The accidental, unlikely, real-life, and unsung heroes of MKULTRA

In view of the last several posts, I thought it would be a good idea to provide a little background on MKULTRA. At the end of this post, we’ll discuss what’s in store for the next couple months, particularly 4/19/19. 

In the early-morning hours of Saturday, November 28, 1953, a 43-year-old man by the name of Frank Olson flew out of his 10th-story window at the Hotel Statler, a century-old brick structure in Midtown Manhattan that, to this day, stands directly across the street from Penn Station and Madison Square Garden. (It’s called the Hotel Pennsylvania now.) Olson was a bioweapons expert employed at the U.S. Army’s facility known as Camp Detrick (renamed Fort Detrick in 1956) in Frederick, MD, and, in the preceding days, he’d been struggling with some ethical issues regarding the work he was involved with. Olson had also been acting strangely of late, and for good reason. He’d attended a three-day retreat, November 18-20, at a cabin at Deep Creek Lake, MD, with a select number of people from Camp Detrick and the CIA, and two officials from the latter organization, Sidney Gottlieb and Robert Lashbrook, had slipped some LSD into his drink. Things with Olson were never the same. In the ensuing days, Lashbrook had accompanied Olson twice to New York City to get him some help—from a CIA-affiliated psychiatrist/allergist—and it was during the second excursion that Olson fell to his death.

The CIA contends that Olson’s death was a suicide and that Lashbrook, who’d been rooming with Olson, had been awakened when Olson took a running leap, breaking through a closed window. But despite the CIA’s spin, the jury is still very much out on the question of how and why Olson exited that window. If you’d like to know more about that case, I suggest you watch the highly binge-able, six-part documentary “Wormwood,” on Netflix. You can also visit Frank’s son Eric Olson’s website for background information or the many other articles and books that have been written on the case.

The reason I bring up Frank Olson here is because, as far as I can tell, he may have been the first person who nearly outed MKULTRA as his horrific death hit the front pages of area newspapers. In its inimitable way, the CIA managed to cover up the whole thing, and for the next couple decades, the agency went back to its business of drugging, hypnotizing, electroshocking, and who knows what else to innocent citizens, all in the name of fighting Communists.

Until Watergate, that is. 

Some of our younger readers may not realize this, but, in a very weird way, if it hadn’t been for Richard Nixon and Watergate, we may have never learned about MKULTRA and its precursors, BLUEBIRD and ARTICHOKE

Richard Nixon, accidental hero

I know. It feels strange to call Richard Nixon a hero in any sense of the term, but I consider an accidental hero to be someone who does something important and positive purely by accident—that the good that came out of a particular situation was unintentional. And, when it comes to MKULTRA, that would be an apt description for Nixon. It happened like this: After five burglars were arrested for breaking into Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Hotel on June 17, 1972, it was discovered that several of them, such as James McCord and Frank Sturgis, in addition to co-conspirator E. Howard Hunt, were affiliated with the CIA. (Sidebar: Those three names have also been linked to the JFK assassination, by the way. So on that topic, can we all just have a kumbaya moment here and agree that the CIA was responsible for killing JFK and move on with our lives? Howard Hunt admitted as much to his son when he thought he was on the verge of dying. Yes? No? Ah well, never mind.)

Back to Watergate. Richard Helms, then director of central intelligence, was later fired by Nixon after his reelection, but not because of the CIA’s connection to the break-in. Instead, Nixon was angry with Helms for not allowing the CIA to assist in the cover-up. Before Helms walked out the door in early February 1973, he ordered the destruction of all documents pertaining to MKULTRA.

“These experiments went on for many years,” Helms said about the program’s LSD experiments in a lengthy interview posted on the CIA website. “There is the inevitable question of whether they should have been ended sooner.” 

And he would know. Helms wasn’t just the person who witnessed the end of MKULTRA. He was there, at the beginning, when it was just the germ of an idea floating around in his commie-obsessed brain. In fact it was Richard Helms who infected Director Allen Dulles with the idea. Dulles, in turn, gave the program the green light on April 13, 1953. Obviously, Helms was aware that, should information on the program become public, the public would have blown a collective gasket.

