I’m heartbroken to share the news of the passing of Marcia Tammen, Ronald’s only sister. Marcia died this morning of complications from a chronic health condition. She would have been 78 on September 30.
Marcia was only ten years old when Ron disappeared, but she carried his memory and the hope of finding him with her all her life.
On the day of her brother’s disappearance, Marcia had won a framed print at her church after memorizing 18 verses of the Bible. The print was of Christ at Heart’s Door, by Warner Sallman. On the back, her teacher had written: “Only one life—‘Twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.” Marcia kept that print with her for the next 67 years.
Marcia was my go-to source and confidante as I was conducting my research about Ron, and she was always open to whatever information I sent her way. A couple times each year, we’d meet up at Wendy’s or Bob Evans’ near her home, and I’d fill her in on updates. She’d listen intently to what I had to say, taking meticulous notes, and then would usually respond with, “Well…that sounds interesting. Keep up the good work.” She was warm, kind, and unflappable in a Midwestern sort of way.
The last time I saw her was this past February, just before the coronavirus impacted all of our lives. She was interviewed in her apartment by a Cincinnati TV reporter about Ron’s disappearance, and did a beautiful job sharing her thoughts about her family’s loss. The segment never aired because of COVID-19, but I’m so glad that we had the chance to do it. After our interviews, Marcia, her roommate Jule, and I drove to a local diner and had lunch together and gabbed like old friends. On the drive home, Marcia wanted me to look at a building I was driving by and she suddenly raised her arm to point it out. I thought she was telling me to take a quick left, and I jerked the wheel and very nearly rolled the car. Usually, she kept a straight face with me, but this time, she started cracking up, again, like an old friend. That was cool.
Every time someone associated with the Tammen mystery passes away, I feel as if I’ve let that person down. I really wanted to solve this in time. In fact, I’ve always pictured throwing a big party, and getting us all together, hopefully with Ron showing up as the main attraction. This one hurts so much.
The myriad ways Gilson Wright described Tammen’s open textbook without ever once using the word ‘psychology’
(Supplement to season 2, episode 4 of The One That Got Away)
One of the topics that Josh, Tyler, and I discuss in episode 4 of The One That Got Away, which dropped tonight, is the psychology book that was open on Ron’s desk the night he disappeared. We’d already established on this blog site that Joe Cella was the first reporter to reveal that it was a psychology book, and he did so in his one-year anniversary article, published in the Hamilton Journal News on April 22, 1954. Later still, 23 years after Tammen disappeared, we learned that the book was opened to “Habits,” thanks again to the intrepid Joe Cella, on April 18, 1976.
In preparing for the podcast, I thought it might be fun to document all the ways that book was mentioned in the press during the 1953-1976 time period by the two reporters who covered the case the longest, along with one other major reporter. I wanted to find out how that uber dull yet utterly intriguing psychology book became part of the Tammen narrative.
Below is a chart I created of news articles about the Tammen disappearance that mention the textbook on Ron Tammen’s desk. The three primary reporters were: Joe Cella, a reporter for the Hamilton Journal News who followed the case for more than 20 years; Murray Seeger, a reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, who wrote one well-researched article in 1956; and Gilson Wright, a journalism professor at Miami, who also was a freelance stringer/correspondent for area papers, and a long-time adviser to student journalists at the Miami Student. Because he was a Miami employee, Wright had a conflict of interest when reporting on the Tammen case in area papers, and it shows.
As you can see, only Cella and Seeger refer to the book on Tammen’s desk as his psychology book, as highlighted in red. At no time—ever, in his entire reporting career—does Gilson Wright refer to the book as a psychology book. (He retired from Miami in 1970, but kept writing for area newspapers on occasion.) Even when he was aware of Cella’s reveal in April 1954, Wright continued to refer to it as a book or books, or a textbook or textbooks. And if the university’s search algorithm didn’t let me down, it wasn’t until 1988—35 years after Tammen disappeared and 18 years after Wright had retired—that a reporter for the Miami Student, Julie Shaw, finally described the book as a psychology textbook.
left to right: Gilson Wright, Joe Cella, and Murray Seeger
This is tangible evidence that Gilson Wright was being used by the university to hide Ron’s psychology textbook from the curious public. Officials likely didn’t want people to find out that Ron was no longer enrolled in his psychology course, and to question why the book would be there. I believe they were attempting to steer reporters and others away from the psychology department because of their hypnosis activities at that time, which could implicate them in his disappearance. If Tammen’s psych book was opened to the page I think it was opened to, that would have worried them even more.
How Joe Cella obtained the information about the textbook, I don’t know. He may have had inside sources. Maybe Chuck Findlay told him. Remember that Cella’s April 22, 1954, article also included photographs of Tammen’s room after he disappeared, which also showed the open book on Tammen’s desk. [Article is provided with the permission of the Hamilton Journal-News and Cox Media Group Ohio.] From what I can tell, those were the first and last times those photos were ever published. I’m also not sure how Cella discovered the information about “Habits,” 23 years after Tammen disappeared. My guess is that he may have obtained it from Carl Knox. By then, Knox had moved to Florida, and had agreed to appear in The Phantom of Oxford with Cella in 1976. Perhaps Knox told Cella about the book pages then because he didn’t think it would cause a ruckus by that time.
Although Wright probably had the best of intentions in his reporting at the start, it appears as if someone at the university sat him down and gave him his marching orders. His cookie-cutter articles on the Tammen case year after year with no new revelations are indicative of a man living within boundaries. It was as if he was doing everything in his power not to mention that psych book, because, by God, he never did, even after Cella let the cat out of the bag.
In an April 11, 1977, article for the Dayton Daily News, Cella is quoted as saying: “The university covered it up. They wouldn’t give you any answers.”
Damn, Joe—I do believe you’re right, and the above chart helps prove it. If Gilson Wright and his superiors were going to these lengths to hide Ron’s psychology textbook from public view, then they obviously felt that it was important to the case.
I don’t know about you, but this tells me that we’re on the right track.
(Supplement to season 2, episode 3 of The One That Got Away)
*This post was formerly titled “More thoughts on two ignored clues,” but that was really boring, so I changed it. The URL remains the same, however.
I’m not gonna lie—podcasting has been fun. Not only is it helping me cope with my covid-fueled despair in a meaningful and productive way, but it inspires me to revisit some of the old blog posts and think new thoughts in light of findings that came out a little later in the process. (Please note: I won’t be producing a supplemental blog post for every podcast episode; I’ll only create a new post if we cover territory there that I haven’t discussed here.)
What I’m about to share is discussed in season 2, episode 3 of the podcast The One That Got Away, which I encourage you to listen to when you have a few idle minutes on your hands. Josh and Tyler are delightful human beings and they’re becoming quite the avid Tammen fans as well. But if you prefer to get your Tammen news by way of written words on a screen, no problem. I love that you like to read. Here are my latest ruminations regarding two questions that you may have already wondered about but were too polite to ask. I’m also going to share some brand new info that was released by Josh and Tyler during episode 3.
Question 1: Why did investigators choose to dismiss Paul’s and Chip’s story so quickly?
Let’s talk about those two extra hours we discovered in Ron’s timeline. Remember when Paul (not his real name) swore up and down that he and a guy named Chip Anderson (real name, but deceased) walked home with Ron after song practice on the night of April 19, and that they didn’t arrive until around 10:30 p.m.? And remember how university reps and the police interviewed them but completely ignored their story, instead telling everyone that Ron disappeared from his room at around 8:30 p.m.?
But Mrs. Spivey didn’t come forward until June. Why then did investigators choose to dismiss Paul’s and Chip’s story right off the bat?
I think the answer has to do with their favorite theory as to how Tammen disappeared. Very early in the investigation, by Friday, April 24, the university had declared in several Miami Valley and Cleveland papers that Ronald Tammen probably had amnesia. “Officials believe that he might have suffered an attack of amnesia,” an article in the Hamilton Journal News read. The Cincinnati Enquirer wrote: “University officials said Tammen might be suffering from amnesia as he took no clothing or personal articles with him.” (Neither article contained a byline, but my guess is that they were penned by Gilson Wright, since he wrote for both papers.) At least the Cleveland Plain Dealer showed some healthy journalistic skepticism about the university’s conclusion. It read “The dean [Carl Knox] believed the youth might have suffered an attack of amnesia, but had nothing to back that theory.”
So, amnesia. Now let’s consider how investigators would have tried to explain their amnesia theory under both estimated times of departure. Under the 8:30 p.m. scenario, Ron would have developed his amnesia at some point while he was in his dorm room, after he’d changed his sheets. Maybe it had hit him while he was studying at his desk. No one could possibly know the reason, because no one was there. He was alone, so anything was possible. In their view, he just, you know, cracked.
Under the 10:30 p.m. scenario, Ron had walked back to the dorms with Paul and Chip. He dropped them both off at Symmes Hall, and then headed toward Fisher Hall. But Ron never made it back to his room in Fisher. How do we know that? We know it because that’s roughly when his roommate, Chuck Findlay, had returned from his weekend in Dayton. Chuck never saw Ron.
Therefore, and this is crucial: Ron would have been struck by amnesia at some point between Symmes Hall and Fisher Hall.
Below is a map that shows you how close the two buildings were to one another, circled in red. Symmes is building #37, and Fisher is building #36. In my driving video on Ron’s possible trip to Seven Mile, that’s Symmes Hall on the left, immediately after I exited the circular driveway that’s now in front of Marcum Hotel and Conference Center. That driveway used to be in front of Fisher. You guys…Symmes and Fisher are super close.
Which scenario do you think investigators gravitated toward? While both are a little tough to swallow, wouldn’t it be easier to explain the one in which Ron went wandering off when no one was watching as opposed to walking with two people and then forgetting who he was immediately afterward? Exactly. Scenario A was the one they chose: 8:30ish. This brings me to the second question.
Question 2: Why did no one follow up on the clue regarding the woman in the car?
In July 2017, I learned about an astonishing lead. I learned that Ron had reportedly been spotted sitting in a car with a woman from Hamilton late on April 19 and, after about 45 minutes or so, the two had driven away. I learned this after I’d met with a former member of the Oxford police force—someone who had actually worked for police chief Oscar Decker in 1953, when Tammen disappeared. In my blog post, I refer to this man as Ralph Smith, but that was just a pseudonym. I was keeping his identity secret.
In preparing for the podcast, I checked online to see if my source was still alive, and unfortunately, I found his very brief obituary. My source’s true name was Logan Corbin, and he passed away at the age of 97 on December 16, 2017, five months after our meeting. I’m posting his photo below as well as a link to an audio clip of him telling me about the purported woman in the car.
Logan was African American. In those days, it was virtually unheard of for a rural, small-town, predominantly white community such as Oxford to hire a Black cop, and, for that reason, I give the city credit for taking a step toward progress in the early-1950s. Nevertheless, racism was rampant there, and Logan endured daily doses of slurs from his fellow officers, sometimes over the police radio. Eventually, he decided to leave that position for another job, though he remained with the Oxford PD for seven years, from 1952 to 1959.
When you listen to Logan tell the story, one of the points he keeps repeating is that the lead concerning the woman in the car was never checked out. To that I say, WTfreakinF, Oscar Decker?! Logan wasn’t sure how the police had found out about it—”word just got out,” he’d told me. Granted, it would have taken some detective work to follow the lead. They didn’t know the woman’s name, the make or model of her car, its color, the exact time she drove away, any of that. But it would have been way easier to check out those details then, when all the major players were still alive and well, and walking around that small section of campus, as opposed to six decades later. The cops could have publicized the possible sighting far and wide, asking anyone with information to come forward. For some reason, they chose not to.
If, as I believe, Ron Tammen disappeared from somewhere between Symmes Hall and Fisher Hall, that circular driveway between the two buildings could have been ground zero to where it all happened.
So, again I ask, why wouldn’t investigators follow the one lead that places Tammen in that exact location—in a car, in the driveway between Symmes and Fisher Halls? For some reason, investigators felt the need to steer everyone in a different direction.
**and the ways in which Ronald Tammen’s case was treated as an exception to the rule
The year that fingerprints first became part of J. Edgar Hoover’s tactical toolkit was 1924, the same year Hoover was named director of the Bureau of Investigation, forerunner of the FBI, and also the year in which the Identification Division was created. The technology itself has changed since then, but you’d expect that, wouldn’t you? In 1924, Calvin Coolidge was occupying the White House, the Charleston was all the rage, and “23 skidoo” was something people would actually say to one another to appear street smart and hip. It was a very long time ago.
And yet, change didn’t come quickly for the folks in the Identification Division—or Ident as they were known to their fellow employees. For decades, the FBI was collecting fingerprints with the same tried-and-true method that they’d used since 1924—rolling black inky fingers onto white cardstock—and training thousands of employees the art of eyeballing one card against another to assess whether they came from the same set of fingers. They were using this methodology through 1941, when Ronald Tammen was fingerprinted as a second grader. They were still using it in 1973, when they fingerprinted the guy at Welco Industries to see if he might be Ron. And they kept on using it for more than a quarter century after that. Not until 1999, after the FBI had changed the division’s name to Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) and later moved the division to West Virginia, did fingerprinting finally go digital.
Millions of cards—Ron’s, the guy from Welco’s, plus all the others—were trucked from FBI Headquarters to the new facility in Clarksburg, WV. So many cards. Enough to go around the world if laid back to back, according to a former employee. Each and every card was scanned into a database, a feat in itself. Initially, that database was the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, or IAFIS. IAFIS was a game-changing innovation that could sort through and match fingerprints in a fraction of the time that it would have taken an Ident staffer to do under the manual system. And as skillful as Ident staff were at reading fingerprint cards, no longer would the FBI need to rely on occasional judgment calls, which, much to Hoover’s and his successors’ chagrin, could vary. In 2011, CJIS began incrementally upgrading to the Next Generation Identification (NGI) system, a massive database that is even faster and more powerful than IAFIS and incorporates fingerprint technology with all other biometric technologies except DNA. DNA has its own database, called the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, which we’ve discussed in previous blog posts.
So the process of collecting, sorting, and searching fingerprints has become way faster and more efficient thanks to the digitization of fingerprint data. But the basis of the technology—where the loops, whorls, and arches found on everyone’s fingertips are counted, categorized, and compared—is essentially the same as it was in 1924. And the importance of fingerprints in identifying one individual from another hasn’t changed much either, even today, when DNA reigns supreme.
Speaking of which, you know the meme of the guy who’s walking down the street with his girlfriend while he’s checking out another woman who just passed by?
Yeah, that one. DNA and the latest biometric tools, such as palm prints, irises, and facial recognition, may be what evokes oohs and aahs from people who like to keep up on the coolest new tech trends, which, to some degree, is most of us. But dollar for dollar, fingerprints continue to be the cute, nice, reliable technology that’s sometimes taken for granted. And yet, even with all the advances that are made in biometrics, it’s a safe bet that fingerprinting will continue to be an important identification tool for years to come. That’s because it’s built on the utterly astounding and never-proven-otherwise premise that no two people’s fingerprints are ever the same, even those of identical twins. And—get this—according to the book The Fingerprint Sourcebook, produced by the National Institute of Justice, of the U.S. Department of Justice, some people in China were using fingerprints as a means of identification as early as 300 BC. Does that blow your mind as much as it blows mine? How could people from 300 BC have known that fingerprints were so special? I’m quite sure that the first person to have used them would be surprised, no stunned, to know that their wild, out-of-the-box idea—their ancient hack to a primitive need—would still be used in 2020 and beyond.
Don’t get me wrong: No one here wants to disparage DNA. DNA is great. DNA is important. DNA technology has improved so much since the early days that even miniscule samples have helped solve cold cases such as the Golden State Killer. And if your DNA is found at a crime scene? Well, you’re probably toast. It’s pretty much attained “smoking gun” status, which isn’t the case for fingerprints. Fingerprints that are left at a crime scene—called latent prints—can be damning too, but, they’re rarely perfect. According to a 2017 study of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, they are often refutable, since they’re usually incomplete and, as the AAAS study points out, nearly impossible to match to a single source.
Nevertheless, fingerprints, especially what the FBI calls the “ten print,” non-latent variety, aren’t going away anytime soon. If you want to know the true identity of someone, their fingerprints are better than a name. Better than a Social Security number. Better than a picture ID.
“Fingerprints are considered positive identification, so it’s a much better way to identify people who, for whatever reason, don’t want to be identified. And that probably means most of the criminal element,” said one former CJIS employee.
So yeah—fingerprints, baby!
But we aren’t going to be talking about the science of fingerprints anymore on this blog post. No, the topic for today is standard operating procedures—or the bureaucratic maneuverings and machinations that take place once a set of fingerprints has been collected. In essence, we’ll be examining the life and death of a fingerprint, from the moment it’s pressed onto a white card or scanner and entered into the FBI’s system to the day it’s expunged. And friends, I challenge you to find anything on the internet that attempts to do what we’re attempting here. For the first time ever (I’m pretty sure), we’re pulling together information obtained from experts who categorized and analyzed fingerprints for the FBI for many years, a process that was drilled so deeply into their skulls that they could do it in their sleep. Then—when possible—we’re going to compare what the FBI routinely did, and sometimes still does, to what they did in Ronald Tammen’s case. And, spoiler alert: they aren’t the same.
My sources requested anonymity so they could speak openly, and because they no longer officially represent the FBI. We’ll do it like last time, in Q&A fashion. This time, however, I’ll list a question, provide an answer that merges what my sources told me with info from other related resources, and then, when applicable, compare and contrast that summary with the way things were handled for Ron Tammen, which will be printed in blue. Some answers may sound familiar to you, since we’ve discussed them before. Sometimes I added two and two together. You ready? Let’s do this.
Who can submit fingerprints to the FBI?
Only law enforcement agencies or a court can submit fingerprints to the FBI.
How it pertains to Tammen: This jives with Tammen’s case. Evidence indicates that Ron Tammen’s fingerprints were taken by the local police in Fairview Park, Ohio, in 1941, when he was a second grader, and they submitted the fingerprints.
How were fingerprints submitted to the FBI under the manual system?
The FBI generally didn’t accept fingerprint cards from local police departments because they would have been overwhelmed by the numbers. Instead, they had state police bureaus and other channeling agencies. Generally, the local police department would send the prints to the state police bureau and the state bureau would send them to the FBI. Conversely, once the FBI determined whether or not there was a match, they would respond to the state bureau and the state bureau would notify the local police.
How it pertains to Tammen: According to info I have from around that time, the Fairview Park police sent the fingerprints directly to the FBI as opposed to going through a state police bureau. It could be that they’d gotten such an early jump on the FBI’s civil fingerprinting efforts that they didn’t need to involve a middleman. Whatever—this little swerve from the norm isn’t a big deal, in my view.
How are fingerprints submitted now?
It’s still law enforcement types and the courts who can submit fingerprints to the FBI, but they can do so electronically using the NGI system. Police officers can even fingerprint someone using a mobile device in their squad car, hit the send key, and then, in a matter of seconds, receive information on the person’s identity and whether he/she has a criminal record and if there are possible warrants out for their arrest.
How it pertains to Tammen: It doesn’t. It’s just interesting.
What does the FBI number mean?
The FBI number is assigned to fingerprints when they are submitted and placed in a file. It would not be assigned to a “return print,” a civil fingerprint that was going to be returned immediately to a local police department or to someone’s parents. This was the number that the Identification Division would use to track all information pertaining to those fingerprints.
How it pertains to Tammen: Ron had an FBI number (#358 406 B] assigned to his fingerprints, which means that the Identification Division took the time to create a fingerprint jacket for him (the folder where fingerprints were stored). This tells us that the FBI likely retained Ron’s prints from day one, as opposed to sending them back to Fairview Park, and that they also likely had his fingerprints on file the day Ron went missing. Is it weird that the FBI would have kept his prints when every FBI source I’ve spoken with has found this detail most unusual? Yes, it’s weird. But I’m just glad that A) he was fingerprinted at all, and B) the FBI retained the prints. Think about how much less information we’d have on the Tammen case if the FBI hadn’t had a fingerprint file on him. All the strange behaviors during all those critical years (particularly 1967, 1973, and ultimately 2002) wouldn’t have occurred. If my theory of what happened to Tammen bears out, then those fingerprints could be the one detail that his shrewd handlers had no prior knowledge of, and that Tammen had long forgotten about, that could finally bring us some answers.
What information was included in the fingerprint file/jacket?
