Party informant in a position where he has the complete confidence of his Communist associates:
The rest of the letter remains almost fully redacted, as such:
NARA explained in its Dec. 2 email response it completed a line-by-line review of the letter. “Please be advised,” the email continued, “we have considered the foreseeable harm standard when reviewing records and applying FOIA exemptions for this request. Information was released to the greatest extent possible. Below is a summary of our review:”:
A lot was going on in 1949 in NYC and DC. A lot was going on when NICAP incorporated in 1957. Hillenkoetter was not necessarily collaborating with Hoover on his spy schemes, either in 1949 or later. But Hillenkoetter and Bryan knew the people being recruited and targeted. You can bet on that. They'd all seen each other around, and that should get its fair share of attention in proportion to hyperbole about intelligently controlled flying saucers, as should the actual nature of these officers' careers.