James Schlesinger, unlikely hero

An unlikely hero, in my mind, is someone who does something courageous when most people wouldn’t have expected such actions from him or her, which I think applies nicely to Helms’ successor, James Schlesinger. I mean, who would expect the director of central intelligence to air the agency’s dirty laundry in full view of the American public, not to mention the whole world? When Schlesinger arrived on the job, he wondered what else the CIA had been up to that fell outside its normal charter. He issued a directive asking all CIA employees past and present to report to him all of the outlying programs that they’d been involved in over the years, no matter how ill-conceived, pernicious, or flat-out illegal. And egads! The result was a nearly 700-page compendium endearingly known as The Family Jewels.

Within those pages were descriptions of all sorts of operations—mail tampering, conducting surveillance on journalists and political dissidents, teaming up with mobsters to attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro, and, of course, venturing into mind control and the drugging of unwitting victims. Olson wasn’t identified in the report, however, once Congress began taking action, the sordid details spilled forth, most notably through investigations conducted by President Ford’s Rockefeller Commission and the Senate’s Church Committee. The Rockefeller Commission report, which was released in July 1975, also didn’t specify Olson by name. But when members of Olson’s family turned to page 227, they knew instantly who the commission was referring to and filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the CIA. (You can read Eric’s website to learn more about the family’s ordeal and settlement.) Here’s what the commission said:

“The Commission did learn, however, that on one occasion during the early phases of this program (in 1953), LSD was administered to an employee of the Department of the Army without his knowledge while he was attending a meeting with CIA personnel working on the drug project. Prior to receiving the LSD, the subject had participated in discussions where the testing of the substances on unsuspecting subjects was agreed to in principle. However, this individual was not made aware that he had been given LSD until about 20 minutes after it had been administered. He developed serious side effects and was sent to New York with a CIA escort for psychiatric treatment. Several days later, he jumped from a tenth-floor window of his room and died as a result. The General Counsel ruled that the death resulted from ‘circumstances arising out of an experiment undertaken in the course of his official duties for the United States Government,’ thus ensuring his survivors of receiving certain death benefits. Reprimands were issued by the Director of Central Intelligence to two CIA employees responsible for the incident.”

In September 1975, Schlesinger’s successor, William Colby, testified before the Church Committee and revealed the following information, including Olson’s name, which appears on page 12 of the report:

“The threat as well as the promise posed by newer types of drugs, particularly the hallucinogenic drugs, made at least exploratory research on them essential. You will recall our concern over the possible role of drugs in the apparent brainwashing of American POW’s [sic] in Korea, and the haunted eyes of Cardinal Mindzenty as he “confessed” at a Communist trial. I might add that we believe that a drug was administered to one of our officers overseas by a foreign intelligence service within the past year. Those responsible for providing technical support to clandestine operations felt it necessary that they understand the ways in which these drugs could be used, their effects and their vulnerabilities to countermeasures. In pursuing such concerns as these, many different materials were obtained and stored for provision to contractors who did the actual scientific research involved. This concern also led to the experiments which led to the unfortunate death in 1953 of Mr. Frank Olson.“

It’s important to bear in mind that the above information concerning the CIA’s “drug project” was originating in large part from people’s memories, on account of Richard Helms’ efforts to destroy all of the paper evidence. There was, however a 1963 Inspector General’s report that provided some background on MKULTRA, meager as it was. Part of the testimony for both Directors William Colby and Richard Helms focused on the fact that the evidence had been destroyed in January of 1973. “It’s all gone,” Helms, in essence, told them on pages 104 and 105 of the Church Committee’s report. “So, so sorry.”

Nah, just kidding. He wasn’t sorry. In other congressional testimony, he provided this excuse:

“[Gottlieb] came to me and said that he was retiring and that I was retiring and he thought it would be a good idea if these files were destroyed. And I believe part of our reason for thinking this was advisable was there had been relationships with outsiders in government agencies and other organizations and that they would be sensitive in this kind of a thing but that since the program was over and finished and done with we thought we would just get rid of the files as well, so that anybody who has assisted us in the past would not be subject to follow up, or questions, embarrassment, if you will.” (41, Richard Helms testimony, Sept. 11, 1975, p. 5) (By the way, I’m not able to find this testimony directly online—I can only find it quoted by other sources. If anyone is able to find it, can you send me a link?)