The fingerprint jacket contained a person’s fingerprint card or cards. In a missing person case, if the Identification Division was fortunate enough to have the missing person’s fingerprints, that’s the only information they would maintain in this file. Other descriptive information would be housed in Records Management. As we all know from the preceding post, there was also an Ident Missing Person File Room, but it didn’t appear to be well known among Ident staff, and it was not part of the usual protocol when handling missing person cases.
How it pertains to Tammen: According to the FBI memo from 5-22-73, there was only one fingerprint card in Ron’s file, which followed protocol. What was unusual were the documents that had been kept—and removed from—the Ident Missing Person File Room, number 1126, in June 1973. I’ve filed several FOIA requests in hopes of figuring out that little side mystery and will keep you posted.
What did the FBI do with the civil print cards they collected?
Most of the civil fingerprint cards that the Identification Division received were treated as “return prints,” which meant that the FBI had no intention of keeping them in their files. Each fingerprint card would be searched manually against the criminal fingerprint file and, if there was no match, it would be stamped on the back: “no criminal record.” The card would then be mailed back to the submitting agency. If the civil fingerprint matched a criminal record, the submitting agency would receive a copy of the criminal record known as “a rap sheet.” (The FBI likely held onto those prints.)
Generally, the only fingerprint cards that would have been permanently retained by the FBI in the civil file would be military personnel and employees of the federal government. However, there was one group in particular whom Hoover encouraged to be fingerprinted, and that was the Boy Scouts of America. The organization, which had developed a merit badge in fingerprinting, would send the scouts’ prints to FBI Headquarters, and, in return, the boys would receive a letter thanking them for helping with the cause. According to MuckRock.com, the Boy Scouts’ prints were maintained in the civil file, though my FBI sources recalled that they had been returned.
How it pertains to Tammen: Every FBI source I’ve spoken with has been both surprised and skeptical that the FBI would have kept Ron’s fingerprints from 1941. Apparently, it was extremely rare for the FBI to retain children’s fingerprints in the civil file back then. However, the FBI clearly had his fingerprints on file at some point because in 2002, they expunged them. The fact that Ron’s fingerprints were assigned an FBI number convinces me that they held onto them as opposed to sending them back to the police or parents and asking them to return them when he went missing. (It doesn’t really matter which scenario happened, to be honest, but we’re going for accuracy here.) If the FBI did keep his fingerprints from childhood, they would have maintained them in the civil file until 1953. Then, when he went missing, they would have moved them to the criminal file since the criminal file is the active file that is always consulted when new prints come in.
What does the FBI do with the criminal prints they collect?
They keep them all. People who’ve been arrested 10 times will have ten sets of fingerprints in their file, ostensibly as a means for identifying latent fingerprints in possible future arrests. For example, if the fingerprint picked up at a crime scene isn’t very good, the FBI could bring up a suspect’s fingerprints from all ten arrests to find if a corresponding section of one of those prints is a match with the latent print. Also, retaining all criminal fingerprints creates a comprehensive history of all the dates the person was arrested.
Under the manual system, the first fingerprint card from the first arrest would be filed in the master criminal file. Fingerprints from any subsequent arrests were filed together in the person’s fingerprint jacket. Likewise, under the digital system, all fingerprint data was also entered into the database for that person.
The criminal file includes the fingerprints of, you guessed it, criminals, such as people who are incarcerated, arrested, or who have warrants out for their arrest. It also includes missing persons as well as some federal employees, such as people who work for the FBI. The latter policy started with—who else?—Hoover, who said, “if any of my employees have any contact with the law, I want to know about it!” Several other federal agencies with law enforcement responsibilities have their fingerprints in the criminal file as well.
How it pertains to Tammen: As you can see, the FBI goes to great lengths to preserve every set of criminal fingerprints that it collects, even in cases where multiple sets of prints for the same person are already on file. However, Ronald Tammen’s fingerprints—of which they only had one set—were expunged in 2002, even though Tammen was ostensibly still missing. We’ll be discussing this development in more detail later, but, for now, let’s try to fully appreciate how inexplicable and bizarre this action seems to be. By that year, Tammen’s single set of fingerprints—the FBI’s only definitive means for identifying him—would have been entered into IAFIS, taking up a negligible amount of digital space and harming virtually no one as they sat there waiting for a potential hit. For what earthly reason would the FBI feel compelled to erase them forever from their vast database? Why would that be in their best interest? I wonder.
Did the FBI ever check the civil file for a match?
According to one knowledgeable source, the only time an Ident staffer would consult the civil file is in the case of an unidentified deceased individual. If a set of fingerprints came in of an unknown person who had died, they’d first search the criminal file, then they’d search the civil file. During the Vietnam War, for example, the fingerprints of unknown soldiers who had died in combat would be sent to the FBI for identification. In such cases, the civil file would always be checked, since that’s where the prints for members of the military were maintained.
How it pertains to Tammen: This would only pertain to Tammen if his fingerprints were in the civil file and he turned up dead. Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing if either happened.
Do they still keep criminal and civil fingerprints separate in NGI, or are they all lumped together?
According to a 2015 article published by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, all fingerprint data, civil and criminal, are now lumped together under NGI, and searched together thousands of times a day. While individuals found in the criminal file should be used to having their fingerprints searched for matches, this was a new development for people in the law-abiding civil file, and it creates privacy concerns. My FBI sources had retired before this policy was implemented, so they wouldn’t be able to comment. However, the controversy appears to be ongoing.
How it pertains to Tammen: It doesn’t, since Tammen’s prints were expunged in 2002, nine years before the transition to NGI had begun.
How difficult would it be to compare two sets of fingerprints in 1967: Ron Tammen’s, whose prints were in the criminal file, and a soldier in Vietnam’s, whose prints would have been in the civil file? (Question is in reference to this post.)
On average it used to take an Ident staffer 30 to 60 minutes to manually search an incoming fingerprint card against the criminal file, depending on the complexity of the print. A longtime employee said: “…If there were two sets of prints, one from an individual, one the military, it would be very easy to compare them to see if they were the same individual or not.”
How it pertains to Tammen: When Mr. Tammen wrote J. Edgar Hoover in October 1967 asking if the soldier pictured in an AP photo might be his son, Hoover responded that he didn’t have any more information on Ron’s case and suggested that Mr. Tammen contact the adjutant general of the U.S. Army regarding the soldier. In my opinion, this was a classic attempt at appearing helpful without helping at all.
Was Hoover’s response flaky? Couldn’t Hoover have found out the soldier’s name and asked his staff to test Ron’s prints against the soldier’s?
Said one expert: “Yes, it was. I thought so too.” Said another: “I am guessing that the Bureau did not have the time or resources to follow up on a newspaper article with a picture.”
How it pertains to Tammen: Let the record show that I consider it flaky—and telling—that Hoover wouldn’t have asked one of his Ident staffers to do this minor task for Mr. Tammen. As for the suggestion that Hoover may have had insufficient time and resources, the Identification Division was one of Hoover’s biggest bragging points, where hefty amounts of resources were devoted to the processing of millions of fingerprint cards each year. In 1964, the year of the FBI’s 40th anniversary, they were averaging 23,000-24,000 incoming fingerprint cards daily. Couldn’t they take some time to look at a couple more? Once Hoover had determined who the soldier was by calling the AP or the adjutant general himself, all he needed to do was ask one of his many Ident employees to spend an hour or less comparing the two cards. If it was a match, he could be a hero. For some reason, he didn’t feel it was worth that small effort.
What does it mean to expunge fingerprints?
The word expunge is often used in legal situations when referring to a criminal record. If a criminal record is expunged—some indiscretion of youth, for example, for which a judge decides a person has done their penance and, in a sense, lets bygones be bygones—it’s either sealed or wiped clean, as if it never existed. In a missing person case, the preferred terminology is generally to purge the records.
How it pertains to Tammen: According to Stephen Fischer, the CJIS media liaison in 2015, Tammen’s prints were “expunged” in 2002, though no evidence exists to indicate that he had a criminal record. Fischer later referred to the criteria by which fingerprints are “purged,” using the terms interchangeably. From this point on in this post, I’ll use both terms interchangeably as well.
When are fingerprints expunged?
According to Stephen Fischer in 2015, “The FBI purges fingerprint data and records at 110 years of age or 7 years after confirmed death.” In addition, according to other sources, the FBI will purge fingerprint data upon receipt of a court order to do so.
How it pertains to Tammen: Ronald Tammen would have been 68 or 69 in 2002, far younger than the 110 years of age currently required with NGI or even the slightly more youthful 99 years of age that was required with IAFIS. Unless there was a court order (which I’m still attempting to find out), the only other (ostensible) possibility is that the FBI had confirmed Ronald Tammen to be dead. It should be noted, however, that when I asked my FBI sources if they would make the same inference, no one was willing to go out on that limb for reasons that I’ll get into shortly.
How does the FBI know when 7 years/110 years have expired?
Under the manual file system, it would have been more tedious and probably fairly random to keep track of expiration dates. Now, however, my sources concur that it is an automated process, though no one I spoke to was aware of how the system sifts through the file to detect expired records.
How it pertains to Tammen: Unless his fingerprints were purged because of a court order or there’s another possible reason to remove a person’s fingerprints that I’m unaware of, something must have tripped the automated system.
Why would the FBI want to expunge someone’s fingerprints?
In general, this is something they’d prefer *not* to do. The FBI still relies heavily on fingerprints as a means of identifying people, particularly all the standout folks whose prints are in the criminal file. It’s not in the FBI’s best interest to purge those fingerprints without a very good reason. Storage space happens to be one very good reason. Once the FBI digitized its fingerprint data in 1999, beginning with IAFIS, a need arose to free up some storage space on occasion. And with NGI adding biometric data that requires even more space, the need has grown stronger since 2011. That’s why they have the 110/7-year rule. Other reasons for purging involve the legal system—the court ruling we’ve discussed earlier, for example. But according to most of the FBI experts I’ve spoken with, the reasons for purging a fingerprint can be counted on three fingers of one hand.
How it pertains to Tammen: This is the question that keeps me up nights. Ron didn’t make the 110-year age cut, so it’s either that he’s dead, and the FBI knows he’s dead but they don’t want us to know they know he’s dead, or it’s the court order thing. However, one source I spoke with speculated that perhaps someone in CJIS decided to purge Ron’s prints when they noticed that, if alive, he would be a much older adult in 2002, and maybe he didn’t want to be found:
“There were some situations where people were adults that had been reported missing and they weren’t really missing. They didn’t want to be found for some reason. And so, to me, it makes a difference whether you’re a minor child or above the age of 18 or 21, because an individual can choose, for whatever reason, just choose to disappear for their own reasons, for whatever purpose.”
The problem with that theory is that it completely goes against protocol. Nowhere have I read or heard that the FBI would purge a missing person’s fingerprints once a missing youth had reached adulthood. Perhaps an Ident staffer might have been inclined to make that sort of judgment call under the manual system…I don’t know. But, in 2002, when they were relying on the automated IAFIS system? I doubt it. There’s another reason I don’t think someone would have removed his fingerprints simply because he was older. I’ll discuss it in the next question.
What happens if a missing person turns out to be dead?
If an unidentified body was found, the local police could submit their fingerprints to the FBI through the state bureau. If the FBI already had the missing person’s fingerprints on file and they were a match, the submitting agency would have been notified of the match through the state bureau. In addition, a notice would have been placed in the missing person’s file saying that they had been confirmed dead, and, if available, the date they died. Here’s an important point to remember: the FBI doesn’t immediately purge the fingerprints of a missing person who has been proven dead. They just add the note. Even if a person is dead, those prints can still be valuable. They might be useful in helping solve cold cases or for identifying bodies following a disaster. That’s why they have a policy to wait seven years before purging them.
How it pertains to Tammen: If the FBI purged Ron Tammen’s prints in 2002 because he’d been confirmed dead seven years prior, that would mean that he would have died in 1995 at the latest. The FBI was still using its manual system in 1995. They were still using fingerprint jackets, and there should have been a note in the jacket saying that he was dead, and perhaps when he’d died.
As one knowledgeable source said:
“And even if a print had been identified as deceased, in that jacket, there still would have been information written in there by hand that it had been identified as deceased individual such-and-such. So all that would have been automated [after IAFIS was introduced], along with the actual fingerprints themselves that were digitized.”
Ostensibly, no notes have been written claiming that Tammen is deceased. However, it also bears repeating that, even if they’d found Tammen to be dead, it wouldn’t be reason for immediately tossing his fingerprints. They would have waited the seven years. If the FBI doesn’t think it should just toss the prints of a dead person right away, I doubt very much that they’d purge the fingerprints of a missing person who’d managed to evade detection for many years as an adult.
Would the FBI purge a missing person’s prints after they’re found?
Same answer as above. The fact that a missing person was located would be noted in the jacket but the fingerprint card would be retained. A court order would be needed to physically remove the print—which would also include a note saying that the prints had been expunged. Otherwise, they’d wait until that person was 110 years of age or seven years after confirmed death.
How it pertains to Tammen: Again, no explanatory information was in his file—no record of having been located and, as pointed out earlier, no record of his being found dead, and no record of a court-ordered purging. Also, to further drive home this point, if the FBI isn’t willing to purge a missing person’s fingerprints after they’ve been found, why would they remove them while he was still out there, unaccounted for? Answer: they wouldn’t.
How do you fingerprint a dead body?
[Warning: this is gross] If an unknown deceased body was discovered, sometimes the fingerprints would be in bad shape due to decomposition. However, fingerprints have three ridges that penetrate the skin fairly deeply. In such cases, a technician would put on rubber gloves and remove the skin down to a more, um, legible layer, shall we say? Then, they’d roll those prints on a ten print card. According to one former employee, any fingerprint that came from a deceased body was generally of poor quality—too dark or too light. Therefore, it was often difficult to conduct a manual search using a dead person’s fingerprints.
How it pertains to Tammen: Sorry about that. But if Ron Tammen died and the FBI confirmed that he died, they might have had to do that. We don’t know.
What types of records are kept after fingerprints are expunged?
We’re building up to one of our primary take-home messages, and here it is: Fingerprints aren’t supposed to just disappear without some sort of record. Based on information provided by Stephen Fischer in 2015, no other info was available on Tammen other than the fact that his prints were expunged in 2002. But the removal of fingerprints while they were considered still active would require some note of explanation regarding when they were removed and why. And these notes of explanation were all to be digitized as part of IAFIS.
According to FBI protocol back then, the notes were to be printed in the file jacket on sheets called Additional Record Sheets or ARS’s. Not only did the ARS require an employee to provide their employee number and date the sheet any time they removed the file, but they also were required “to record any disseminations of the record, including notations of expungement or purges of record entries, such as deletions of arrests for non-serious offenses.”
And here was their record retention policy after adding these notes to IAFIS:
Hard copy files: DESTROY after verification of a successful scan.
Scanned version: DELETE when the individual has reached 99 years of age, or 7 years have elapsed since notification of individual’s death, whichever is later.
You guys, and I’ll put this in bold italics for added emphasis: the information on Tammen’s ARS should theoretically still be available for his expunged fingerprints.
There was an additional record-keeping system that the FBI used to implement between the years 1958 and 1999. When the FBI purged a fingerprint file, they would put those fingerprints on microfilm for archival purposes. However, CJIS stopped making microfilm copies after IAFIS was implemented, which had been in place for roughly three years when Tammen’s prints were purged. Therefore, the microfilm library doesn’t apply to Tammen’s case.
How it pertains to Tammen: In February 2008, when former Butler County, OH, cold case detective Frank Smith requested a “hand search” for Tammen’s fingerprints, CJIS sent this response a couple days later by Fax:
“A SEARCH OF OUR CRIMINAL AND CIVIL FILES HAS FAILED TO REVEAL ANY FINGERPRINTS FOR YOUR SUBJECT. A COMPLETE SEARCH OF OUR ARCHIVE MICROFILM FILES HAS FAILED TO REVEAL ANY FINGERPRINTS FOR THIS MISSING SUBJECT AS WELL.”
What the CJIS rep neglected to tell the detective—a member of law enforcement, and therefore a supposedly valued working partner of the FBI’s—was that they’d expunged them in 2002. So, to recap:
It appears as if someone in the Identification Division or CJIS didn’t document, didn’t digitize, or flat-out destroyed the ARS notations from Tammen’s manual jacket, including the reason for the expungement of his fingerprints in 2002, which is a clear break with protocol.
CJIS also didn’t disclose to the Butler County Sheriff’s Department the full extent of their knowledge about the case, the very least of which would be that they’d expunged Ron’s prints in 2002. This, in my view, is another break in protocol since I would think that members of law enforcement should generally try to be forthcoming with one another. (I’m guessing that, if the FBI had told Smith that they’d expunged the prints, they could anticipate a potential follow-up question that they didn’t feel like answering. Something along the lines of “Oh, really? Why?”)
Does the FBI verify someone’s identity before they expunge their prints?
The FBI will not purge someone’s fingerprints unless they’re certain that the person whose prints they’re purging is who they think he or she is. If the FBI is purging fingerprints because of a court order, the court or submitting agency would have to provide identification to ensure that the FBI was removing the right set of prints. Often, this would involve another set of fingerprints since fingerprints are still one of the best ways to identify someone. Other times, they may get away with simply providing telling details, such as the FBI number, the date of the arrest, and other specifics on the case, but fingerprints are still best. In the case of a deceased person or a missing person’s fingerprints being purged, a source said that it would be based on comparing two sets of fingerprints to make sure they’re the same individual.
How it pertains to Tammen: Think about the above paragraph for a second and maybe read it again, because it says a lot. First, the FBI wouldn’t have purged Ron Tammen’s fingerprints without verifying that they were indeed Ron Tammen’s prints. This helps solve a gnarly little question about the year in which Ron would have supposedly died. If they purged his prints in 2002, that would mean that Ron had probably died around 1995. Well, guess who else died in 1995: Ronald Tammen, Sr., who died on January 10 in Florida. So that was always a possibility. But according to my FBI sources, this likely didn’t happen because they would have verified it. Second, if they purged Ron’s fingerprints in 2002 because he’d been dead for seven years, then they would have verified those prints against a second set of prints sometime around 1995. Remember what Stephen Fischer had said about the seven-year rule: “seven years after confirmed death.” That means that they would have confirmed Ron to be dead by comparing his prints against the prints on file, and then waited seven years before the system purged them. That could also mean that they know where his remains are. Third is the question raised by the source who said it could be that someone tossed Ron’s prints because he would now be an adult who doesn’t want to be found. If the FBI ensures that every fingerprint that’s purged needs to be verified, then that rule would nullify this possibility. How could they verify that it’s the correct person if they don’t have a second set of prints with which to compare his to?
Discussion: When a missing person’s records go missing
Are we any closer to being able to say that the FBI knows more than they’re letting on? I think so. It’s clear that the FBI broke protocol at least once, and possibly more than once when dealing with Ron’s fingerprints. Since the last update, I’ve submitted several more FOIAs, one of which has to do with the question about Ron’s father. Although I’m nearly positive that it was Ron Jr.’s fingerprints that were purged in 2002, I’ve submitted a FOIA request asking the FBI to search the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) offline historical database for any files on Mr. Tammen too, including evidence of possible fingerprint files. If they don’t have anything, I think we can safely conclude they were Ron Jr.’s. With this latest post, you can see that there are more FOIA requests to submit, including, for example, an in-depth search of Ron’s digitized Additional Record Sheets.
It’s probably also a good time to raise another possibility with you, a “what if?” that may have been in the back of some readers’ minds throughout this entire blog. What if Ron’s fingerprints weren’t destroyed because he died in 1995 but because someone in a high place decided that, for whatever reason, they needed to be purged—someone who also didn’t want telltale notes getting in the way of “plausible deniability.” Missing notes and expunged fingerprints aren’t smoking guns. The missing notes could possibly be blamed on anything: a distracted employee, an inadvertent mix-up, a computer glitch, whatever. Or they may have never existed at all. Likewise, it’s extremely tough to explain why fingerprints were expunged when the records that could give the backstory on why they’re missing are also missing.
Most maddening of all is that If I were to lay out my (nonexistent) evidence before an official FBI spokesperson, this is what I’d get:
That’s essentially what I got when I asked them a while back to comment, yes or no, whether they’d confirmed that Ron was dead. Remember what the spokesperson said? “The FBI has a right to decline requests.”