John Marks, real-life hero

Thankfully, this was when real-life hero John D. Marks stepped in. The way I see it, real-life heroes are the people who accomplish something great because their heart’s in the right place and they’re willing to take whatever arduous path is required to make it to the finish line, perhaps even putting themselves into harm’s way in the process. Marks didn’t settle for what Helms had to say. A former intelligence officer with the State Department, Marks submitted a Freedom of Information Act request in 1976, seeking “all documents relating to the CIA’s drug and behavior-modification programs,” and later specifying BLUEBIRD, ARTICHOKE, and MKULTRA as well as related programs MKSEARCH and MKDELTA. What came back, eventually, was 16,000 pages of documents—seven boxes’ worth—that Helms and his minions had (fortunately) missed because the documents were from the CIA’s Budget and Fiscal Section and had been housed offsite. (See page 5 of the report of the 1977 Joint Hearing on MKULTRA for a thorough explanation by CIA Director Stansfield Turner of how the documents were discovered.) Marks used those documents along with extensive interviews to produce his 1979 classic, The Search for the Manchurian Candidate: The CIA and Mind Controlwhich is must reading on this topic. Seriously, if you read only one book on the CIA’s mind control programs, this is the one you want.

Not only did Marks’ FOIA request make his blockbuster book possible, but it also enabled the rest of us to dive into the source material, though it has taken a while for that to happen. More on that in a minute.

It seems that the CIA never really “got it” regarding the whole MKULTRA matter and the need for keeping the public in the loop. Not long after the Joint Hearing on MKULTRA took place in August 1977—after they’d withstood the scoldings for Helms’ 1973 document purge, and then had to subsequently explain how they were able to find seven boxes of documents after all—a 1978 CIA memo was issued saying that MKULTRA was the number one program in which they had concerns regarding the Freedom of Information Act. Why the concern? Because they felt that releasing information about the program in “bits and pieces” only misled the public. Of course, releasing the information in that form was a problem of their own making. But whatever.

The unsung heroes

The unsung heroes are all the people who continue to seek new MKULTRA-related documents by submitting FOIA requests and Mandatory Declassification Review appeals even though the cards are stacked against them. They’re the people traveling the same rocky path that John Marks traveled—one that requires heart and chutzpah and hard-earned cash. They’re real-life heroes but without the name recognition, at least outside FOIA circles. For despite Richard Helms’ efforts at putting the kibosh on any public knowledge of MKULTRA whatsoever, documents continue to be declassified and are being made available online. 

The Black Vault is a website repository of declassified government documents that’s overseen by John Greenewald, Jr. In 2004, Greenewald obtained more than 1700 documents from the CIA on MKULTRA, and he’s continuing with those efforts, having posted more documents in October and November 2018. I’m pretty sure that I have Mr. Greenewald to thank for his initial FOIA request because it greased the wheels for my request in 2014. Whereas he had to wait years for his CD-ROM, mine arrived in a matter of days. In fact, I’ve recently discovered that, had I known about The Black Vault then, I wouldn’t have needed to pony up the $10 for the CD-ROM, since, even after ten years, everything I received from the CIA had already been posted on his website. (It’s unclear how the CIA’s “MKULTRA Collection” compares to the documents John Marks received. I imagine many, if not most, of the files are the same, but, as Mr. Greenewald points out on his website, some pages that the CIA lists in its index are missing from the CD-ROM. So there’s clearly more out there.)

MuckRock.com, a “nonprofit collaborative news site,” is a gathering spot for anyone interested in government transparency to file, track, and post FOIA requests and results. Thanks to a FOIA lawsuit fought and won by MuckRock, every man, woman, and child can now access the CIA’s declassified CREST files online instead of having to drive to the National Archives in College Park, MD, and sit at one of the CIA’s designated computer stations. Speaking as someone who has done the latter a time or two, the ability to conduct research day or night from my laptop 300 miles away from there is JUST SO WORTH IT.

Then there’s Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archivewho filed the FOIA lawsuit that enables us all to view the Family Jewels. There are also FOIA lawyers who, on occasion, are willing to offer their expertise pro bono to help obtain public access to the more tightly guarded CIA documents. And those are just several shining examples. The rest of you know who you are. We thank you too!

Some present and past CIA employees are also unsung heroes. They’re the people who fervently believe in the public’s right to information once it’s been determined that there is no risk to national security or an individual’s privacy. Take that FOIA guy from 1977 who finally discovered the financial documents for MKULTRA in an offsite location for retired records. Where would we all be without him? Or Jeffrey Scudder, a former CIA employee who was so annoyed by the CIA’s unwillingness to let go of information that had been cleared for release, he filed his own FOIA request to have the documents made public. I don’t know if any of those documents had to do with MKULTRA, but maaaan…the way the CIA treated him for doing his job? Those guys don’t play nice.