All along, I’ve been pointing to the FBI’s 2002 purging of Ron’s fingerprints as reason to believe that Tammen is dead. But if the missing documents and destroyed fingerprints tell us anything, it’s that, for whatever reason, the FBI may have made the decision to break protocol in Tammen’s case. And if protocol wasn’t being followed, well, that opens up a whole range of new possibilities, doesn’t it? I mean, could it be that Tammen, who would be 87 on the 23rd of this month, is still alive after all?
Tuesday, June 5, 1973, promised to be 90 degrees and sunny in our nation’s capital—the kind of run-of-the-mill day of intense heat and high humidity to which the DC crowd is well-accustomed. Richard Nixon, who had a little over a year remaining in his presidency, would be facing a fully booked schedule of meetings and photo ops that day, topped off by a state dinner and concert honoring Liberia’s president. Just down Constitution Avenue, the Watergate Hearings were in full swing, televised live from the Russell Senate Office Building, across the street from the U.S. Capitol. Meanwhile, roughly two miles away, in a leafy, less ornate area of Capitol Hill, J. Edgar Hoover was still lying in his grave, having succumbed to a heart attack the previous year.
As cataclysmic as Hoover’s death had been for the women and men of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (one former employee joked that they’d half-expected him to return from the dead on the third day), they had since rebounded. They were back to the daily grind of carrying out their mission and raison d’être: “to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution of the United States.” In two more years, they’d be moving to the FBI’s present home—the J. Edgar Hoover Building at Pennsylvania and Ninth Streets NW. But in 1973, some staffers were operating out of the Department of Justice Building, next door to the FBI’s current site, while two major divisions were located in an AC-free building at Second and D Streets in the SW section of the District. (I’ve learned in interviews that Hoover was notorious for not providing air conditioning to his employees because he liked to show legislators how frugal he could be with his budget.) And so it would be here—at this sweltering site, on this sizzling day—that one of the weirder aspects of the Ronald Tammen saga would take place.
The documents we’ll be discussing won’t be new to you. They’re the same old scribbled-on records from my 2010 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. (You can access them here.)
What is new, however, is that, since we’ve last discussed my interactions with the FBI on this blog site, I’ve had the chance to speak with several people who were working in the two relevant divisions at the time that the 1973 incident occurred: Identification and Records Management. Not only did these people help interpret what many of the scribbles mean, but they also shared their views on how normal or not-so-normal it was to treat Tammen’s documents the way they did. In addition, I also spoke with people—some the same, others different—who happened to be working in the Identification Division when Tammen’s fingerprints were destroyed 29 years later, in 2002. I’ll be sharing their thoughts as well—although, I’ve decided to save that synopsis for a future day. (Sorry! There’s too much info here, so I’ve decided to take on each of these topics one at a time.)
Most of these people spoke to me “on background,” which means that I’ll be telling you what they said, but I’ll be protecting their anonymity. I realize that some of you may not appreciate when a source isn’t named, and I apologize for that, but, honestly, sometimes it’s the only way to get someone to talk to me. But trust me, they’re credible sources. Also, I’m tracking down more individuals as we speak. As with everything else on this blog, it won’t be ending here.
Who’s MSL and What are the Ident Files?
So let’s get back to June 5, 1973. As you may recall, several weeks before that date, a special agent (SA in FBI vernacular) representing the FBI’s Cincinnati field office investigated a possible lead that had been called in about the Tammen case. The caller had suggested that a man who worked at Welco Industries in Blue Ash, OH, was Tammen. The SA, whom I’ve met, and who is incredibly nice and unbelievably helpful, paid a visit to Blue Ash on the same day the FBI received the call. In addition to filing a report, the SA’s boss in Cincinnati sent the Welco guy’s prints to the Identification Division at FBI Headquarters and asked them to compare those prints with Tammen’s fingerprints that they had on file to see if there might be a match. There wasn’t, but, in my view, it was that innocent and responsible act in which an SA and his boss, who were simply following protocol, brought about what happened on the fifth of June. (If you haven’t read the earlier blog post—or even if it’s just been a while since you have—I’d encourage you to reread it, since it supplies a lot of the details.)
What happened on the fifth of June? That was the day that a civil servant with the initials MSL removed documents contained in Ron Tammen’s missing person file from the Identification Division. Yep, that’s right. On that Tuesday, MSL walked over to Ron’s file, made notations that those documents were to be “Removed from Ident files,” jotted his or her initials on nearly every document, and, well…who knows what else. Mind you, I have no beef with MSL. I’m sure MSL was a hard worker and a team player. In fact, if you look closely at the May 22, 1973, response memo to the Cincinnati office from Headquarters, MSL has initialed the line next to the name Thompson in the list of FBI higher-ups. That particular Thompson would have been Fletcher Thompson, who headed up the Identification Division at that time. Therefore, I’m guessing MSL was Thompson’s assistant and just following instructions. For example, that same May 22 memo suggested that “MP placed in 1953 to be brought up to date.” That’s probably what MSL was up to: bringing Ron’s missing person file up to date. [Note: if you or someone you know should happen to be MSL, please contact me. I’m dying to talk to you. Dyyyyyyyyyyiiiiiiiinnnnng.]
A large stamp also stands out on many of these pages. It says “Referred to Records Branch for” and provides two options: “Main File” and “79-1,” the latter of which is the Missing Person classification. Interestingly, Main File is the option they’ve checked. I would have thought they’d go with the other one.
The question I’ve been asking everyone who might have been in the vicinity of the Ident or Records Management Divisions at that time is: Why did they do this? Was it considered normal protocol, even if a missing person hasn’t been found? Was it something that’s done after a person has been missing for, say, 20 years? If the Identification Division is responsible for overseeing missing persons cases for the FBI—and it is—why would a missing person file for someone who was still missing be moved out of Identification?
Before I share with you some of the insights that were provided to me, I need to let you know that things today have obviously changed since 1973. As of 1992, the Identification Division is now known as Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS—pronounced SEE-jis), which is the largest division of the FBI, and located in Clarksburg, WV. CJIS maintains fingerprint data along with other biometric data, and it oversees other high-tech initiatives as well. There aren’t manual files anymore. Also, the missing person program has been rolled into the National Crime Information Center database, or NCIC. NCIC is available to law enforcement representatives across the country, mostly for finding people who are charged with committing a crime, but also for locating missing persons. Although NCIC began on a limited basis in January 1967 and grew from there, missing persons information wasn’t added to the database until 1975, two years after Ron’s file was ostensibly removed from Ident.
Also this: just because someone speaks to me on background doesn’t mean that they’re going to be giving up the family jewels. People are inclined to support the actions of the agency for whom they’ve given the best years of their lives. I get that. Nevertheless, everyone I spoke with tried to answer my questions honestly, and if they didn’t know and were just guessing, they said so. Also, if something didn’t mesh with how they remembered things to work, they said that too.
Included below are excerpts of summaries of discussions I had with three subject matter experts in Q&A fashion. No one is quoted directly here. Two experts had strong ties with the Identification Division and/or CJIS and one was with Records Management for many years.
What information is stored in NCIC?
NCIC is nothing but descriptive data. It might include identifying numbers, the person’s name, aliases, the date of birth, height, weight, color of hair, color of eyes, and descriptions of scars, marks and tattoos, though not pictures. A picture can now be stored, but, at this point, not searched. There are no fingerprints stored in NCIC. There is, however, a link from NCIC to NGI, which is the FBI’s very powerful Next Generation Identification system that includes biometric data, including fingerprints. If a person’s fingerprints are searched with NGI, then NGI can tap into NCIC to see if there’s a warrant on that person or if they’ve been listed as missing.
Would the kinds of documents I obtained through FOIA—the letters between Ron’s parents and Hoover, etc.—be stored in NCIC?
Ron’s missing person documents would not be stored in NCIC. If Ron’s case was entered into NCIC, only the above descriptive information would have been entered.
How can I find out if Ron Tammen was entered into NCIC?
The law enforcement agency that took the initial missing person report would be responsible for entering the case into NCIC. Usually, the submitting entity is local police, however, in Tammen’s case it was the Cleveland office of the FBI, which tends to complicate matters. One expert is doubtful that Tammen’s case was entered into NCIC due to the length of time since his disappearance and he felt it would have been of low priority among all of the other cases they had to enter during the transition to NCIC.
I should note here that, in 2015, I’d filed a FOIA request to the FBI to see if there were any criminal records on Ron in NCIC, and that search came up empty. However, one thing I’ve learned through these discussions is that NCIC has a historical file, which is separate and offline from the NCIC database. It contains nearly all the records that were ever entered into NCIC and that are no longer active. To the best of my knowledge, the historical file has never been checked for Ronald Tammen-related records.
Tell me more about the NCIC historical file.
There are two parts to the historical file. Not only is there a database of virtually every record that was ever in the system but there’s also a database of every transaction that ever went through the system. A transaction is simply a record of an action that was taken, including a search. This means that I could potentially find out if any police department ever ran a search on Ronald Tammen, which is one of the FOIAs I intend to submit. Incidentally, the NCIC historical file seems like a hidden gem/best-kept-secret of the FBI that I think more people need to know about and use. Note that it’s important to specify which of the two databases you’re inquiring about—the historic records or the historic transactions—to help narrow things down.
How long are missing person files normally retained in NCIC?
The records are kept forever unless the submitting entity removes it.
What are the most common reasons for removal of a missing person record from the NCIC database?
By far, the most common reason for removal of an NCIC missing person record is that the missing person has been located, either alive or deceased. There should be a record of the transaction that removed the online record, however it wouldn’t contain information as to the reason for the removal. Records can also be removed by either the state agency that manages the state system or the CJIS staff, but such removals are rare. If the person is found by the agency that took the original missing person report, they could simply cancel the record.
Where would my FOIA docs have been kept?
The missing person record is placed in the General File, which is maintained by the Records Management Division. If there’s a fingerprint, it’s maintained in the fingerprint jacket in the Identification Division. The file will remain with Records Management until it’s destroyed based on the agency’s destruction schedule.
Note that many of the Tammen FOIA documents have a stamp that says in all caps: RETAIN PERMANENTLY IN IDENT JACKET: 358406B, which supports the notion that the fingerprint jacket was in Identification, though it also appears that at least some of the documents (e.g., the ones with the stamp on them) were kept in that jacket as opposed to (or in addition to) Records Management. However, the memo dated May 22, 1973 states at the bottom: “MP, who has been missing since April, 1953, may be ident with FBI # 358 406 B. This record consists of one personal identification fgpt card taken in 1941,” which is consistent with the preceding paragraph.
What do you think was “Removed from Ident” on 6-5-73?
This question has everyone stumped. My Identification experts have said “the fingerprint card IS the Ident record.” Their interpretation of the statement was that the fingerprints had been removed from Ident in 1973, so they wondered: if the fingerprints were removed in 1973, what did they expunge in 2002, unless there were two sets of prints? Suffice it to say that, at least at this point, I’ve found no one with an inkling of an idea what records MSL was referring to.
Are you aware of any policy by which, once 20 years go by, the FBI is no longer looking for a missing person?
Among these experts, in addition to several others I’ve spoken with, no one can recall a 20-year rule in closing a missing person case. With regards to the NCIC and missing persons, retention is until the entering agency removes it. There is no life cycle for a record in the NCIC system for a missing person.
What can you tell me about the Missing Person File Room?
On some of the FOIA documents, you may have noticed that a stamp has been crossed out, saying: “Return to Ident Missing Person File Room,” followed by a space for the room number. The October 1967 letter from Hoover to Ron’s father regarding whether the soldier in an AP photo could be Ron Jr. contains the stamp and specifies room 1126.
To date, none of the experts I’ve spoken with in Identification or Records Management knows anything about the Ident Missing Person File Room. One person guessed that all civil fingerprints might have been stored in that room, including military prints, but it was just a guess, and that person was outnumbered by everyone else I’ve ever interviewed on the topic. The overwhelming majority of sources have said that there were only two categories of fingerprint files—criminal and civil—and missing person fingerprints were stored with criminal fingerprints since that was the most active file against which to check incoming prints. Just to hammer this point home, do you want to try a fun experiment? Type “Missing Person File Room” into Google, and see what pops up. As of this morning, the only links and images you’ll see will point to this blog site. The phrase isn’t mentioned anywhere else on the web.
Interestingly, the expert in Records Management pointed out a notation on the May 26, 1953, report that had never before registered with me. It said: “Copy of photo filed in 1126 Ident 6-5-73,” and it was signed by our friend MSL. Then, near the bottom, the familiar: “Removed from Ident files 6-5-73,” again, signed by MSL. As I’ve pointed out from another document, room 1126 was the Missing Person File Room. It seemed curious to her that they’d be filing the photo in 1126 if they were removing documents from that same room on the same day.
She’s right—it is curious.
As I was writing this blog post, I was planning to wrap things up at this point, thus putting the finishing touches on perhaps one of the dullest, most disappointing updates ever. But then I remembered a book I have, titled Unlocking the Files of the FBI, by Gerald K. Haines and David A. Langbart. There, in a brief introductory section on “The FBI Record-keeping System,” I found a possible clue about the Missing Person File Room. On page xiii, paragraph 5, it says:
In 1948, Hoover established at FBI headquarters Special File Rooms [emphasis added] to hold “all Files that have an unusually confidential or peculiar background…including all obscene enclosures.” In general, material placed in the Special File Rooms included what was known as June Mail [jw: June Mail is later described as “most sensitive sources”], ELSUR documents [jw: ELSUR was defined as electronic surveillance], informant files, and sensitive records on Bureau employees and prominent people, as well as on undercover operations and foreign-source information. The field offices also have special file rooms for informant and ELSUR materials.
Wouldn’t it be just like Hoover to create innocuous sounding “File Rooms”—capitalized and pluralized—to hold records that are “unusually confidential or peculiar” or, one of Hoover’s favorite categories, obscene? A File Room for extremely sensitive missing person cases would explain why no one I’ve spoken with had heard of it. I’m sure not everyone was privy to its existence. Someone in Ident probably stumbled upon it at the time they were checking into whether the Welco guy could be Ronald Tammen, and the alarm bells went off. Someone at the top may have asked “What are those hot-potato documents doing in there anyway?” and then barked “Get me MSL on the phone.”
Because I’ve just discovered the existence of the Special File Rooms, I haven’t had time to contact any sources about it. But trust me, come tomorrow morning, I will.
Some closing thoughts…
So where does all this lead us? Here are my main conclusions based on everything I’ve presented here mixed in with a few earlier findings:
–Even though some info on the FOIA documents may suggest otherwise, I believe that there wasn’t anything in the Identification Division’s fingerprint jacket for Ronald Tammen other than Ron’s fingerprint card, submitted in 1941.
–I believe Ron’s fingerprint jacket was initially in the civil file when his prints were first submitted in 1941, but it was added to the criminal file after Ron was listed as a missing person in 1953.
–I think those fingerprints remained in that jacket and were digitized in the 1990s after Ident became CJIS. I believe it was those prints that were purged in 2002.
–I don’t believe there was any such protocol in which the FBI would remove missing person files from Identification after 20 years had passed.
–I believe that the FOIA records I received had been maintained in Records Management from the beginning.
–As far as which documents were “removed from Ident,” I think it must have been whatever was being stored in the Missing Person File Room. Perhaps there were duplicate files of what was in Records Management, but I think there were other documents as well. Based on the 5/9/73 memo, we know that at least one document from 12/19/58 is referenced but missing from my FOIA documents.
–I think that the Missing Person File Room stored files that were somehow sensitive in nature about Ron’s case. I also think that Ron’s case continued to have a file in there, even after documents had been removed. As the expert in Records Management pointed out, even though files were removed from the Missing Person File Room on 6-5-73, a copy of his photo was filed in that room that same day.
–I believe that it was the Cincinnati field office’s request for Ident to compare the Welco employee’s fingerprints with Ron’s prints that triggered Ident to remove whatever was in the Missing Person File Room, thus leading to this clue. (Thank you, Cincinnati!)
For years, I’ve been trying to figure out if there were breaches in protocol regarding how the FBI handled Ron’s missing person case. I think we’ve finally found one. If the Missing Person File Room held potentially sensitive documents concerning Ron’s case, that would elevate it to something far more than just a ho-hum missing person case. And guys, that’s what keeps me going.
Has this ever happened to you? You’re writing a blog post, and you’re all in-the-moment and everything. It’s been a whole year since you’ve written an update, and you can’t wait to share some stuff you’ve found out. PLUS you’re relearning the software, including the changes that WordPress has introduced since you last posted, but you manage. Finally, you hit the “SEND” button and it’s up. You pour yourself a glass of zin (the red kind, not that pink stuff) and settle in to watch something mindless: Creature from the Black Lagoon. You feel nothing but respect and empathy for the so-called monster. You go to bed, dream your sweet little unicorn dreams, wake up, and then, OH MY GOD, you realize that you forgot to include something in your blog post. Something huge and important. Something so big, you’ve practically buried the lede. Has this happened to you too? No? I’m all alone on this?
So, I guess it’s official: I’m human. Let’s proceed as if I meant to make this a two-parter all along, shall we?
Do you remember how I’d visited UCLA last year and went through documents from the files of Louis Jolyon West, one of the most well-known of the MKULTRA researchers who was also an officer—a major—at Lackland AFB in San Antonio? Well, a few of those documents had something to do with Wright Patterson AFB. Here are a couple additions to the list I’d started in part 1 regarding why I think Wright Patterson was involved in MKULTRA.
6. In October 1955, Wright Patterson sponsored a classified meeting on psychochemicals, which West attended.
That’s right. Wright Patterson AFB was the venue of choice for a meeting on psychochemicals that took place on October 4, 1955. According to Louis Jolyon West, who was also there, attendees were required to have a Top Secret security clearance.
One of the sponsors of the meeting was the Air Research and Development Command, part of the U.S. Air Force. (St. Clair Switzer had served a short stint with the ARDC in Baltimore, from August to December 1951.) The second sponsor was the Army Chemical Corps, the folks who were based out of Edgewood Arsenal and who, I’m guessing, most likely conducted the germ warfare experiments, gosh, just two months prior at Wright Patt. What an exciting year 1955 turned out to be! Wouldn’t you love to see the day planner for someone who was in the top brass?
August: Release the microbes!
October: LSD, baby!!
West, who attended the meeting principally as an observer for the USAF surgeon general, described its objective this way:
“Its purpose was to review recent advances in the field of neuropharmacology that have led to the development of drugs which produce significant alterations in personality, and to discuss the possible uses of these chemical agents in furtherance of the mission of the United States Air Force.”
On the first page of the report, West mentions the work of Amedeo S. Marrazzi, who was identified as the chief of the Clinical Research Division of the Army Chemical Corps. Dr. Marrazzi’s name became known publicly in 1975 for LSD experiments that had ended badly while he was at the University of Minnesota. It appears West and Marrazzi hit it off at the Wright Patt meeting, because West received a letter from Marrazzi shortly after, making plans for future interactions.
7. Neil Burch wrote a letter to Louis Jolyon West while Burch was working at Wright Patterson’s Aero Medical Laboratory.
Neil Burch was a psychiatrist and researcher who has been identified by authors Colin Ross, M.D. (The CIA Doctors), and John Marks (The Search for the Manchurian Candidate) as being associated with MKULTRA and the military.
In December 1955, Burch, who was working at Wright Patterson’s Aero Medical Laboratory, wrote a letter to Jolly West, when Burch would have been 31 years old. (My hunch is that he must have met West during the October meeting on psychochemicals.) Among other things, he discusses his work in the laboratory and his interest in “continuing our research in an academic setting.”
It looks as though Burch’s dream was realized.
Marks included Burch’s name in a list of “well-known researchers” whose LSD work was supported by “military security agencies.” By then, Burch was affiliated with Baylor University, and after Burch’s name, Marks added that he “performed later experiments for the CIA.”
A July 1975 UPI article backs up Marks’ assertion:
“In Houston, Neil Burch, director of the psychophysiology division for the Texas Research Institute of Mental Sciences, said the CIA funded a project that involved volunteer Baylor University medical students taking small amounts of LSD.
‘The CIA was concerned that certain elements in this country might dump LSD into the water supply of a community,’ he said.
Burch said the experiments began in the late 1950s. He said he participated in the program and once swallowed 20 micrograms of the hallucinogenic drug.