Where are we headed?

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this site, amidst all of the MKULTRA documents that have been released to the public, I’ve found two that I believe are related to Ronald Tammen’s disappearance. One I’m 99% sure of, and the other I’m less sure of, though my confidence grows by the day. The documents are heavily redacted and are both under review for the possible release of the name of an individual who is linked to Tammen. I’m cautiously optimistic that the person’s name will be released and, if so, that it will be the person I think it is. But, as you know, this process isn’t for people with short attention spans. It’s been roughly five years since I found the first document—about two years for the second one. This could take another year or two. Or ten. 

Here’s my plan: This blog will be two years old in April, and many of you have been with me the entire time. (Btw, thank you for being part of this little community! You are all smart and savvy and your comments and questions have influenced my thinking in a big way.)

On April 19, 2019, the 66th anniversary of Tammen’s disappearance, I’m going to share the two documents with you, even if we haven’t heard from the powers that be yet. I’ll also propose who I believe is named in them and why I think so. I’ll also give you my theory regarding what I think happened to Ron. There will be holes—loads of them—as far as what exactly happened, since that information is probably impossible to get our hands on in document form and, alas, time travel is still not a thing. But I’ll present my case and everyone will have a chance to weigh in.

Then, Good Man readers, I’ll be putting this blog on hiatus, and we’ll begin the waiting period for the final verdict. For those of you who wish to be notified as soon as it happens, I’d suggest following the blog if you haven’t already. You’ll receive an email within five minutes of my receiving the news—good or bad, right or wrong. In the interim, I’ll be heading back underground—deep into writing and researching and (fingers crossed) attempting to find an agent who is in the market for these sorts of stories.

But that’ll be in a couple months. We still have a few more things to discuss.

The return of Commander Robert Jay Williams

Photo by Magdalena Raczka on Unsplash

This is a mini-post—just a little over 300 words in length—but I can’t sit on it any longer. First: I need to point out that the government shutdown is affecting this blog as we await a decision on the possible release of certain names on key documents. No matter where you stand politically, I think we can all agree that our federal workers need to be called back in to do their jobs ASAP.

Remember Commander Robert Jay Williams (aka Cmdr. Robert J. Williams, or just plain old R.J. Williams), of the OSI (Office of Scientific Intelligence), of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency)? As I mentioned in the Dec. 7, 2018  post, Commander Williams’ name appears on a memo that I believe also contains the name of my person of interest—a person from whom I can draw a direct link to Ronald Tammen.

Well, today, I’m posting another document with our friend R.J.’s name prominently displayed. The document is long and dense. Some of you may choose to read the whole thing, which is great. I admire your enthusiasm! For others, just seeing how R.J. is identified should do the trick. 

Here’s the To, From, and Subject head:

And here’s the signature:

That’s right. In this 9-page memo, which was written about a month after my memo in question was written, R. J. Williams is identified as the project coordinator of ARTICHOKE. ARTICHOKE! For those of you who are not familiar with the name, Project ARTICHOKE is the forerunner of MK ULTRA, the CIA’s ignoble mind control program. Some of you have been predicting this all along, and to you I offer high fives and fist bumps all around. Yes, Good Man readers, this is indeed the direction in which we’re headed—full throttle. As soon as the government shutdown ends, that is.

Here’s the full document:

******************

And we’re open for comments! Please, no politics. I’m seeking your thoughts on Tammen, R.J. Williams, ARTICHOKE, the CIA, etc. Also, did you see the new polling feature I’ve installed? (I’m guessing not, since there are currently only 3 votes, one of which is mine.) Feel free to weigh in there as well!

Was the CIA secretly recruiting gay men in the 1950s?

Photo by David Sinclair on Unsplash

In the book Oblivion, which delves into the Richard Cox disappearance, the authors have suggested that (spoiler alert!) Richard Cox may have been gay or bisexual and that the CIA recruited him in 1950 for that reason. We’ve already discussed how Ronald Tammen’s 1953 disappearance draws a number of parallels to Cox’s disappearance, and I’ve also provided evidence that helps support the theory that Tammen may have been gay. So it begs the question: Was the CIA furtively recruiting gay men in the early 1950s, for whatever reason, and if so, were Tammen and Cox two of their more visible recruits representing the great state of Ohio?

Before I proceed with today’s post I need to state this caveat as clearly as possible: I can’t fathom the totality of the CIA’s operations back in the height of the Cold War. If the agency had an interest in hiring members of the gay or lesbian community for intelligence work, it has done an excellent job of keeping that detail a secret, in addition to its underlying reasons for doing so. What I’m presenting here is one scenario that has received a small amount of publicity. However, in no way do I intend to imply that, if Tammen or Cox were gay and recruited by the CIA, they would have been utilized in this way. I’m only asking if the CIA was hiring gay individuals when no one else in the federal government was doing so and presenting some supporting evidence.

With that caveat firmly in mind, let’s talk about spies and sex and the use of sex by spies for the sole purpose of sexy spying. Anyone who’s seen a James Bond film can understand how sex can be used as a tactical weapon in the world of espionage. Sexpionage, as some call it, works like this: someone on an organization’s payroll sets up a steamy little “honey trap” to entice an opposing target to swap his or her government’s secrets for sex. Or a late-night tryst might provide an opportunity for a spy to rifle through a high-level diplomat’s suitcase after drugging his daiquiri. Or there’s also the potential for blackmail. Sex makes a person vulnerable and if there’s one thing that people in the intelligence biz absolutely love 💕, it’s intelligence sources who are vulnerable. 

As you can imagine, the sex lives of spies is a subject that the CIA doesn’t care to talk about. As this December 9, 2010, article from Slate states, “The Central Intelligence Agency doesn’t comment on whether its agents use their sexuality to obtain information, but current and former intelligence officials say it does happen occasionally.” (That quoted sentence used to link to an article from the April 17, 2007, issue of Harper’s Magazine, called “Sex and the CIA,” to back up its latter claim. Alas, if you click on it, you’ll see that the link no longer works, and the article is also nowhere to be found on the Harper’s website. Welcome to the world of intelligence research! Here’s a link to a portion of the original article—for now, at least.)

“Few national secrets have been more carefully guarded, but the CIA has provided kings, presidents, potentates and magistrates with female companionship,” wrote famed journalist Jack Anderson in his syndicated column in June 1976. “On a lower level, girls have been made available to defectors and the CIA’s own agents.”

According to the Anderson article, the CIA’s “sex shop” was run by its Office of Security. Sometimes the diplomat was in the know about the CIA’s role in that evening’s fix-up, however, other times, the agency made its arrangements more clandestinely, for the purpose of spying.

Wrote Anderson, “…the agency has used prostitutes to lure foreign diplomats into love traps where their sexual antics were filmed through one-way mirrors. The film was later used to blackmail the foreigners into becoming informants.”

If the CIA was employing women to pursue intelligence sources who were straight, wouldn’t they also employ men to target those who happened to be gay? The CIA often claimed that the Soviets wouldn’t hesitate to use the latter tactic on us, particularly for its blackmail potential, and, as a result, they supposedly felt that people who were gay or lesbian would be a risk to national security. (By the way, this logic only seems to make sense if the person were closeted and afraid of being outed.) But, if the Soviets were doing it, wouldn’t we have used the tactic too? Doesn’t the CIA generally consider turnabout to be fair play? (Asking for a friend…)

On the other hand, as you may recall, Executive Order 10450 was signed by President Eisenhower on April 27, 1953, thus introducing a policy against hiring federal civil servants who were gay, lesbian, or bisexual. What’s more, the Lavender Scare began even earlier than that, in the late 1940s, and by 1950, the government’s zeal for discriminating against people who were gay or lesbian picked up steam courtesy of the despicable Senator Joseph McCarthy. But since when does the CIA follow what everyone else is doing? I would think that, if the cloak and dagger crowd believed it was in their best interest to recruit gay operatives, then that’s what they’d do.

The public record doesn’t support this theory, however. Here’s what’s on record regarding the federal hiring policy of LGBT individuals, both in general and at the CIA specifically:

  • In the 1960s, gay rights organizations such as the Mattachine Society of Washington, cofounded by renowned activist Frank Kameny and Jack Nichols, began filing lawsuits to challenge the across-the-board firings of gay and lesbian federal employees simply because of their sexual orientation.