‘Thirty minutes after taking it, the drug started to have an effect on me. My sensitivity to flickering lights, for example, was increased. That was exactly the type of thing we were trying to find out.’”
Ross wrote in his book that Burch and another colleague had been the recipient of $300K worth of Air Force contracts in hallucinogens from 1956 through 1961.
Here’s a copy of Burch’s letter:
So what do you think? Do these two documents strengthen the argument that Wright Patterson AFB was involved with MKULTRA?
Greetings everyone! Can you believe we’ve matured another year since I last posted on this blogsite? Can you see how a whole ten years can go by lickety split when you’re working on a book? Yeah, this is the part of book research—and life in general—that tends to suck. As someone once said to me, time flies.
So here we are, on the 67th anniversary of Ron Tammen’s disappearance, in the middle of A PANDEMIC. I hope you all are doing OK. I’m hoping that you’ve been sheltering at home as much as possible. I hope you, like I, have developed a deeper appreciation for soap—that lovely, sudsy surfactant we’ve been using all of our lives, and still the best defense we currently have against the coronavirus. I hope you’ve found cleverly nuanced ways to avoid touching your face. I hope you’re tipping your delivery person with gusto. If the spread of COVID-19 is impacting your life more directly than it has for most of us—if you’re in health care or you’re a first responder or if you’re in food production or food service or food delivery or you’re filling consumers’ online orders for all their needs—my God. You’ve been selflessly carrying the survival of so many of us on your backs. To say “thank you” is hardly enough, but it’s all I have right now, and believe me, it’s from the heart. Lastly, please, every single one of you who is taking the time to read this post, please stay well. Let’s all look out for each other during this historic, surreal, and rip-roaringly bonkers time in our lives and do our part to flatten that curve.
SO…what to tell you? First, some bad news: I have yet to hear back from the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) about my mandatory declassification review (MDR) appeal concerning the two names listed in the third paragraph of the January 14, 1953, CIA memo. If you were hoping to hear the results of that appeal in this post, I’m afraid you will not. This past October, ISCAP updated their log to indicate that they’d received “materials” from the CIA in response to their request for information on my behalf, but unfortunately, that hasn’t seemed to help spur things along. When I asked the folks at ISCAP if that was a promising sign during a livestreamed info session, they quashed any feelings of hopefulness I had and reemphasized how backlogged they are. So…settle in, amigos, it could be a while.
Over the past year, I’ve continued pursuing new leads and tracking down old acquaintances and contemporaries of Ron Tammen. I’ve sought corroboration or, if possible, documentation of some of the more compelling memories that various sources have shared with me from that time period. Last fall into early winter, I dug deep into the fingerprint issue, and spoke with a number of retired FBI employees about their fingerprint retention policies and how unusual it was that they had purged Ron’s prints when they did. (There’s more to be uncovered there and I’m still working on it.) For those of you who follow AGMIHTF on Facebook, you’ve learned some of the day-to-day stuff I’ve picked up along the way. And I’ve been doing some writing.
(Care to share what you’ve been up to over the past year? Or maybe you’d like to focus on what you’ve been doing during the pandemic? Or you could send pictures of yourselves in your homemade masks. Feel free to provide any of the above—plus pet photos!—in the comments.)
Today I want to focus on a question that’s probably crossed the minds of most people when they hear my theory of how the CIA and MKULTRA had something to do with Ron Tammen’s disappearance. And that question is usually something along the lines of: “Hmmm…I don’t know…”
I mean, I feel you. It sounds so far-fetched. Oxford, Ohio, cute-as-a-button college town that it is, is so remotely located—even now—and a long way from Langley, Virginia. Why would the CIA find it prudent to set up shop there during their mischievous MKULTRA years, despite a certain psych professor’s expertise in hypnosis and drugs? What’s more, why would they be drawn to a small town at all, when small towns are known for their ability to pry open deep, dark secrets, adding them, and everyone involved, to the menu of topics for discussion at the local lunch counter?
Although I don’t profess to know all the things that Allen Dulles, Richard Helms, Sidney Gottlieb, and the gang were contemplating during this time, I do have some thoughts.
First, the CIA liked doing business with universities. The agency was known to have lots of professors on its payroll, recruiting among the country’s cream of the crop to build up its ranks. In addition, when Project Artichoke and MKULTRA were in full swing, much of the work was being performed at universities all over the country, with Gottlieb, stationed at CIA Headquarters, pulling the strings.
Also, you may recall that the CIA already had a prior history with Miami University. Sidney Souers, the first director of central intelligence, was from Dayton, and had graduated from Miami in 1914. So they were…familiar, shall we say?
But, until today, I haven’t delved into one aspect concerning Oxford, Ohio, that could have outweighed any knock it would have had against it. That one aspect is this: Oxford is roughly an hour’s drive from Wright Patterson Air Force Base (AFB), near Dayton.
Oh, and there’s a second aspect: St. Clair Switzer, Miami’s hypnotically-adept and pharmaceutically-adroit psychology professor, who was also a lieutenant colonel in the USAF and, later, Air Force Reserves, had a longstanding association with Wright Patterson.
Some historical background on Wright Patterson AFB
Wright Patterson AFB—or Wright Patt to the locals—was named in honor of two guys by the name of Wright, and one guy named Patterson. Of course, you already know the first two esteemed fellows. They were Wilbur and Orrville, aka, the Wright brothers. The Wright brothers spent most of their lives in Dayton, OH, after the family had moved from Richmond, IN. They had a bicycle shop on Williams Street before they began inventing, building, and flying airplanes, and they’re buried in Woodland Cemetery, near the University of Dayton—the same cemetery in which Erma Bombeck is buried. After their experimental aircraft—dubbed “the Wright Flyer”—was successfully launched near Kitty Hawk, NC, in December 1903, the Wright brothers made use of a piece of land called Huffman Prairie to improve upon their invention and, later, to open a flight training school for military pilots. In 1917, the U.S. Army leased the land for its Army Air Corps, renaming the property Wright Field, short for Wilbur Wright Field. (I’m not sure why Wilbur was singled out, but I’m guessing it’s because, by that time, Wilbur had passed away of typhoid fever at the young age of 45, and they probably thought it would be a nice gesture.)
The Patterson part comes from a guy named Frank Stuart Patterson, a test pilot who was the son and nephew of the men who started National Cash Register. Patterson died in 1918, when the plane he was flying crashed in…wait for it…Wright Field. To memorialize him, the Army carved out a slice of Wright Field, renaming it Patterson Field. After the end of WWII, in 1947, the U.S. Air Force separated from the U.S. Army, becoming its own branch of the military. A year later, Wright Patterson AFB was created, and—I think you can see where this is going—the two airfields were rejoined, and a couple adjacent properties were added. (If you’re really into the specifics, I recommend you read this historical document commemorating Wright Patt’s 100-year anniversary. Also, if you haven’t visited it yet, the National Museum of the United States Air Force, which is on its premises, is amazing.)
Before I write another word, I need to make the following statement: Wright Patterson Air Force Base is a world-class hub of aviation ingenuity, leadership, and training that has been a huge asset to the state of Ohio as well as the country. (My mother grew up in Dayton, and her grave-spinning would have commenced immediately if I didn’t take care of that.) Yet, despite its sterling reputation, Wright Patt has had its share of controversies, some of which may involve the CIA’s mind control program, not to mention other related programs. (Sorry, Mom—I love and miss you, but I still have to go there.)
One such controversy has to do with U.S. activities following WWII, and—spoiler alert!—if this is the first time you’re hearing about this and you’re an idealist with a clear, black-and-white view of right versus wrong, prepare to be outraged. After the war, as one part of the U.S. government was very publicly taking part in the prosecution of Nazi war criminals for the atrocities they’d committed on prisoners in concentration camps, other parts of our government were surreptitiously involved in quite the opposite activity. Some members of the military, the Office of Strategic Services (the CIA’s forerunner), and others on what was called the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency had decided that the United States’ next nemesis would be the Communists, and they speculated about whether all of the science the Nazis had been involved with—including the horrific human experiments—shouldn’t still be put to use somehow. They also didn’t like the thought of seeing the Soviets and Chinese luring those scientists over to their side and using them against us. So, they decided to bring some of the Nazis to the United States (and by “some,” I mean more than 1600) to start mining their knowledge. The endeavor was called Operation Paperclip, named for the process by which sanitized cover sheets were attached to the Nazis’ paperwork to help disguise their fascist backgrounds and speed up the approval process for U.S. entry. Some of the scientists were aeronautical engineers who were later credited with significantly improving our understanding of aviation technology and enabling the U.S. to achieve space travel. (One engineer, named Wernher von Braun, went on to head up NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. The National Space Society has created an award in his name.) Others were medical doctors, some of whom had taken part in heinous human experiments without informed consent that could be considered a blueprint for the CIA’s mind control efforts. So yeah…a mixed bag.
According to Annie Jacobsen, author of Operation Paperclip, The Secret Intelligence Program That Brought Nazi Scientists to America, Wright Field was one of the primary destinations for these German men of science and engineering early on. “In the fall of 1946, of the 233 Nazi scientists in America, 140 were at Wright Field,” she writes. Many who arrived at Wright Field were aeronautical engineers, however others would have medical expertise. That’s because the Aero Medical Laboratory there, which had been established by Major General Malcom Grow, the surgeon general of the U.S. Strategic Air Forces in Europe, and Lt. Col. Harry Armstrong, the laboratory’s first commander, would be seeking new recruits. During the war, the laboratory had been instrumental in developing equipment that protected airmen from both physiological stressors, such as flying in high altitudes, to the physical ones, such as withstanding artillery fire, and now, writes Jacobsen, the two men “saw unprecedented opportunity in seizing everything that the Nazis had been working on in aviation research so as to incorporate that knowledge into U.S. Army Air Force’s understanding.”
Several of the German scientists who were brought to Wright Field’s Aero Medical Laboratory (as indicated in this historical document) were the same ones who’d been recruited by Grow at the war’s end for the establishment of a similar laboratory in Heidelberg. Those names probably won’t mean much to you—Willie Buehring/Buehrung, Otto Gauer, Ulrich Henschke, Hans Mauch, and Henry Seeler—however, you may have heard of a few of their bosses. Theodor Benzinger, Siegfried Ruff, and Hubertus Strughold (the one-time director of the Aviation Medical Research Institute of the Reich Air Ministry), were part of the scientific leadership at the Heidelberg laboratory and they have all been linked to war crimes. (You can page through a book documenting the Aero Medical Laboratory in Heidelberg from 1945 to 1947, with photos of all of the above people. By the way, after Strughold was brought to the States, he was named head of the School of Aviation Medicine at Randolph AFB, in San Antonio, and later, chief scientist at NASA. The former war criminal had managed to rebrand himself as the Father of Space Medicine.)
If the above Wright Patt Paperclip scientists weren’t involved in the insidious experiments in wartime Germany, they obviously rubbed elbows with those who had been, as you can see in the Heidelberg photos. However, it’s important to not get ahead of ourselves. As far as I can tell, none of the above medical researchers brought to Wright Patt under the guise of Operation Paperclip have been linked to Nazi war crimes. However, each man is listed on the Federation of American Scientists War Crimes chart with the following caveat: “This is a listing of file subjects compiled by the Interagency Working Group on Nazi War Crimes for which files exist at the National Archives. It should not be inferred that any individual listed below is a war criminal.”
That said, there may also be evidence that at least three of the more notorious Nazi doctors had at least some interaction with Wright Field. In the April 1985 issue of the journal Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, this detail was included in an article about Project Paperclip:
“…then on June 2, 1946, Brig. Gen. N.B. Harbold, in a memo from AAF Headquarters to the War Department, asked that Konrad Schaefer ‘be contracted for Project Paperclip for exploitation at Wright Field’ in Ohio but be permitted to continue his work at the Aero Center until November 1. On June 14, Harbold sent an identical secret memo to request Paperclip contracts for [Hermann] Becker-Freysing [sic] and Ruff.”
I can’t tell if Harbold’s secret memos were actually requesting that Schaefer, Becker-Freyseng, and Ruff be physically relocated to Dayton sometime after November 1, 1946, or if they were to be “exploited” remotely. But it’s a question worth asking, since all three were considered war criminals. I have some research to conduct in that regard. But, at least at this point, it’s safe to say that Wright Patterson was home base for a hefty number of Nazis not long after the end of WWII.
Was Wright Patterson AFB involved in MKULTRA?
As you know by now, the question of whether Wright Patterson AFB was involved in MKULTRA is not easy to address, since the majority of evidence concerning BLUEBIRD, ARTICHOKE, and MKULTRA was summarily destroyed in 1973. This, by the way, should tell you a lot about MKULTRA. I mean, if a secret program focused on sneaking Nazis into the United States a little over a year after the end of WWII was willing to come clean with the American public, but MKULTRA wasn’t, well, MKULTRA must have been truly awful. But we already knew that.
Thankfully, there are remnants that can be patched together to form some sort of picture. And these remnants have led me to believe that MKULTRA was alive and well and walking the hallways of Wright Patterson AFB. Let’s take things step by logical step, as I share my evidence, from the general to the specific. And again, keep in mind that this evidence is cursory. I intend to dig deeper and to FOIA, FOIA, and, if all else fails, FOIA some more (and then appeal).
1. The military brass, including the USAF, was at the table.
We know that the Air Force, Army, and Naval intelligence were all represented at MKULTRA meetings, as is indicated by this memo, date stamped Feb. 18, 1952. The memo is difficult to read, but the important part is under bullet 2a. It reads:
On 2 April 1951, Project Artichoke was discussed at an Executive Session of the Intelligence Advisory Committee attended by the members representing G-2 [Army Intelligence], ONI [Office of Naval Intelligence], A-2 [Air Force Intelligence], and the FBI. Except for the FBI which indicated no interest, the members agreed to assist and to appoint a representative to work with CIA on the project.
In John Marks’ book, The Search for the Manchurian Candidate, he expounded on this:
There was bureaucratic warfare outside the CIA as well, although there were early gestures toward interagency cooperation. In April 1951, the CIA Director approved liaison with the Army, Navy, and Air Force intelligence to avoid duplication of effort. The Army and Navy were both looking for truth drugs, while the prime concern of the Air Force was the interrogation techniques used on downed pilots. Representatives of each service attended regular meetings to discuss ARTICHOKE matters. The Agency also invited the FBI, but J. Edgar Hoover’s men stayed away.
2. The USAF was funding ARTICHOKE/MKULTRA experiments.
There’s scant evidence regarding financial support from non-CIA sponsors in the MKULTRA documents that have survived, but I suppose that makes sense. The documents that remained were the CIA’s financial records. The target audience would have been the agency’s bean counters, who were most concerned about their own expenses. However among the MKULTRA subprojects listed in The Project MKULTRA Compendium (Stephen Foster, ed.), at least two projects were either funded or considered for funding by the Air Force.
Subproject 129 Subproject 129 is described as “Computer analysis of bioelectric response patterns: significance for polygraph.” While the Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology, a CIA front organization, ponied up $2505 for the project, the USAF Office of Scientific Research paid over ten times that amount, or $27,500. Even though the researcher and university are redacted, a little sleuthing from the grant proposal (and a listing of publication titles he included) turns up the name Herbert Zimmer, an associate professor of psychology at Georgetown University. The sponsor representing the Air Force Office of Scientific Research was Albert Biderman, who coauthored a book with Zimmer, titled The Manipulation of Human Behavior, on the techniques used to manipulate Air Force POWS during the Korean War.
Subproject 68 Subproject 68, which was led by Ewen Cameron of McGill University, in Montreal, is one of the most infamous of all the MKULTRA projects. Cameron was conducting psychic driving experiments in which he played repetitious sounds to patients and then tried to psychologically break them down through additional means, in this case, LSD-25. His patients were often severely and permanently damaged, and class-action lawsuits continue to this day. The CIA paid Cameron $60,000 to perform this research. Under “Other Sponsors” is the Allan Memorial Institute of Psychiatry, which is Cameron’s institute, as well as this notation: “17 August 1960 Memorandum for the Record indicates the U.S. Air Force was considering co-sponsorship of effort.” It’s not clear if the Air Force followed through or if they came to their senses and walked away.
Fun fact! On the bottom of both of those projects, is the name C.V.S Roosevelt, who is listed as an approver. That’s Teddy Roosevelt’s grandson, Cornelius Van Schaak Roosevelt, or Corney for short. Corney was head of the CIA’s Technical Services Division for a period, and ostensibly, Sidney Gottlieb’s supervisor. Judging by the number of times he approved the various subprojects, ol’ Corney was up to his neck in MKULTRA.
Interrogation Methods Study
The third example of relevant USAF-funded research is this December 18, 1953, memo that appears to be between two Air Force personnel, one of whom was Col. A.P. Gagge. There are a couple interesting coincidences tied to this memo. First, you’ll note in his obituary that Gagge had been chief of biophysics at Wright Patterson’s Aero Medical Laboratory before moving onward and upward to the top spot of the Human Factors Division of the Air Force’s R&D Directorate, which is his position in 1953. In addition, the memo, which discusses interrogation research, refers to a study that was conducted by Douglas Ellson, of Indiana University, for the U.S. Office of Naval Research. The Ellson study was on the physiological detection of deception, and the letter writer is interested in having the Air Force make use of the Ellson equipment—the main piece being a commercial lie detector—for their study. He adds that the CIA could benefit as well. As it so happens, Professor Ellson had graduated from Miami University in psychology in 1935 and he had been a student of St. Clair Switzer. Eventually, he, too, had received his Ph.D. under Clark Hull.
3. Wright Patterson’s Aero Medical Laboratory sponsored LSD research.
In his book, The CIA Doctors, Colin A. Ross, M.D., points to one LSD study supported by Wright Patterson’s Aero Medical Laboratory as evidence of military involvement in the CIA’s mind control program. The resulting research paper, entitled “Cognitive Test Performance Under LSD-25, Placebo, and Isolation,” was published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease in January 1966. The author, Leo Goldberger, Ph.D., also happened to be an unwitting participant in MKULTRA research conducted at both McGill and Cornell Universities when he was a graduate student. Goldberger wrote an essay in 1991 about his experience, although, in it, he also argues that the LSD and sensory deprivation research he conducted for the Air Force and other entities was “carried out under quite legitimate auspices, governmental and otherwise. Not everything in these areas of research was tainted by CIA moneys.” He added that the Air Force found the studies useful for the selection of astronauts for the Mercury space program.
4. Wright Patterson experimented with germ warfare.
One extension of the MKULTRA program, called MKNAOMI, focused on the testing and stockpiling of biological and chemical agents for potential use against U.S. adversaries. You may remember that one of the first casualties of the MKULTRA experiments was Frank Olson, a bioweapons expert at Fort Detrick, MD. (Olson is the guy who’d been given LSD by Sidney Gottlieb and his deputy, Robert Lashbrook, at a cabin retreat in November 1953, and who subsequently died from a fall out of a 10th story NYC hotel window.) In August 1955, Wright Patterson was one of several sites in which so-called “harmless” bacteria were released by the Army. [One of the bacterial species that was used, Serratia Marcescens, is now a recognized pathogen.] Here’s what a March 9, 1977, newswire article reported:
An Army spokesman yesterday said, ‘The reason they used the agent simulants was because they were harmless and easily detectable.’
He said the purpose of the Wright Patterson test—like all of the other tests conducted over the 20-year period—was to determine ‘how far and how fast a biological substance might travel.’
The spokesman, Lt. Col. Hugh Waite, said no other details are available regarding the outcome of the Wright-Patterson test.”
Another interesting coincidence is that, at that time of the above experiment, a highly-regarded physiologist named David Bruce Dill was employed as director of research for the U.S. Army Chemical Research and Development Laboratory, Edgewood Arsenal, a facility that conducted bioweapons testing on humans. Earlier in his career, from 1941 to 1945, Dr. Dill had served at Wright Patterson’s Aero Medical Laboratory. Weirder still, according to author H.P. Albarelli, Jr., in A Terrible Mistake,The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War Experiments, Dill was one of the attendees at a 1952 retreat, much like the retreat in the fall of 1953, to discuss “the use of psychochemicals as a new concept of warfare.” Among the others who attended were: Gottlieb, Lashbrook, and Frank Olson.
I’m not saying that Dill was one of the persons behind the Wright Patterson exercise or that he was involved in the drugging of Olson. I’m just saying that there appears to be a great deal of overlap between people in the world of MKULTRA and this is another area that may call for more digging.
5. A woman who was experimented on as a child remembers going to Wright Patterson for “tune ups.”
Lastly, and most tragically, is the experience of Carol Rutz, who says that, as a child, she was the subject of experimentation through the CIA and MKULTRA. The details are horrifying. Rutz claims that, because she’d been sexually abused by family members beginning at a very young age, Sidney Gottlieb and his associates had deemed her an excellent candidate for MKULTRA. The reason for this, they figured, was that she would have a tendency to “dissociate,” which is to bury the trauma and to create alter egos that could be used for their nefarious purposes. Here’s the passage from a 2003 lecture she gave at Indiana University that caught my attention:
Over the next twelve years, I was tested, trained, and used in various ways. All the programming that was done to me by the CIA was to split my personality making me a compliant slave. It was trauma-based using things like electroshock, sensory deprivation, and drugs. Later the trauma wasn’t necessary, only hypnosis accomplished with implanted triggers and occasional tune-ups that took place at Wright Patterson Air Force Base not far from my home.I became a human experiment—part of their search for a way to take control of a man‘s mind. During the course of these experiments they created alters to do their bidding—Manchurian Candidates is an appropriate term.
Fortunately, Ms. Rutz was able to overcome these horrific experiences, and she has led a healthy, happy adult life. However, when I contacted her to see if she might be willing to tell me more about Wright Patterson, she let me know that she was retired and no longer doing interviews. She also said that she’d already written everything that she could remember about Wright Patterson. Her book, fascinating as it was, provided no additional details on Wright Patterson.
Was Wright Patterson involved in MKULTRA? And if so, could it be the missing link between the CIA and St. Clair Switzer? As I said earlier, the above evidence is cursory and needs to be further researched. If you or someone you know has information on any of the above topics—if any of the above resonates with you—I’d love to hear from you. Or if you have an opinion about my reasoning or anything else, I’d love to hear about that too. Feel free to weigh in starting…now!
Good morning! Is everyone sufficiently caffeinated and ready for the big reveal? Good. Let’s get to it.
But first, a disclaimer: What I’m about to share with you is a theory I’ve arrived at after assembling some key evidence and determining the most likely person that the clues point to. Admittedly, there are holes, and I could be wrong about some details. In order to help you distinguish between what’s fact and what’s conjecture, I’ll be making a clear distinction in my wording. In the case of the latter, I’ll be using words like “may” and “could” and “possibly” and “allegedly” whereas, if I’m 100 percent certain about something, I’ll use words like “is” and “was” and maybe the occasional “for sure.” I’ll also post original documents as supporting evidence. Despite the holes, I believe that, if we haven’t hit the nail directly on the head, this is as close as we’ve ever been to the truth about what happened to Ronald Tammen. And if you’re with the CIA or FBI and feel that you know better, I simply ask that you prove me wrong.
ACT 1: The I & I memo
On Tuesday, March 25, 1952, when the CIA was still young and green, though hardly naïve, one of its foot soldiers sat down at his typewriter to compose a memo. The memo’s intended recipient was Robert Jay Williams, a former Naval commander who’d grown up in Spokane, WA, and now, at the age of 38, was one of the head honchos in the Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI). The author decided on the subject line of “I & I,” which, cryptic as it sounds to the rest of us, was crystal clear to Williams. As you may recall from earlier posts, Williams was at that time the project coordinator of ARTICHOKE, the CIA’s secret program in which they aimed to control people’s thoughts and behaviors with drugs, hypnosis, and other means. I’m sure he preferred to keep things as vague as possible.
Even though the memo writer’s name is redacted, I think it was probably Morse Allen, since he was the person who did so much of the day-to-day, boots-on-the-ground BLUEBIRD and ARTICHOKE work in the early days. However, because his name is still considered classified for some unknown and ridiculous reason (it’s been released in other memos, why not this one?), there continues to be a shred of doubt as to the author’s identity, so I’ll just refer to him as “the author.” (But I’m 99 percent sure it was Allen.)
As for the subject head, I can only wager a guess regarding what that means too. The first “I,” I believe, stands for interrogation, since the interrogation process was always a primary focus for ARTICHOKE—both to prevent the release of U.S. intelligence while, at the same time, getting more info out of the enemy. The other “I,” I believe, stands for indoctrination, since that word seemed to go hand-in-hand with interrogation. We know this is true from the words of Allen Dulles in his Brain Warfare speech, delivered April 10, 1953. In that speech, Dulles used some form of the word “indoctrination” ten times and “interrogation” nine times in describing Communist brainwashing methods. For example, he described how Americans were indoctrinated into making false confessions, and that one reason that the Communists hadn’t caused this to happen on a more widespread basis was a “shortage of trained interrogators.” In the CIA’s mindset, interrogation went together with indoctrination like Desi went with Lucy, Martin went with Lewis, and Tonto went with the Lone Ranger. Other examples of these two “I” words used in tandem is a report from 1955 in which the subject head is referring to the “Interrogation and Indoctrination of PWs” (prisoners of war) and this 1956 report for the American Medical Association, conducted at Dulles’ request by Drs. Lawrence Hinkle and Harold Wolff. So I’m pretty confident that “I & I” was shorthand for Interrogation and Indoctrination, even though I couldn’t get confirmation of this while I was on the phone with a CIA rep one day (shocker).
In the weeks leading up to the March 25 memo, Williams (I think, since the name is always redacted) had expressed his frustration with how ARTICHOKE had been progressing, or, rather, not progressing. The folks at OSI wanted to pursue cutting-edge scientific research in ARTICHOKE methods—they were especially enamored with the “very latest ‘ideas’” in “electroshock, lysergic acid [LSD], drugs, electro-encephalograph, hypnosis, etc., etc.,” while the guys in the Inspection and Security Office (IS&O), which happened to include Allen, were all about operations. The security guys wanted to pursue whatever worked best, and, as one meeting summary stated (also likely written by Allen), the writer didn’t understand why OSI wanted to pursue electroshock and lysergic acid, when [sodium] amytal and pentothal had “been used with some success in the United States and elsewhere.”
The aforementioned summary document, which had been typed up for the departmental files on February 12, 1952, described “a long, involved, and somewhat heated discussion concerning ‘Artichoke’” between the author and someone who was obviously in command. Among other things, the author described how the person he was speaking with—again, I’m thinking Williams—had been inquiring about a hypnosis researcher who wouldn’t be averse to working on a project such as this. Maybe that conversation was the impetus for the March 25 memo, or maybe it was just one of many exchanges they’d had of late on the topic.
Regardless, on this particular Tuesday, March 25, the author was hoping to placate Williams by providing names of serious-minded hypnosis researchers. “You have asked me to put down in writing some of my ideas on how I would go about getting expert help on hypnotism,” the author began. “Above all, I would rely upon proven experimental psychologists who have their feet on the ground on this subject and who have done plenty of research work on hypnotism.”
Nice lead. Way to write for your audience, my dude.
In paragraph 2, our author then begins to discuss perhaps one of the foremost researchers in hypnosis, and, even though, some 67 years later, the CIA still considers this information to be classified, we can figure out many of the words that were redacted, and, I would venture to say, they are quite undeserving of the “classified” designation. Let’s give it a shot, Mad Libs-style, shall we?
“The most extensive and careful series of experiments on hypnotism were carried out by BLANK over a ten-year period,” he said.
Does anyone know who our author is referring to? I’ll give you a hint: three Miami professors studied under him.
That’s right, it’s Clark Hull.You’ll see why in a second. Moving on:
“He began his work while he was still at the BLANK and finished his studies after he transferred to the BLANK.”
Some of you who have read this post may recall that these answers are the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Yale University Institute of Human Relations. Easy breezy.
If you had any doubts about the above answers, here’s the giveaway sentence:
“His book, entitled BLANKETY BLANK, “is a carefully documented research classic which is a [sic] ‘must’ reading for anybody who professes to be even seriously interested in the subject.”
“Unfortunately, BLANK is no longer interested in hypnotism and moreover he has become quite feeble…”
The answer, again, is Clark Hull. Remember how Hull had stopped studying hypnosis as soon as his book came out, and even wrote in a journal that “I shall never be able to live down the stigma cast upon me by it”? Also, regarding the “feeble” part, Hull had always had health issues, but it turns out that a “bad heart condition” had limited his activities over his last several years at Yale, and he died on May 10, 1952, just six weeks after the memo was written. So feeble—weak, ailing—fits too.
“…but his two principal research assistants are still active in psychology and would prove particularly valuable as consultants on a research project on hypnotism. They are BLANK AND BLANK.
There’s no way to figure out who the two researchers are with that limited amount of information. Thankfully, we have paragraphs three and four to help us. Bear in mind that these individuals aren’t going to be nearly as obvious as Hull. However, what first narrows down our options is the fact that they had to have studied under Hull and were at some point considered his “principal research assistants.” Also, they needed to be active in the field of psychology in March 1952. So at least we have that.
Let’s proceed to paragraph 3:
“BLANK BLANKETY-BLANKED before he became a psychologist.” That could be anything. We’ll have to come back to it once we have a little more information.
“He is an extremely competent, broad-minded, and non-dogmatic scientist.” Very nice, but again, no giant arrows pointing to someone we know.
“At the present time, he serves as a BLANK.” Grrrr. Fine, we’ll come back to this one too.
“He has plenty of experience in research, experimental, clinical, and business psychology.”
I’ll ask you to ignore the lack of parallel structure in the above sentence and concentrate on the last two words, which happen to provide a big clue. Why would Commander Robert Jay Williams give a whit about business psychology when he’s looking for a serious-minded scientific researcher in hypnosis? Nevertheless, I am so glad our author inserted that needless selling point, because, guess what? I do know of one person who was a principal research assistant to Clark Hull who also happened to have experimental, clinical, and, yes, even business psychology expertise. He was Clark Hull’s right-hand man during the publication of his book Hypnosis and Suggestibility and Hull singled him out in his autobiography by expressing his indebtedness to him. He had experimental research experience through his time spent with Hull for his master’s and Ph.D. degrees as well as in hypnosis studies that he helped conduct at Miami in the 1930s. He obtained clinical experience in the summer of 1936 when he worked for the U.S. Public Health Service as a clinical psychologist for prisoners of Northeastern Penitentiary in Lewisburg, PA. And he oversaw the business psychology course at Miami, a course that all business majors were required to take. That person is St. Clair Adna Switzer, Ronald Tammen’s psychology professor.
“I would certainly trust his judgment on any problem dealing with hypnosis and drugs,” the author stated.
Hmmm…Switzer was a psychology professor—he didn’t dispense drugs. However, perhaps the author was referring to something Switzer had done in a former life. Maybe he was referring to the two years Switzer had spent as a pharmacist in Farmington, MI, before he decided to pursue an undergraduate degree in psychology at Miami? Bingo. Let’s go back to the beginning of this paragraph and fill in some blanks to see if they fit.
Sentence 1: “St. Clair Adna Switzer (or Adna St. Clair Switzer—he went by both names) was a pharmacist before he became a psychologist.” Absolutely true. Switzer referred to himself as a “registered pharmacist” in a publication as late as 1950. He was extremely proud of that degree in pharmacy from Ferris Institute School of Pharmacy, and, according to Fern Patten’s book, Eighty Years of Psychology at Miami, that’s the reason he asked his colleagues to call him by his nickname, Doc.
Sentence 2: “He is an extremely competent, broad-minded, and non-dogmatic scientist.” That’s true too. He was fairly no-nonsense from what I can tell, and judging by Hull’s letters to him, Hull felt he was an exceptional scientist, which tells me that Switzer was no slouch in the research department.
Sentence 3: “At the present time, he serves as a professor of psychology at Miami University.” Or maybe it said, “At the present time, he serves as a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserves,” because he was doing that intermittently too. I’m guessing it was the former though.
Then comes the business psychology reference and the reference to hypnosis and drugs.
And finally: “An indication of his writing and thinking can be obtained from a recent article entitled BLANK.”
At this point in Switzer’s career, most of his publications were from the 1930s, which makes sense, since his military responsibilities took over much of the 1940s, throughout the war, and then, after the war, in the Veteran Guidance Center in Oxford. In 1950, however, Switzer authored a small section of the book Handbook of Applied Psychology, edited by Douglas H. Fryer and Edwin R. Henry. The second chapter was titled “Individual Efficiency,” and Switzer’s section, “Drugs and Smoking,” was three pages in length plus references. In 1951, Switzer wrote a chapter on “Personnel Tests” for the book Personnel Handbook, edited by John F. Mee. Perhaps our author cited one of these? If so, my money would be on the “Drugs and Smoking” section, since it’s more relevant to the subject at hand.
It might seem strange that our memo’s author would even be aware of St. Clair Switzer, who, at that time, was toiling away in a crumbling and bug-infested Harrison Hall (the first one, which was torn down in 1958) in Oxford. But Switzer was known by the U.S. government. The Air Force certainly knew where to find him and would regularly send orders for him to appear at such-and-such Air Force Base on assignment. Moreover, in August through December 1951, Switzer had served a stint with the Air Research and Development Command (ARDC) in Baltimore, a facility tasked with the development of state-of-the-art aircraft and missiles. His role was a civilian consultant, and, according to Switzer, he “assisted in formulating the long-range training program for Reserve officer scientists who have research and development assignments in the Air Force.” So Switzer was indeed a known commodity in the Air Force and, because the Air Force worked closely with the CIA in Project BLUEBIRD and ARTICHOKE, it wouldn’t have been a stretch for him to be noticed by the folks in Langley too. But that’s probably not how Morse Allen (or whomever our memo’s author was) knew about Switzer. I think the memo’s author telephoned Clark Hull one day in February or March 1952 to ask him about hypnosis researchers. Hull would have informed him that he was no longer in the hypnosis business and that his health was in decline, and then, ever the mentor, he would have passed along the names of the two assistants whom he remembered fondly and who he thought might be interested in assisting in some government work. That seems like the most logical way in which Switzer’s name would have been passed along, at least in my view.
As for the person mentioned in paragraph 4, at first, I wondered if it might have been Everett F. Patten, but then I sought the opinion of someone who has studied Hull’s work in hypnosis, and is acquainted with Switzer and Patten’s contributions as well as other hypnosis researchers from the past. That person agreed that Hull was undoubtedly the first person, and said that he would bet good money that Switzer was the second person. However, he suggested that the person described in paragraph 4 was Griffith Wynne Williams, who was by then a psychology professor at Rutgers. Griffith Williams was another of Hull’s primary research assistants, having accompanied him on his move from the University of Wisconsin to Yale. The reason my source arrived at this conclusion is that Williams had been prolific in publishing on the topic of hypnosis and had also conducted many hypnosis demonstrations, as described in the memo. Also, Griffith Williams had developed a test for determining a person’s suggestibility, which was featured in Hull’s book. Although he’s not important to our story, I’ll hazard the guess that person number two is Griffith Wynne Williams and leave it there.
Of course, just because the names St. Clair Switzer and Griffith Williams may have been suggested to Commander Williams in a memo, that wouldn’t necessarily mean that they were actually approached by the CIA and that they subsequently signed on. At this point, it’s just a “You know who we should approach? We should totally approach so-and-so,” sort of deal and it could have all died there. Except for one tiny little thing. In the CIA’s zealousness to keep its people and intelligence sources confidential, they may have given themselves away. (You might want to read that last sentence a second time, since it’s so deliciously ironic.) Remember the post titled FOIA follies where I described my efforts to get the three people’s names released? If so, do you also remember what the CIA said? To make things easy on you, I’ll just copy/paste that verbiage here:
SEC. 6. [50 U.S.C. 403g] In the interests of the security of the foreign intelligence activities of the United States and in order further to implement section 102A(i) of the National Security Act of 1947 that the Director of National Intelligence shall be responsible for protecting intelligence sources and methods from unauthorized disclosure, the Agency shall be exempted from the provisions of sections 1 and 2, chapter 795 of the Act of August 28, 1935 1 (49 Stat. 956, 957; 5 U.S.C. 654), and the provisions of any other laws which require the publication or disclosure of the organization, functions, names, official titles, salaries, or numbers of personnel employed by the Agency: Provided,That in furtherance of this section, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget shall make no reports to the Congress in connection with the Agency under section 607, title VI, chapter 212 of the Act of June 30, 1945, as amended 1 (5 U.S.C. 947(b)).
I’m no lawyer, but this seems to tell me that all three individuals whose names were redacted in the memo had worked for the CIA at some point in their lives.
Would I be showing my bias if I told you that I agree completely with my past self? I mean, it appears as if the CIA is saying that all three people—including feeble old Clark Hull—had some affiliation with the CIA. In my appeal, I mentioned Hull’s feebleness as a reason that they could at least release HIS name. Right? Wrong. Appeal denied. Of course, if Hull had worked for the CIA before 1952? Well, you got me there.
I’ve gone the entire FOIA route with this document, short of filing a lawsuit, which an extremely knowledgeable lawyer has dissuaded me from based on the impossible-to-beat exemptions they’re claiming. Now, someone else has kindly picked up this ball and is running with it. That’s all I’ll be saying on the matter, but hopefully, that person will be more successful than I in getting the names released.
I’m less sure of the second document, though my confidence is growing. While the first document landed on my laptop in nanoseconds, after I ran a search for “hypnosis” on the CIA’s online reading room, I stumbled on the second one while reading page after grueling page of the PDFs on the CIA’s MKULTRA DVD.
It’s dated January 14, 1953, still several months before Allen Dulles approved MKULTRA, and the subject head is “Interrogation Techniques.” The memo is written to Dr. BLANK. While I’ll post the whole document, the only paragraph I’m concerned with is paragraph 3.
Here’s what it says:
3. If the services of Major BLANK, USAF (MC), a trained hypnotist can be obtained and another man well grounded in conventional psychological interrogation and polygraph techniques, and the services of Lt. Colonel BLANK, a well-balanced interrogation research center could be established in an especially selected location.
The sentence is pretty terrible and appears to be missing a comma after the word “hypnotist,” but let’s just focus on the two people whose names are redacted. Even though the first person isn’t identified in our version, other sources have identified it to be Major Louis Jolyon West, who was chief of the Psychiatric Service at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio at that time. (Here’s a reprinted article from the magazine Nexxus that also identifies him from that sentence.) As you may recall, Jolly West was heavily into hypnosis and LSD research (he infamously killed Tusko, the elephant, in the Oklahoma City Zoo) and, when MKULTRA came to be, he was funded under Subproject 43. According to author Colin Ross, M.D., West had received “top secret” clearance from the CIA, which tells us that he would have been able to see a lot more of what the government was up to than a typical unwitting MKULTRA-funded researcher.
As for the second individual, Lt. Colonel BLANK, from what I can tell, that person has never been identified, or even attempted to be identified. Until today. Guys, I think the person named there is Switzer. I kid you not. St. Clair Switzer was made a lieutenant colonel in 1946, after WWII ended. That was quite a feat, since it normally takes 16 years’ time in the service in order to attain lieutenant colonel status. In 1946, Switzer had only spent four years with the Army Air Corps (precursor to the U.S. Air Force) and two years with the Navy before he went to pharmacy school. A Miami Student article from September 15, 1942, said that Switzer was in the Army Air Corps Intelligence Service during WWII, the only reference to intelligence that I’ve seen published about him. This might have expedited his escalation in military rank and bolstered his status with the CIA as well. Also, we already know from the I & I memo that, if Switzer is named there, and I am 99 percent sure that he is, he likely had something to do with the CIA’s efforts in interrogation and indoctrination.
And now I want you to do me a favor. I want you to open up the document at the link below and I want you to focus on that second name in the third paragraph, even though it’s blacked out. Zoom in as high as you can and really examine it. It says Switzer, does it not? I swear, I can see a capital “S,” a “w,” a “z,” and an “er.” It seems to have the right number of letters. There’s a little tail after the “er,” but I think that was a hand-drawn closing parenthesis. I especially like how the author doesn’t feel the need to identify him further—they just refer to “the services of Lt. Colonel BLANK,” as if he’s already well-known around there. Good ol’ reliable Lt. Colonel BLANK.
This time, instead of submitting a FOIA request, I submitted a mandatory declassification review (MDR) request to the CIA for the release of the two names in paragraph 3. (A person can submit a FOIA request or an MDR request, but not both for the same document.) After having heard nothing in over a year, I’ve submitted an appeal to the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) for a ruling. If they should order the CIA to release the names and the lt. colonel turns out not to be Switzer, well, OK then. I’ll just crawl under a rock and promise not to bother anyone ever again. But if it does say Switzer? Oh, man. Then, I’m going to have one or two follow-up questions for the CIA. Because if St. Clair Switzer was working for the CIA’s ARTICHOKE program in 1953 and one of his students just so happened to disappear that spring, then we need to find out if he was involved and how. And if St. Clair Switzer is mentioned in the same sentence as Louis Jolyon West in connection with the creation of an interrogation research center for ARTICHOKE, well, I don’t think that I have to tell you that that would also be a very big deal.
So THIS, Good Man readers, is what we’ll be waiting on from here on out. The current appeals log is below, and, as you can see, my name is on line 1379, ISCAP number 2018-089. I’ll definitely let you know how the panel eventually rules, but you can also keep abreast of my case by visiting their website and downloading the latest log whenever you feel like it.
Documents are great—I love how straightforward they are in a bureaucratic, understated sort of way. But documents can be destroyed, which is why so little is left concerning the CIA’s ARTICHOKE and MKULTRA years. Stories, from the mouths of actual people, can help fill in some gaps created by missing documents, and I just so happen to have several to share.
The men in front of Fisher Hall
The sun was shining on this particular fall day. Classes were about to start for the 1952-53 academic year, and some older students with added responsibilities were beginning to arrive and settle in to their dorm rooms before the onslaught of the rest of the students. So many years later, a peer of Ronald Tammen’s recalls feeling energized on that day. Like Tammen, he, too, was going to be a sophomore residence hall counselor in Fisher Hall, and he was looking forward to receiving training on how to do his job. After dropping off his stuff and taking a look around his room, the young man, we’ll call him Walt, went back outside to soak in the excitement. He immediately was drawn to a group of men who were engaged in conversation on the front lawn of Fisher Hall.
They looked different to him. Their ages were a little outside the norm—older than a typical student, though younger than the professors. Their clothes looked different too. They wore jackets, but not full-on suits. Sport coats and ties. He decided that they were probably administrators who would conduct the residence counselor training, and he walked over to the group to introduce himself.
“Hi! I’m Walt, and I’m one of the new counselors,” he said jovially. He fully expected a “hi” back, and an invitation to join in their conversation.
What he got was stony silence. The men turned to face him and just stared.
“Oh, pardon me. Pardon me,” he said, “Pardon me. I’ve intruded in your personal conversation.”
Walt was deeply humiliated—so deeply that he still cringes when he thinks about the incident, even more than six decades later. He left quickly, finding sanctuary in another group standing nearby.
“Do you know what that is over there, because I don’t have an idea what was going on,” he remembers saying. “Because I’m really embarrassed.”
He recalls one person saying something to the effect of, “Well, they were talking about hypnosis and a program in hypnosis in the psychology program.”
As it turns out, Walt had an interest in learning how to hypnotize people, and he thought this sounded like a great opportunity. But there was no way he was going to be heading back over to the group of men talking on the lawn. He’d go to the source. He was enrolled in a psychology course that semester, and, one day, he inquired about the program at the departmental office. A secretary told him that she wasn’t aware of such a program but suggested that he ask Dr. Patten, the department chair who also happened to be Walt’s instructor.
After waiting a couple weeks for the right moment and summoning his courage after class, he said, “Dr. Patten, I have a question to ask you. I’m interested in hypnosis. It may be presumptuous of me, but I’d like to be a physician, maybe even a psychiatrist.” (He felt really weird saying that last part.)
I’ll let him tell the rest:
“And he turned around and looked at me—not hostilely, and not really indifferently. And he said, ‘We don’t have a curriculum here in hypnosis,’ something like that. And I said, ‘Well, I heard there’s a special program and that you were taking volunteers.’ I used the word ‘volunteers,’ because the other guy said it was some kind of a volunteer program or something. I said I’d volunteer if I could learn something, and he said, ‘Well, maybe in the future.’ And that dropped it. To me, these were powerful people, psychology professors and all that, and I didn’t force the issue.”
The clandestine exit
In my post The hypnotists of Oxford, Ohio, I described a conversation between C. Theodore (Ted) Perin and former Dean Karl Limper about Perin’s time both as a student and a faculty member in the Department of Psychology. Perin was the other hypnosis expert who’d studied under Clark Hull, in addition to Patten and Switzer. Here’s another interesting snippet from that conversation:
KL: Did he [Patten] leave the chairmanship upon retirement, or had he done it before that?
TP: No, he was chairman until he retired. [Correction: Actually, Patten stepped down from the chairmanship in 1961, and retired in 1965.]
KL: In those days, chairmen usually went right to the retirement.
TP: That’s right. And he got out of it and Switzer…in those days, they didn’t have searches, you know, throughout the country, they just…
TP: Inherited…Switzer was next in line, and so he took it over. That was in the 1960s—early 1960s, I think. Yes. And Switzer…you can erase this stuff…remember…these tapes, you only need to copy what you…what you want.
KL: That’s right.
TP: Switzer was very difficult. He was not overly friendly.
KL: I got the feeling he was not one of everybody’s favorites. He was very military in his operation of the…
TP: He was very military. That is correct. And very private.
KL: The dean received? He had him…
TP: He had a lot of interesting other people, I think.
TP: And he suffered through several years there as chairman. When Switzer retired, I may have told you this before, Karl, he locked his door, went out and left the office and never came back…never said goodbye to anybody—even myself—I had been there since 1934, and he never said goodbye to anybody.
KL: Isn’t that interesting?
TP: The only…I only saw him one other time up in a bank box when he was gettin [sic] his box out and I was gettin [sic] my box out and he exchanged a couple of little words—pleasantries—and he moved to California and died.
KL: Well, I assume he emptied his office before he locked it.
TP: Yeah, he…
KL: I mean, he didn’t lock everything in there.
TP: Yeah, but he just moved it all out himself and then he was gone.
KL: Isn’t that strange?
TP: Uh huh.
Karl and Ted are correct. It is strange. Do you know what’s also strange? After Switzer retired, he obtained a post office box for his mail. Why would a retiree need a post office box when he had a perfectly good mailbox at his home? What sort of mail was he expecting to receive that warranted the additional privacy? True, people use P.O boxes all the time, but this just seems…well, I suppose it fits the behavior of a guy who surreptitiously cleans out his office and then leaves without saying goodbye to the people he’d worked alongside for more than 30 years. Yeah, come to think of it, maybe it wasn’t strange at all.
The phone call
St. Clair Switzer died in May 1976, before I even started at Miami, so I would have never had the chance to ask him about Ron Tammen, even if I’d started my investigation on my first day of class. The good news, however, is that I’ve spoken with someone who did have the chance to talk to Switzer by phone about Tammen. Here’s a transcript of our conversation about that phone call:
Person On the Phone (POP): “…I found out that Ron Tammen had been in Doc Switzer’s class. I thought, ‘Oh, I know him. I’ll call him.’ So I called. Now, you’re asking me to remember something from, what, 45 years ago?”
Actually, it was probably even longer than that, since it was in the late 1960s that this person contacted Switzer, after he’d moved to California.
POP: “And it wasn’t really a conversation. He said, ‘Yes, Ron had been in his class. He had no particular memory of him. He’d been questioned at the time, and there really hadn’t been anything that he could add to anything.’ And that was the extent of it.”
JW: “I see.”
POP: “So, it wasn’t really anything like an enlightening conversation. You sort of hope that someone would say, ‘Oh yes, I remember him. He was a bright student. Blah blah blah,’ whatever, but there was nothing like that.”
JW: “Yeah. Did he still seem open and welcoming to talk about it, or was he, I don’t know…”
POP: “Well, he had not been a particularly friendly person when we met him here, and if anything, I mean, he didn’t seem to have anything to say that was as though, ‘I don’t really have anything more to say,’ and that’s it. I mean, there was nothing, there was nothing.”
JW: “Yeah, got it. And he never mentioned that Ron had actually dropped the course by the time he disappeared?”
POP: “No, and honestly, that surprises me because if Ron had dropped the course, why did he have his psych book open on his desk the night he disappeared? Are you sure he dropped it?”
JW: “Yeah, I have it on his transcript. I got it from the Registrar’s Office.”
So put yourself in the shoes of St. Clair Switzer. If someone whom you knew had contacted you to ask about Ronald Tammen being in your psychology class, wouldn’t your first response be, “Actually, he wasn’t enrolled in my class at the time he disappeared. He’d already dropped the course.” That’s the first thing I would have said, especially if I’d been questioned about it by investigators, as he’d said he was, and that crucial detail had ostensibly been discussed at that time. But he didn’t say that. Instead, he said something along the lines of “I have no particular memory of him.” And then something like “I don’t really have anything more to say.”
Ummm…really? Because, normally, when we humans come into contact with a newsworthy person or event, even a tragic one, we tend to talk about our slice of the story. Something like “Oh, yeah, I remember he was such a quiet guy,” or “We were all so surprised when he disappeared,” or maybe even “He dropped my course a few weeks before he disappeared—that was so strange!”, or whatever. But all he could think of was…nothing. Also, I don’t care how many years had transpired, this is the sort of thing that a person doesn’t forget. I’ve spoken with a lot of people who had far less in common with Tammen than Switzer did and still had plenty of thoughts on the topic.
It occurred to me that maybe Switzer’s psychology course was simply too big for him to notice Ronald Tammen. If there were a couple hundred students in his class, then perhaps it would have been easier for Ron to blend in and to not make an impression. I knew that Switzer’s class was held in room 124 of old Harrison Hall, but I didn’t know how many students were enrolled in the class. I tried the Registrar’s Office, but they don’t keep records of class sizes. I settled on seating capacity. If I knew how many seats a classroom could hold, then it would at least give me an upper limit of the number of students in the class. Here’s what Jacky Johnson, Miami’s Archivist, told me:
“The maximum student load for Room 124 of Harrison Hall was 45.”
Guys, that’s not a big number. At all. And again, if one of those 45 (or fewer) students happened to disappear shortly after dropping your course, well, it’s something you’re still going to remember. Surely, St. Clair Switzer knew more about Ronald Tammen than he was letting on. To me, his answers are indicative of someone who wanted to end the phone call as quickly as possible. What does that tell you?
Sun City, here we come!
In June 1968, St. Clair Switzer and his wife Elizabeth (she went by Betty) purchased one side of a duplex in Sun City, CA, to live out their golden years. Their home was on Pebble Beach Drive, a name that evokes sand and sea, even though there’s no water or beach in sight. It was the fourth Sun City retirement community to be created by developer Del Webb (the first and most famous being Sun City, AZ), and was located in Riverside County about 78 miles east of L.A. The Switzers moved there in August 1968.
It has always mystified me why the Switzers would move to Sun City, CA. As far as I could tell, they had no friends or family there. Their only daughter and her husband lived in Washington, D.C., at the time. One person has suggested that they did it for Betty, who had mobility issues, so that she could get out of the cold. But by then, there was a Sun City Center in Florida. If they were so determined to get in on the Sun City fun, why not move there, where you could get all the sun you wanted and still be close enough to family? I needed to see what the draw was.
Last month, my husband and I took a trip to California, where I spent the first two days at UCLA’s Charles E. Young Research Library going through Jolly West’s correspondence and other papers. While Switzer’s name on anything could have provided me with one sweet smoking gun, I’m sorry to report that I was unsuccessful. But that’s OK. Because if anyone was going to spend two perfectly gorgeous days in L.A. camped out in UCLA’s Special Collections room searching for St. Clair Switzer’s name on Jolly West’s archival documents, I do believe that I’m the only person in the world who was cut out for that job. And it’s not like I didn’t find anything of interest—just not that.
Another stop on the trip was Sun City. Though it appears to be a nice retirement community with tidy homes and well-maintained recreational facilities, it still didn’t seem like a place for two Midwesterners to settle with no friends or family nearby, although I’m told that plenty of them did back in the day. Besides the golf course and shuffle board courts, one of Sun City’s enticements at that time was the opportunity to socialize with other retirees by participating in various clubs. From what I can tell, though, the Switzers weren’t joiners. Some former Oxford neighbors even considered them somewhat reclusive. So that didn’t make sense either. I toured Sun City’s new museum, which is a room set aside for records and nostalgic knick-knacks in the Arts and Crafts building, and so far, we haven’t found any signs of the Switzers in photo or roster form. The very helpful people there told me they’d notify me if they do. (I particularly loved one photo in which husbands and wives were ballroom dancing in the rec center in the middle of the day, the wives’ purses dangling from the crooks of their arms. You can look at other photos and news articles on their Facebook page.)
The one place that did look as if it might appeal to St. Clair Switzer was March Air Force Base, now March Air Reserve Base (ARB), which is just up the road from Sun City. Could Switzer have been called to work there? When I wrote them to ask if he might have been employed there, I was told that March ARB doesn’t keep records for anyone who is not currently assigned there and their historian position was vacant. Of course, it also occurred to me that, if the CIA were involved, his assignment probably would have been kept off the books anyway. On May 26, 1976, just around the time MKULTRA was becoming public knowledge, St. Clair Switzer died in his sleep of “suspect cardiac arrhythmia,” due to coronary artery insufficiency that was tied to coronary artery atherosclerosis, according to his death certificate. Two years later, a national cemetery was dedicated outside Riverside, near March AFB/ARB, and this is where St. Clair and Elizabeth are now buried.
Epilogue: My theory
With all of this new information, plus all of the new details I’ve presented over the past two years, here’s where my head is concerning what happened to Ron Tammen:
I think the reason that the FBI, DOJ, and/or CIA haven’t told the Tammens about what happened to Ron is because it could open a Pandora’s box—either of other families who were affected in the same way or of new details regarding some MKULTRA-related project that is yet unknown.
On what the university knew
I think someone from the federal government told university officials and the Oxford PD to call off their searches.
After spring break, Ron was showing signs of stress, I believe, over his grades and draft dilemma and perhaps because of a sexual relationship he may have been in.
Dr. Switzer may have approached him with an offer: see the world, serve your country, make a good living, and be true to who you are. However, he wouldn’t be able to see family and friends anymore, for whatever reason, which would have also been stressful for him.
I think Ron chose to cut his losses and agreed to sign on with the CIA. He also could have dropped his psychology course at this time to create distance between Switzer and him, since his credit hours/grades would no longer matter once he joined the CIA.
I don’t think he knew when he would be officially brought on board for whatever they had planned for him.
On the day of Ron’s disappearance:
Ron had no idea what was in store for him on April 19.
Ron had a jampacked schedule that Sunday, and he didn’t suspect that his life was in for a drastic change. He cut records with the Campus Owls all morning and then returned to campus in the afternoon. He had some questions about posthypnotic suggestion, and read up on the topic in his psychology book, even though he’d dropped the course. He did everything else that’s been documented: showered, ate dinner with Collins head resident Ken McDiffett and a table of fellow students, helped Dick Titus study, and changed his sheets.
He told his brother Richard something on the phone that may have angered Richard—maybe he even told him that he was planning to leave Miami.
Whew! So there you have it. I realize it’s a lot to digest, and I’m opening myself up to a few darts and arrows for not fleshing out some details particularly well and not addressing certain questions (like the blood test, which I think was a red herring). But that’s OK. I’m just letting you know where I stand and letting you have your say as well. Feel free to comment below. Also, don’t forget to join us from 1 to 2 p.m. ET today for our Twitter chat (@jwwenger; #Tammenchat). Or, if you’re near Oxford, stop by Mac & Joe’s during that hour to say “hi”!
Oh, and one last thing: These last two years have been extremely instructive for me and a total blast as well. I’m going to miss our talks. Thanks so much for being part of this community, everyone. I’ll be in touch as soon as I hear from ISCAP or if anything else really huge happens on the Tammen front that you need to know about. I feel honored to count you among my posse.
ADDENDUM TO POST (April 22, 2019): Please note that, just because I’m putting my blog on hiatus doesn’t mean that I’ll be putting an end to my research. There’s still much to learn on the Tammen case, and I have every intention of chasing down whatever lead I can find as well as filling in as many details as possible. I’m not going away anytime soon–I’m just going to be doing things a little more quietly, under the radar. I’ll aways be accessible through the contact page, however.
A Good Man primer on the CIA’s mind control program and the universities that took part
I know what you’re thinking. “A primer about MKULTRA? YAHOO!
Well, actually, that’s probably not what you’re thinking. Very few people on this planet truly appreciate a good primer. No one ever looked forward to curling up on a rainy day with a primer. No primer has ever won a Pulitzer. Some of you may have taken one look at the above title and decided to walk away until April 19th, when you can finally see for yourself the evidence that I’ve been dangling over your heads for lo these many months and then be done with it. And I guess that’d be OK. (If you do choose to skip this one, please be sure to scroll to the bottom of this post first for an update on what to expect that day.)
But please don’t go just yet. Because A.) you’d be hurting my feelings, and B.) primers can be super useful tools. They provide background details and references you can consult if you want to know more. And you can pick and choose what topic to read up on and what to skip till later. For the people who stick it out and read the 5000-plus words I have in store for you today, you’re going to be way ahead of the game. How so? Because when I post the two CIA documents on the 19th, you’re going to immediately understand their significance and why the information contained in them is newsworthy. While everyone else is busy looking up who a particular past researcher was, you’re going to be all, “Oh. My. GOSH! So-and-so is mentioned in the same document as What’s-his-name? Incredible!” And I’ll be like, “I know, right?!?” It’ll be amazing. So, Yahoo? Ya betcha!
Do I consider myself to be an MKULTRA expert? Not even a little. This topic is daunting and depressing and scary as hell. But I’ve learned at least a few things that I think will (in a couple short weeks) help us put things in perspective Tammen-wise. That said, I also recognize that I’m perfectly capable of oversimplifying a complex topic in order to wrap my ever-shrinking brain around it, and there’s a reasonable chance that I could do so here. If you feel that I’ve left out an important point or that I could do a better job of boiling things down, please feel free to add your two cents in the comments and I’ll make amends.
And now, without further ado, here’s everything you need to know to be conversant about one of the most egregious programs ever to come out of the CIA.
What was MKULTRA?
MKULTRA was the name of the CIA’s notorious mind control program that started in the early 1950s. There were similar programs that pretty much fit under the MKULTRA umbrella, but MKULTRA is the one that has received the most press. Of all the CIA’s mind control programs, MKULTRA was the top dog, the big kahuna.
In 1977, the Senate held a Joint Hearing on MKULTRA, referring to it as the CIA’s “Program of Research in Behavioral Modification.” Mind control, behavior modification—either description is apt, since it’s all about a person or persons having control over someone’s thoughts and actions.
What was the purpose of MKULTRA?
When MKULTRA and related programs were instituted, the United States was in the throes of the Korean War, and the powers that be were concerned about preventing U.S. intelligence from getting into enemy hands. Conversely, they also had a desire to obtain as much information as possible from the other side. They knew that one key way in which this potential transfer of information could take place was during the interrogation of prisoners.
The CIA wondered if techniques such as hypnosis and drugs could help prevent agency personnel and others from saying too much to potential captors while, if used in an alternative way, encouraging enemy operatives to share state secrets as openly as if they were shooting the breeze over a game of Canasta. As the CIA got further into things, their goals for the program crept into other areas. In the Senate Report, MKULTRA was described as “concerned with the research and development of chemical, biological, and radiological materials capable of employment in clandestine operations to control human behavior.”
Why was it called MKULTRA?
The CIA likes to assign bizarre names—called cryptonyms—to its programs to keep everyone in the dark about what they’re up to. One might be tempted to think that the MK is an abbreviation for “mind control,” but that would be way too obvious. Rather, MK is a digraph for the division of the CIA that oversaw the MKULTRA program, which was the Technical Services Staff (TSS), later renamed the Technical Services Division. As for the“ULTRA” part, during WWII, that word was used by British intelligence when referring to the highly sensitive information derived from encrypted German signals after they’d been decoded. Such info was also described as being “ultra secret.” With the CIA employing so many seemingly off-the-wall cryptonyms to describe its programs, the name MKULTRA seems to stand out as one that holds more meaning than most. The fact that they felt that this particular program should be held to a higher level of secrecy is especially noteworthy, since they pretty much feel that every single program they’re involved with is top secret, exempt from FOIA, and, to put it exceedingly mildly, nobody’s business but their own.
How was Project MKULTRA initiated?
In an April 3, 1953, memo written to CIA Director Allen Dulles, Richard Helms, then deputy director of the CIA, described some program activities as being “of such an ultra-sensitive nature” that they needed to be handled a little differently than the CIA’s usual way of handling outside contracts. He guesstimated that roughly 6 percent of their projects fell under this overall description whereby “they cannot and should not be handled by means of contracts which would associate CIA or the Government with the work in question.”
Helms then described the two categories as:
“Research to develop a capability in the covert use of chemical and biological materials.” [Read the full paragraph below.] And
Sorry, you don’t get to know about category B. [See the redacted paragraph below.]
Helms then laid out a plan by which the fewest number of people possible should know about the intentions of the government, including most of the people who were doing the actual work and where TSS should be given carte blanche to authorize the payment of invoices that fall within these two categories. The project would be called MKULTRA and TSS’s only restriction was that they stay within 6 percent of their approved budget. He closed with “The establishment and approval of Project MKULTRA will allow TSS to undertake highly desirable and necessary research in these two sensitive fields which would not be possible unless the work can be handled in this manner.” [Read the entire document here.]
On April 10, 1953—a Friday—CIA Director Allen Dulles stood before the National Alumni Conference of the Graduate Council of Princeton University in Hot Springs, Virginia. In his speech, titled “Brain Warfare,” Dulles treated attendees to frightening tales of how the Soviets and Chinese were able to both break down individuals’ old belief systems through extreme interrogation practices and instill new belief systems through indoctrination. In so doing, they were able to induce American citizens and others of the free world to make false confessions and even renounce their democratic ideals.
“This campaign for men’s minds, with its two particular manifestations, has such far reaching implications that it is high time for us to realize what it means and the problems it presents in thwarting our own program for spreading the gospel of freedom.”
The following Monday, April 13, 1953, Dulles put his official stamp of approval to Richard Helms’ April 3 memo, ramping up the government’s activities in mind and behavior control. [Read the April 13, 1953, memo here.]
What were the other related programs that fell under the mind control umbrella?
The way most people have described these programs is that BLUEBIRD was the first, which gave way to ARTICHOKE, which then evolved into MKULTRA. However, that explanation is a tad too simplistic, since, even after MKULTRA had gotten its official start, ARTICHOKE was still going strong.
BLUEBIRD, the first of the mind control programs, was authorized on April 20, 1950. According to the report of the Senate Select Committee on MKULTRA, dated August 3, 1977: “Its objectives were: (a) discovering means of conditioning personnel to prevent unauthorized extraction of information from them by known means, (b) investigating the possibility of control of an individual by application of special interrogation techniques, (c) memory enhancement, and (d) establishing defensive means for preventing hostile control of Agency personnel.” A fifth goal was then added: “the evaluation of offensive uses of unconventional interrogation techniques, including hypnosis and drugs.”
ARTICHOKE was officially on the books as of August 20, 1951, with the renaming of Project BLUEBIRD. ARTICHOKE was principally involved with “in-house experiments on interrogation techniques conducted ‘under medical and security controls which would ensure that no damage was done to individuals who volunteer for the experiments.’ Overseas interrogations utilizing a combination of sodium pentothal and hypnosis after physical and psychiatric examinations of the subjects were also part of ARTICHOKE.” The report says that “the CIA maintains that the project ended in 1956.” however, it also asserts that “special interrogation techniques” continued for several more years.
As for the other programs:
MKNAOMI had to do with the stockpiling of chemical and biological weapons “for specific use by the Technical Services Division.” The CIA was assisted in this venture by the Special Operations Division at Fort Detrick, MD, the same place where Frank Olson had worked.
MKDELTA was the program that oversaw the use of MKULTRA materials overseas. According to the Senate Report, this program probably began in 1953, and maybe as early as 1950.
MKSEARCH is probably the least-often mentioned program associated with CIA mind control. Interestingly, it was the name that replaced MKULTRA in 1964, which just goes to show us how some efforts at rebranding don’t work out very well.
When did these programs finally end?
In November 1969, President Nixon called for the end of the use and stockpiling of bioweapons, which brought MKNAOMI to a halt in 1970. As for MKULTRA/MKSEARCH, according to former CIA Director Stansfield Turner, the program ran until 1972, 22 years after the start of BLUEBIRD.
When were the MKULTRA documents destroyed?
In January 1973, Sidney Gottlieb, who headed up TSS’s chemical division, ordered all documents pertaining to the program to be destroyed in an effort to keep MKULTRA from the public. This was at the behest of then-CIA director Richard Helms, whom, as you’ll recall, was the guy who authored the memo that put MKULTRA into motion. Thankfully, they’d forgotten about the financial documents, underscoring the happy truths that everyone makes mistakes and what goes around eventually comes back around. Oh, and as for karma? It’s a comfort to know that she is and always has been quite the little bitch.
Why would someone give MKULTRA the green light?
Allen Dulles’ Brain Warfare speech serves as an excellent example of Cold War logic and the code-red-level fear of Communism it incited. Also, weird stuff had been happening. In 1949, Josef Cardinal Mindszenty, leader of the Catholic church in Hungary and staunch opponent to Communism, was tried for treason by the Soviets, and his dazed expression and willingness to admit to acts he hadn’t committed led many to believe he’d been drugged or hypnotized.
In 1952, it was widely reported that American POWs had been recorded admitting that the United States had been using germ warfare, such as disease-carrying bombs, on the Koreans. The government vehemently denied such activities and claimed that the prisoners had been forced into such confessions. As Dulles described in his speech:
“Here American boys—their identity is beyond doubt—stand up before the members of an international investigatory group of Communists from Western Europe and the Satellites and make open confessions, fake from beginning to end, giving the details of the alleged dropping of bombs with bacteriological ingredients on North Korean targets. They describe their indoctrination in bacteriological warfare, give all the details of their missions, their flight schedules, where they claim to have dropped the germ bombs, and other details. As far as one can judge from the film, these pseudo confessions are voluntary. There is little prompting from the Communist interrogators.”
As far as everyone was concerned, brainwashing—a term first used in September 1950 by CIA-paid journalist and author Edward Hunter—seemed like the only plausible explanation.
So, were the Cardinal Mindszenty and the POWs actually brainwashed?
Cardinal Mindszenty had indeed been treated harshly by his Soviet captors. A fellow captive, Father Bela Ispanky, told of his and the cardinal’s unspeakable treatment in a 1956 interview with the International News Service:
“I saw the room. I heard the crackle of high voltage electric current as it passed through his frail body. I heard the cardinal’s voice as they tried to break him in the room adjoining my own with third degree treatment. The next day I was in the same torture chamber, where I saw the tell-tale marks. The wall behind the electric activating switch was completely blackened by fresh burn marks indicating the current had been on for a long, long time.”
As for the POWs, this topic remains controversial, and some researchers contend that the prisoners were telling the truth and that the CIA’s claims that they were brainwashed were designed to both cover up for U.S. bioweapons activities in Korea AND to justify the CIA’s mind control experiments back home and elsewhere. [A recently released report on the topic of bioweapons can be found here.] Frank Olson’s son Eric believes that bioweapons were the reason behind his father’s death in November 1953. According to the Netflix documentary series Wormwood (spoiler alert), Frank Olson was slipped LSD in his drink, not so much because the CIA wanted to test the drug on a bunch of unsuspecting bureaucrats on retreat, but because of Olson’s knowledge of and outrage over the U.S.’s (alleged) use of bioweapons in Korea. The documentary contends that CIA representatives were using LSD as a truth serum to find out if Frank was planning to blow the lid off the government’s (alleged) bioweapons activities. Within the week, Frank Olson would (allegedly) “jump” from the tenth floor of Manhattan’s Hotel Statler.
What sorts of activities did MKULTRA and its related programs fund?
We’ll probably never know the complete truth behind MKULTRA. If you peruse the documents that are available and read some of the passages on the creative ways the CIA hatched to control people’s thoughts and actions, you’ll be sufficiently creeped out. But these are just the financial files. The Senate Report on MKULTRA described how the CIA maintained two documents on a project: one went to TSS, and the other version, which was said to be sanitized, went to the financial division. As former Senator Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania said at the time: “I wonder what the real files contain.”
To this day, even certain portions of the so-called sanitized versions of these documents remain redacted, so I’m sure we’re missing out on some mind-blowing details. Nevertheless, what we do know is that there were 149 subprojects that ran the gamut from hypnotizing unwilling subjects to giving LSD to prisoners in Kentucky to constructing safe houses of prostitution to any number of assorted, sordid projects. [Find the full list of subprojects in Appendix C of the Senate Report, here.]
Who oversaw MKULTRA?
As we’ve discussed above, the office most closely associated with MKULTRA for the longest period of time is the Technical Services Staff (TSS), which was renamed the Technical Services Division and, later, the Office of Technical Services. (Is it just me or does the CIA like to change its org chart on occasion to keep us all guessing about that too?) However, it all began when the Office of Security and its director, Sheffield Edwards, initiated Project BLUEBIRD in April 1950 as a way of corralling agency-wide interest in the operational use of hypnosis. With an eye mostly on protecting the agency from infiltrators, Edwards set up interrogation teams consisting of a psychiatrist, a polygraph operator who specialized in hypnosis, and a technician. But make no mistake, the security folks were very interested in understanding what was happening on the world stage in the area of mind control and getting ahead of that ball.
In March 1951, the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI), which, as its name implies, was composed mainly of science types as opposed to the law and order guys in security, took over BLUEBIRD and, later, ARTICHOKE. The security office, whose official name at that time was the Inspection and Security Office (IS&O), continued to do a lot of the leg work, however. This is why we have Commander Robert Jay Williams, who was with OSI and listed as project coordinator of ARTICHOKE at that time, in the “To” line of a March 1952 document that I believe links an associate of Ronald Tammen’s to that program.
Unfortunately, people are people, no matter how well-run the bureaucracy, and there were growing signs of friction between the two offices. OSI complained that IS&O wasn’t making enough progress on the science pertaining to ARTICHOKE techniques—they were mostly practicing hypnosis on staff and working on a training video—while IS&O felt that OSI wasn’t giving them enough information to work with. On October 29, 1952, ARTICHOKE was handed back over to IS&O, however, not for long. According to John Marks’ book, a couple years later, it was transferred to “yet another CIA outfit full of Ph.D.’s with operational experience”—TSS. Also, when MKULTRA was approved in April 1953, it, too, was given to TSS, which is where the program remained until it came to an end in 1972.
Which people oversaw it?
We’ve already discussed Sheffield Edwards and Commander Robert Jay Williams, who, I might add, had never been spoken of online with regard to his role in ARTICHOKE before we did on this blogsite. (We rock, y’all!) However, the person who was most in the trenches during MKULTRA’s formative years was Morse Allen, a security guy who, according to John Marks, headed up BLUEBIRD at the end of 1950, before it was handed over to OSI. Even after that happened, it was Allen who was often overseeing IS&O’s part of the collaboration, and, even though his name is often redacted, he appears to be the author on many memos that have survived from that period. Allen was born on March 6, 1910, in Washington, D.C., served in WWII, and was employed as a civil servant before signing on with the CIA. He was super zealous about the possibilities of hypnosis, and apparently had become fairly good at the technique himself. (Unfortunately, there isn’t much that I can link to online to provide additional background on Allen. I will, however embed the CIA’s initial response to author H.P. Albarelli’s 2015 FOIA request on Allen from the website MuckRock.com, because it also shows how difficult the CIA chooses to be in handling a simple request on a person who is well known to the CIA. He got the same treatment I got for Commander Robert Jay Williams. There was no other Morse Allen. Would they send the same reply for a request about Allen Dulles, I wonder?)
Once MKULTRA was approved, the person most involved was Sidney Gottlieb. Gottlieb didn’t head all of TSS at first—that was Willis Gibbons, a former executive with U.S. Rubber. Rather, he headed the chemical division of TSS, the arm that had direct oversight of MKULTRA, most likely because drugs and other chemicals played such a big role in the program. Gottlieb was an enigmatic man with eclectic interests, from raising goats to folk dancing to spearheading humanitarian efforts and it’s difficult to understand how he rationalized his work life with how he spent his time off hours. Nevertheless, the times were strange back then, and he believed in what he did, right up to the end. Robert Lashbrook, the man who was with Frank Olson on his fateful night, was Gottlieb’s former deputy.
What other government organizations took part?
Military intelligence collaborated with the CIA in these programs, including Army, Navy, and Air Force intelligence. According to John Marks’ book, the Army and Navy were most interested in “truth drugs,” while the Air Force was concerned with “interrogation techniques used on downed pilots.”
Which universities have been identified as having conducted research through MKULTRA so far?
In 1977, it was widely reported that 80 institutions played some role in MKULTRA, a number that included 44 colleges and universities. Because the ties to the CIA were often hidden by intermediary funding sources, many of these schools and the researchers themselves had no idea that they were linked to such a program. They were referred to as unwitting. The names of the institutions that have been publicly identified, and which then–CIA Director Stansfield Turner claimed were notified by the CIA in 1977 of their involvement, are listed below. Note that we still don’t have all 44 colleges or universities identified. (Sources: MKULTRA Briefing Book; The CIA Doctors, by Colin A. Ross; The Search for the Manchurian Candidate, by John Marks; NY Times; Alliance for Human Research Protection.)
University of Delaware
University of Denver
George Washington University
University of Florida
University of Georgia (the word “Leler” inexplicitly precedes the university’s name in most lists)
University of Helsinki
University of Houston
University of Illinois
University of Indiana
Johns Hopkins University
University of London
University of Maryland
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
McGill University, Montreal
University of Minnesota
Montana State College
University of Nijmegen Netherlands
Ohio State University
University of Oklahoma
University of Richmond
University of Rochester
Texas Christian University
University of Texas
University of Wisconsin
Who were some of the best-known university researchers with MKULTRA ties?
Many university researchers were connected to MKULTRA, however, most were considered unwitting participants, since they had no idea who they were working for. Here are three university researchers who seemed to be more witting than most in their activities. As illustrious as the rest of their careers may have been, their names have been indelibly linked to, and almost synonymous with, MKULTRA.
D. Ewen Cameron was a world famous psychiatrist who had immigrated to Canada in 1929 from Scotland. He was director of the Allan Memorial Institute, McGill University’s psychiatric facility, from 1943 to 1964. So revered was he in his field, he was elected president of the Canadian Psychiatric Association, American Psychiatric Association, and the World Psychiatric Association. Cameron treated his psychiatric patients through a process called “depatterning,” in which he would subject them to drug-induced sleep and electroshock therapy to a point where they would be reduced to a childlike state. He’d received MKULTRA funding through Subproject 68, which was “to study the effect upon human behavior of the repetition of verbal signals,” a procedure he called “psychic driving” in which he played audio signals to patients on continuous loop for hours each day, every day, for weeks or even months. Needless to say, the harm he inflicted on his patients was profound. In May 2018, victims and their family members launched a class-action lawsuit against the Canadian government for its role in helping fund his unconscionable experiments.
George Estabrooks was the chair of the psychology department at Colgate University in Hamilton, NY. Estabrooks was a hypnosis expert, and, according to John Marks’ book, he’d advised the military on hypnosis since the early 1930s. In 1943, he wrote a book for public consumption on “Hypnotism,” in which, among other topics, he discussed potential military applications, including the creation of a multipersonality “Super Spy.” He described the process in great detail—not hypothetically, but from real-life experience—in this 1971 article from “Science Digest.” He also said, “I can hypnotize a man — without his knowledge or consent — into committing treason against the United States.” According to Colin A. Ross, M.D., author of “The CIA Doctors,” George Estabrooks is “the only psychiatrist or psychologist to have claimed in public that he created Manchurian Candidates.”
Louis Jolyon (“Jolly”) West was a renowned psychiatrist at the University of Oklahoma before becoming chair of UCLA’s Department of Psychiatry and director of the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institutein 1969. Before his move into academia, West had been a major in the U.S. Air Force, and had been stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, where he studied the indoctrination of POWs who had converted to Communism. West was the investigator of MKULTRA Subproject 43, titled, “Psychophysiological Studies of Hypnosis and Suggestibility.” His name became infamous when he accidentally killed a beloved Asian elephant named Tusko at the Oklahoma City Zoo using massive amounts of LSD. Here’s more on Jolly West.
Who were the victims?
Who are the usual victims when humans are inhumane to other humans? People who are most vulnerable. Prisoners. Prostitutes. People with mental health issues. Foreigners. So-called “sexual deviants.” Members of racial minorities. Lowly students in need of some cash. Anyone whom the CIA considered expendable seemed to be fair game.
How did researchers get funded?
As Richard Helms discussed in his April 3, 1953, memo to Allen Dulles, the CIA wanted to keep the actual funders of these research projects secret. As a result, CIA front organizations were established so that researchers would be none the wiser about where the money was coming from. Two of the most well-known to help serve as intermediaries were the Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology and the Geschickter Fund for Medical Research.
What is meant by the term “Manchurian Candidate”?
In 1959, author Richard Condon wrote his bestselling novel “The Manchurian Candidate,” which was turned into a movie in 1962, and again in 2004. If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to watch it asap (the 1962 version, natch). The story is about Sergeant Raymond Shaw who’d been captured during the Korean War and, through hypnosis, is turned into a sleeper agent and political assassin by the Communists. (Fun fact: Angela Lansbury is actually three years younger than Laurence Harvey, even though she plays his mother in the film. Dang, that woman was good at her craft.)
What’s most amazing is that Condon, thinking he was making the story up, had pretty much nailed what the U.S. government had been working toward when he wrote his book. According to a 2010 article by author H.P. Albarelli and psychologist and investigative researcher Jeffrey S. Kaye, a March 1952 CIA document told of an OSI objective in which “‘Two hundred trained [CIA] operators, trained in the United States, could develop [and command] a unique, dangerous army of hypnotically controlled agents’ who would carry out any instructions they were given without reservations.” In the same article, the researchers told of another 1952 document in which an ARTICHOKE official wrote, “Let’s get into the technology of assassination.”
We also know of this document in which members of the ARTICHOKE team are investigating the possibility of creating an unwitting foreign assassin. That project failed, but who’s to say they didn’t try, try again?
Did the CIA ever succeed at creating a Manchurian candidate?
According to the CIA, they didn’t. But, honestly, do you think they’d tell us if they did? Let’s look at it this way: Did they have a desire to create hypnotically controlled assassins? We know that they did. Do we know of political assassinations during that period in which someone who was implicated in the killing appeared to have memory issues, or had been recently hypnotized? We have evidence of that too. Robert F. Kennedy’s and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassinations, both of which took place in 1968, have a possible hypnosis link. I mean, guys, it’s still me here. I need evidence before I buy into something. I know some of you are dyed-in-the-wool skeptics as well. But it’s a question worth looking into. And I’m not the only one who feels this way. These people are asking that the two cases, along with JFK’s and Malcolm X’s cases, be reopened as well.
Finally, this 1980 article posted online in the CIA’s reading room discusses highly-respected hypnosis expert Dr. Milton Kline, who was concerned about the CIA’s efforts in creating a Manchurian candidate. As to its feasibility, the article quotes Kline as saying, “It cannot be done by everyone. It cannot be done consistently, but it can be done.” Kline went on to say that “given the proper subject and circumstances, by using hypnosis he could produce such a killer in three to six weeks.”
So, again, I ask, if creating a hypnotically controlled Manchurian candidate can be done, and if the CIA was committing so many people and resources to making it happen, who’s to say that they didn’t achieve it?
What’s coming on April 19, 2019?
On April 19, I’ll be showing you all of my cards. Here’s the plan: at 8 a.m. ET (roughly—my automatic scheduler isn’t always precise), I’ll be posting the two documents that I think implicate someone Ronald Tammen knew in assisting with his disappearance, and I’ll spell out my current theory. In my view, this new information could potentially add at least one more university to the MKULTRA list, a university that many of you readers know…and love…and honor. I will also be sharing a couple people’s remembrances, one of which (I believe) places ARTICHOKE in the front yard of Fisher Hall in the fall of 1952.
From 1 to 2 p.m. ET, I’ll be hosting a Twitter chat, where you’ll be able to pose questions about those documents or anything else Tammen-related. You can take part in the conversation by tweeting and following the hashtag #Tammenchat. My social media adviser will be helping me out (thanks, sis!), but please keep in mind that neither of us is an expert at this. We just thought it would be fun to try. I’ll also leave comments open on the blog site just in case people prefer to have a discussion that way. I’ll answer as many questions as humanly possible. (Btw, my Twitter handle is @jwwenger. Please follow me! So far I have a small number of followers, and I’d love to drive that number up.)
If you happen to live or work anywhere near Oxford, Ohio, consider stopping by Mac & Joe’s during that hour (or a little after) and saying “hi.” I’ll be giving out some awesome Tammen key chains to the first 50 people. And if 50 people don’t stop by, well, I’ll give what’s left to the Mac & Joe’s waitstaff for being such good sports. It’s all good.
Then, on April 20, I’ll be putting the blog to bed. It’ll still be up and running, and I may add some different tools and functions and whatnot, but the posts will end and I’ll essentially be going back underground, subsisting mainly on roots and grubs. I’ll also be attempting to find an agent during that time and, you know, writing. The minute I hear from the interagency panel about whether they’ve supported my appeal to have the name revealed of my person of interest, I’ll post that update on the blog. If you follow me, you’ll be pinged, and we’ll all have our answer. If the news is good, there may be a party. I’ve always dreamed of getting all of my sources and loyal blog readers into one room for a giant meet and greet. We’ll see how it goes. As I’ve said before, this could take a while—years even.
Sound like a plan? Have I forgotten anything? Hope to see or tweet with you on the 19th!
Well, it’s finally happened, my peeps. I’ve been hypnotized. Yep, yours truly has experienced a trancelike state, and you know, I feel no different. Well, that’s not true. I feel a lot more knowledgeable about what the technique is all about; I feel silly for having been so scared in the first place; and I feel like I want to try it again.
First, a little bit about my hypnotist: His name is Anderson Hawes, and he’s one of the more interesting people I’ve encountered since I moved back to Ohio. He’s smart but unpretentious. Colorful and expressive but calming and confident. And he plays a mean harmonica.
By my count, Hawes—he goes by Andy—has three jobs. First, he’s a licensed professional clinical counselor, social worker, and licensed chemical dependency counselor who’s been in practice for 29 years. In addition, he’s the vice president of sales at an industrial software firm. Lastly, he’s the lead singer for the Fabulous Voices Band, a local cover and dance band that plays all the great songs. It seems as though everyone in my town and the next two towns over knows Andy, so I feel a little embarrassed that it’s taken me this long to get to know him too. But better late than never, I guess.
Because of his busy schedule, it took us a while to pin down a day, which turned out to be Wednesday, March 20. Andy told me that he’d be leading a self-hypnosis workshop in another town and asked if I would I like to tag along. He said I could interview him the whole way there and back (about a half hour each way) and then take part in the workshop, which would include a roomful of hypnotists and other interested people like me, who just wanted to learn more.
“Fantastic,” I said.
When I got to his office, he was catching up on some work, so he gave me several instructive handouts to review that he’d written for the workshop. Immediately, I felt myself begin to calm down. The process seemed more meditative in nature as opposed to what I’d always imagined, where a hypnotist exerts some kind of magical force over you and, before you know it, you’re clucking like a chicken.
“All hypnosis can be considered self-hypnosis,” the document said. Also, it said that we’ve been using self-hypnosis since we were kids. Every time we pretend, imagine, daydream, meditate, or even pray, we’re using self-hypnosis. The handout also said that “Problems are often the result of hypnosis happening naturally,” and that “problem behaviors become reinforced when situations cause us to message ourselves unintentionally with defensive or self-defeating ideas or strategies.” Stressing ourselves out was a good example of that, he’d written—a skill I’ve always excelled at. Apparently I was already something of a hypnosis aficionado without even realizing it.
When it was about time to leave for the workshop, Andy came around his desk and asked if I wanted to go into a trance. “Yes,” I said. (That step is important. To be hypnotized, you have to be willing to be hypnotized—the whole “all hypnosis is self-hypnosis” idea—and therefore open to following his suggestions.) He asked me to position my hands a certain way in front of my eyes and to concentrate on them as he wrapped an invisible string around them. He then instructed me to drop my hands and, as he told me that I was going deeper into the trance, I felt my arms grow heavier, more and more weighted down, and a little tingly, as if someone had injected them with low-dose novocaine. He then said that one of my hands would feel lighter than the other and that it would begin to float toward my face. And, yeah, my right hand did feel lighter. It didn’t make it the entire way to my face, but given a little more time, it might have. And then he brought me back to the here and now and we left for the workshop.
Was I the most suggestible person he’d ever met? Hardly. But I think with practice, I could get better at focusing and buying into the experience. And that’s part of the process too.
Despite Andy’s excellent sense of humor, he gets serious and scientific when he talks about hypnosis. He’s a member of the Dana Brain Alliance, a nonprofit organization that sponsors Brain Awareness Week (which was March 11- 17 this year) so he keeps up on the latest scientific literature on neuroscience and the brain.
Andy views hypnosis as a useful and cost-effective tool to help people tap into their brains directly as a way of solving problems. Whereas a clinical therapist might engage in in-depth discussions to get to the root of a problem, a hypnotherapist can get there much more rapidly by accessing the subconscious and reprogramming some of a person’s old beliefs into new ones.
“If I do that kind of cognitive work, let’s say through standard therapeutic verbal talk and the Socratic method, that might take 20 sessions,” he told me, “but I can do it in one session with hypnosis because I can bypass all of their resistance and get a buy-in and get the person motivated to want that. And once they want it, then we can acquire it, like immediately, by just cutting right to the chase.”
Andy acknowledges that not everyone has used hypnosis for good, such as in the controlling way that we’ve been discussing on this blog, however that’s not normally the case. “Most hypnosis is done with a lot of permission and it’s done for the good of the person and usually for certain targeted behaviors,” he said.
Here are some of his takes (occasionally shortened or paraphrased) on a few of the more popular questions I asked him as we drove to and from the workshop. Apologies in advance for not getting to all of the questions that were suggested, insightful as they were. However, I think we were able to hit most of the big stuff.
JW: When is it more appropriate to go to a licensed hypnotist such as yourself as opposed to doing self-hypnosis?
AH: Most people look at the changes they want to make at the surface. They want to quit smoking. They want to lose weight. They want to feel less anxiety. They’re depressed. But what they’re not aware of are the things that are underneath—that the fact that they’re smoking is because they worry a lot and they worry a lot because they weren’t parented very well, or they had a car accident and they’re afraid they’re going to have another car accident and smoking takes away that fear. So they’re medicating, they may even be enjoying it, but they don’t know how they got into that situation.
When I work with someone and I’m doing an assessment, I’ll dig up all the stuff that I think could be contributing to that by looking at their history, their pattern, their temperament, etc. I’ll start digging in and looking at the precursors. I’ll also look very closely at what they’re getting out of eating or cigarette smoking or worrying or whatever it is. I’ll also measure if they’re a sequential thinker or if they think holistically, which we normally call attention deficit disorder, though it’s not really a disorder. We just call it that because they have a hard time sitting in a classroom doing sequential learning. They want to look at the big picture. Once we know all of that about a person, we can come up with a strategy to help bring about a change. And the method can be enhanced more directly if that person isn’t blocking it because of fears or insecurities. That’s where hypnosis comes into play—to remove whatever might block a person’s response to treatment.
JW: Is there a personality trait that would make a person more hypnotizable or suggestible?
There’s definitely a skill involved with going inside and staying with your imagination. And some people become so focused on linear thinking and learning and existing in the outside world that they don’t indulge themselves as much in the inside world. But there are other people who have spent their whole lives daydreaming and pulling themselves inside. So obviously those people are more comfortable and more skilled at going inside and working their own…let’s call it a trance. And they’re using their imagination to visualize or feel or hear and then exhibiting behaviors that are consistent with that internal process. The other people are more calculating, and those different kinds of thinking access different parts of the brain. So they may not think they’re hypnotizable, but in fact, with a little bit of coaching and a little bit of training, they can experience the same depth of trance that most other people can experience.
Now there are people who, by nature, are more comfortable and can go even deeper and can completely lose their sense of reality much more deeply with suggestions than other people. If you look at a bell curve, you’ve got the norm in the middle and you’ve got people on either extreme. But most people—about 80 percent of everybody—can visualize a lemon sitting in the refrigerator, can feel it, and will salivate if I suggest to them that they cut it and squeeze it over their tongue. Eighty percent of everybody gets a little parched and swallows.
JW: I just did that.
AH: You just did that, right? But you went right there. And other people may go up in their head and logically deduce or be kind of observing themselves doing the exercise so much so that they might miss out on that experience. But nonetheless, with a little bit of training and coaching, as long as they’re interested or willing, they can go there. If they’re hell bent on staying in control and staying in the present, if they have fear, they can resist that, and many people do. It takes a little bit of intelligence to be hypnotized, not a lot. It doesn’t take a lot of heavy lifting. But it does take a willingness.
JW: What are the most important elements required to put someone into a trance?
AH: The standard formula of hypnosis is to help a person relax so much that they open their mind and become less guarded and that reveals an access to the part of their brain that is kind of running everything without your awareness—your heart, lungs, etc. So we’re tapping into a level of your consciousness that is below your level of awareness. And we call that your subconscious.
There was a guy who studied yoga, hypnosis, prayers, religions, spiritual healing, and all these other things, and he found that they all have three things in common. One of the three things is that you slow your breathing down. The second thing is to focus your thinking. You focus on something that somebody’s talking about or maybe something that doesn’t have a whole lot of meaning. And, third, you also have to have what we call a dismissive attitude. You have to be willing to let go of A in order to experience B.
You can hypnotize dogs. You can hypnotize chickens. There’s a video of this girl who hypnotizes frogs and everything, she’s quite amazing, and she can bring them out of it. And she just does it with this calming, soothing voice. They’re not intelligent. Animals don’t think of the future or the past. They just live in the here and now.
But this is a natural phenomenon. And we’re just learning how it works and how to use it. Hopefully for good. But it can be used to sell. It can be used to persuade people. It can be used for entertainment. But it’s all the same thing—tapping into these three principles that Herbert Benson outlined in his book called The Relaxation Responseafter doing a lot of research.
JW: I found it interesting in the handout, you said that, with self-hypnosis, you’re replacing certain bad habits that probably originated when you talked yourself into those at some point.
AH: Yeah, a lot of people don’t realize, how did this cigarette become in control? It started with smoking one and overcoming the negative side of it. When people first smoke, they often experience a bad feeling—shortness of air, irritation, they cough, they turn green because of the nicotine—but they reinterpret it in their mind that they want to look like James Dean. And so they visualize that and that minimizes their feeling of pain and accentuates finding the pleasure in it.
JW: What are your thoughts on the use of truth serum with hypnosis?
AH: Truth serum, like sodium pentothal, is a sedative, so it’s going to lower inhibition, and when it lowers inhibition, naturally, a person is less inhibited, so they’re more likely to go with any kind of suggestion.
JW: I’ve watched demos on YouTube, and some people go real deep into a trance almost immediately. Have they achieved the optimal brainwave—theta is it?
AH: That’s part of it. They’re slowing their brain down and they’re less conscious, but their attention is directed inwardly. And their attention goes to a point where they’re in a little trance or a deepened state where a suggestion becomes real, sort of like the idea of salivating at the image of the lemon, which, as you can see, doesn’t take a deep trance to get there. But by deepening the trance more and more, people can experience either a positive hallucination, where they believe something is there that isn’t there, or a negative hallucination, where something that is there becomes invisible to them. So the mechanisms behind that are either the brain sees it and negates it or doesn’t see it and puts it there.
We still have not completely discovered how a lot of these mechanisms really occur. It’s still very theoretical. But we know that people who have brain injuries, where one part of the brain is damaged, can train another part of their brain to take over that function. They can learn to walk. They can learn to drive, even though the part of the brain that was operating that activity is no longer functioning. The brain has that elasticity, that adaptability. So these are adaptive functions that exist in all of us so that we can ultimately survive. So by knowing how it works, we can do some other interesting things, like make someone feel no pain when we’re doing surgery, or if someone normally feels anxiety and fear when they’re flying in an airplane or when they’re riding a chair lift at a ski resort, we can make it so that they can just totally relax and focus on the enjoyment of that whole experience.
JW: Let’s say that you’ve given someone the posthypnotic suggestion that the thought of a cigarette will make them feel ill or disgusted. How long does that posthypnotic suggestion last?
AH: Theoretically, a posthypnotic suggestion can work as long as it’s reinforcing. If you think about it, someone hypnotized that person to smoke. We’re just undoing that hypnosis and giving them a different way of looking at it again.
I ran the heroin clinic in Akron for 20 years and I never met a heroin-addicted person who didn’t tell me that they at one time swore they would never use a needle. And the only reason they used the needle is because a friend talked them into it, or after they were high without using a needle, they were more suggestible and less inhibited, and somebody said, “Look, you’ve been inhaling heroin, it tastes terrible, use a needle. And we don’t have much, but we want to get high, so this is more efficient.” You know, they gave them a reason to go along with it and they did it. And once they’ve experienced it, they found out it didn’t hurt and it did feel even better than they’ve ever imagined, and of course they want to do it again. James Baldwin in his famous book about heroin addiction said heroin is so good, don’t even do it once. But that’s not true for everybody. It’s only true for the people who buy into it, who maybe have some rationale that it supports. That’s why when we undo things, we want to use the reason that a person got into something as a reason to get out of it. Help them raise their awareness to get back in control. Nonetheless, people will go on the wagon and stay off drugs, but underneath, they’re still buying into those posthypnotic suggestions that they’d put there. Posthypnotic suggestion, if it’s reinforcing, can help undo another posthypnotic suggestion. Whichever one is stronger, whichever one is more interesting, whichever one is reinforced is going to win.
JW: Can you give an example of the type of reinforcement you’re talking about?
AH: So, in the case of alcohol, coming back to an AA meeting and listening to the stories is going to be more satisfying and you’re going to have a greater sense of personal achievement than by drinking. And if you buy into that and you keep coming to the meetings, it’s going to get reinforced over and over and over again. And you’re going to be applauded by your neighbors and your friends as a winner, not a loser. So these are powerful tools.
Intermission: We go to the workshop where we practice self-hypnosis, which is a little different than the hypnosis Andy performed on me in his office. Here, we learned how to slow down our breathing and our thinking, focused on counting down from 5 to 0 to take ourselves deeper into a trance, focused on a positive suggestion that we want to apply to our lives, and then counted ourselves back out. “It’s not necessary to go into a deep trance to get your subconscious mind to respond,” Andy told the group.
Back in the car:
JW: Is there ever a time when you’re practicing self-hypnosis that you’re so deep in a trance that you can’t even count yourself out?
AH: You always have control. On the other hand, for some people, it’s like a drug. They can be tranced out because it’s the only time they actually feel anything or that they feel normal. So once people learn these tools—and the countdown technique I discussed in the session tonight is extremely powerful—they can really learn to enjoy them or take advantage of them.
JW: Can a person be put into a trance by being stared at from across the room? (I asked this after I told him the story of H.H. Stephenson and the hotel restaurant in Wellsville, NY.)
AH: Different people can react to being stared at in different ways. If someone had been conditioned to react to a stare in a certain way…you can use nonverbal things like staring or posturing, and they’ll feel more comfortable or not comfortable. But is there a mental telepathy that would actually cause someone to behave out of character? Probably not. It sounds like an awkward moment—maybe it was Ron, maybe it wasn’t Ron—but if he’s staring so intently at this Ron character, this guy looking back might have been, “What is wrong with this guy?” It’s just really impossible to say what that really was, if anything. But that’s not a hypnotic phenomenon.
JW: Just staring somebody down?
AH: Exactly. Somebody you don’t have a connection with, with no rapport, and putting them in a trance—unlikely.
JW: Is the verbal part of hypnosis essential?
AH: Not necessarily. Let me give you an example. Andy Kauffman was a comedian who didn’t say a word. He would just go up and stand there, and put people in all kinds of giddy moods just by standing there. And he was exceptionally non-emotive. He wasn’t doing any gesturing—a complete blank. And people reacted to that by filling it in. So when you leave a space open, your mind fills it in, in whatever way is appropriate. But let’s face it. He had an audience. They paid to get in to have a good time. So they’re already pretty hypnotized that they’re having a good time. There’s a lot you can do by just being aware of what state other people are in.
Now in terms of Ron Tammen, there’s not a lot of evidence to make a lot of meaning out of it. But maybe these are subtle clues, not only to what happened to Ron Tammen, but what happened to all the people wonderingabout Ron Tammen. Where did their heads go? And the things that they were able to come up with to create their own beliefs could very likely be 100 percent projection—stuff from their world experiences, their world view, their excitement with drama or fiction or mysteries—to investigate and fill it all in.
JW: So it’s possible, and one reader has said this, that H.H. Stephenson may not have seen Ron at all, and he may have just projected that?
AH: He projected it and this person reacted to that projection and it was maybe, at best, an awkward moment. But he reinforced H.H.’s feeling by looking back with a blank stare. But what was really going on with the guy may not have had anything to do with Ron Tammen, and may have had more to do with the fact that H.H. thought it was Ron Tammen and was staring real hard at him and the guy was just staring back. So there’s really not a lot of data, but it does open a door for speculation more than conclusions.
JW: Is there a placebo effect for hypnosis?
AH: You could say that all hypnosis is the placebo effect. You could say that the placebo effect is a form of believing what you want to believe and selling yourself on it based on someone else’s suggestion based on this pill, or this technique, or this book, or eating this food, etc. The placebo effect has been measured. On a cultural level, the placebo effect in the American culture is getting bigger. Things that don’t do anything have a larger effect but not because of the substance itself. The only way we know to test the placebo effect is called a double-blind study [a study in which neither the participant nor the researcher knows whether you’re taking the experimental drug or the placebo]. They can even say to a person, “We did a double-blind study and that pill doesn’t do anything,” and the person will turn to them and say, “You know what? It does for me.” And right there, they’re telling you that the placebo effect is valuable to them. They value it and totally buy into it.
JW: Do you have to believe that hypnosis can work in order for it to work?
AH: You have to be receptive to any physical or mental suggestion for that suggestion to be helpful. If somebody is really cynical, a lot of times it might mean that they’re going to take whatever you tell them to support their self image that they’re a nonbeliever. Once somebody’s heels are dug in, you can do things to try to persuade them, but as long as their heels are dug in, they’re incapable of benefiting from something at all.
JW: Is it possible to hypnotize someone without their knowing it?
AH: There’s a whole group of techniques called covert hypnosis where people use powerful language to be able to manipulate people and move them in a certain direction. Powerful words that connect with people—that resonate with people—can do that. Knowing what’s going on with a person can open the door to leading them either into a trance or into a lightweight trance. Imagine your own resistance to something you really don’t like, and imagine that that resistance can wear out. And maybe somebody working on their behalf or on your own behalf could accelerate that process. By going this way with your imagination, you buy into it more and more, and as you do buy into it, you feel less and less resistance. And pretty soon, you want to give me money. These are things that people do all the time.
The car ride and interview come to an end.
As I was listening to Andy talk about the prerequisites for someone to be hypnotized—the openness, the willingness, the buy-in—it got me to thinking about how these traits might apply to Ron Tammen. If Ron was being hypnotized in the days or weeks before his disappearance, and evidence indicates that he was, he was obviously willing to let his imagination go there, wherever “there” was. Yet Ron Tammen doesn’t seem to be the most adventurous or experimental sort of guy, from what I can tell. I don’t think he would have been doing it for the fun of it. And even though he was always seeking ways to earn money, I don’t think a paycheck would have been enough incentive either, particularly if he doubted or feared the process. No, I believe that Ron Tammen fervently wanted to make a change in his life, and he was willing and open to try anything to make that happen. If the change he desired is what I think it was, it wasn’t a habit that he was hoping to change, but a personal trait, something embedded in his DNA. And that’s something that hypnosis, or any other therapy for that matter, can’t touch.
If you are interested in receiving psychological services, you can find someone in your area on the Psychology Today website. If you wish to contact Andy Hawes, visit his Web page. If you are feeling a threat, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. Do NOT leave a message, as time may be of the essence.
Unfortunately, I need to turn off comments for this post, since I’m conducting research for the next week and won’t be able to respond within a satisfactory amount of time. However, you can still reach me through the contact form or you can comment at facebook.com/agmihtf.
Coming soon: MKULTRA and ‘U’ — A Good Man primer on the CIA’s mind control program and the universities that took part