  • In 1969, the federal Civil Service Commission (CSC) lost a court case in which a NASA employee named Clifford Norton sued CSC chair John Macy for having been terminated after he was arrested for a gay liaison in D.C.’s Lafayette Square during non-working hours. The court ruled that “the Civil Service Commission has neither the expertise nor the requisite anointment to make or enforce absolute moral judgments …,” and, consequently, it had no right to fire someone for being gay or lesbian, though it took four more years before changes were fully implemented government-wide. While the ruling applied to some federal agencies, it didn’t apply to all of them. According to the 2015 book Hoover’s War on Gays, by Douglas M. Charles, “For agencies outside CSC coverage, political appointees, or those engaged in national security work, however—such as the FBI, CIA, National Security Agency (NSA), and military—antigay employment discrimination continued unabated.” 

To sum things up: the CIA had a policy against the hiring of members of the LGBT community until the mid-1990s; the culture began to evolve after that, albeit slowly; and then around 2011 or 2012, their doors were flung wide open and they were actively recruiting. This doesn’t exactly mesh with the running thesis I’m investigating, but that’s their story and they’re sticking with it.

Fact-checking Oblivion: Was Richard Cox gay?

In the spring of 2014, I drove to Mansfield, Ohio, Richard Cox’s hometown, in hopes of meeting with one of Cox’s sisters to discuss the similarities between his and Tammen’s cases. Although Cox’s sister wasn’t available for a sit-down, she put me in touch with a family friend, whose overriding objective was to shoot down the book’s premise. For an uncomfortable 20 minutes or so, the man insisted to me that the book was “garbage,” “trash,” and that there was no evidence to back up its claims that Cox was gay and was recruited by the CIA. “There isn’t a shred of truth to it,” he said.

I’m not going to say here whether or not I think Richard Cox was gay. I didn’t know Richard Cox. The family friend, who also didn’t know Cox, was adamant that he wasn’t. I’m just going to share several FBI documents that may have led some people to infer that Richard Cox might have been gay or bisexual or, at the very least, experimenting. A lot has been redacted, and I’ve been unsuccessful in getting the whited-out details released, but I think you can get the gist of things from the surrounding verbiage. 

The documents I’m about to share have to do with an incident that took place in April 1948 in New York City between Cox and a former soldier identified as Victor Wolf, from Detroit. The two met at Tony Pastor’s, a gay-friendly bar in Greenwich Village. Later that night, Cox visited Wolf’s room at the Hotel Dixie on 42nd Street and stayed the night. (Judging by this website, the hotel’s boasting of “700 rooms, each with bath and radio” leads me to think that we’re not talking spacious suites here.) 

The following passage was part of a report from the FBI’s New York office in a document dated May 26, 1950. This redaction-free synopsis (from this point on, referred to as “item A”) helps us validate key details in subsequent passages.

The next three passages were included in a document dated July 13, 1951 created by the Detroit office of the FBI.

Background: Sometime in late June or early July 1951, the FBI interviewed Wolf’s landlords, Mr. and Mrs. A. R. Keith, of Detroit. Despite the redactions, we know they’re talking about Wolf because the address (1798 Field) is the same as that included in item A. One wonders what the Keiths had discovered about Wolf and his roommate that led them to immediately ask them to move out of their home. In the second paragraph, two informants from Detroit said that both BLANK and BLANK are known BLANKETY BLANKS. I’m sure that the first two blanks are referring to Wolf and his roommate. As for what they were “known” to be, one can only wonder about that as well.

Background: Included below is a three-page statement dated July 7, 1951, and signed by Victor Wolf concerning his interactions with Richard Cox. Again, despite the redactions, we know that it’s Wolf’s statement, thanks to item A, which describes the timeframe and locations of their liaison in New York. The third paragraph of page one says that Cox, Wolf, and “another soldier” had met up at Tony Pastor’s bar, which Wolf describes as “having a reputation of being BLANK.” Later that night, Cox showed up at Wolf’s hotel room and Wolf told him he could spend the night with Wolf and BLANK. Wolf was later awakened by something—a whole paragraph’s worth of BLANKING—that, to this day, the FBI deems too confidential or of such a delicate nature that it needs to protect the public from such details, 70 years after-the-fact. 

As for next steps, the author of the FBI memo had suggested that the following lead needed to be checked out by the New York office regarding the “Subject,” Richard Cox. 

Evidence that the CIA was recruiting gay men

If you were to contact the CIA (and I have) and ask them if they used to recruit gay men in the 1950s (and I did), they would likely tell you that they wouldn’t be addressing that question (and they didn’t). However, I’ve found several small clues over the years that deem it at least plausible that the CIA was knowingly hiring gay men back then, for whatever reason, regardless of what the agency’s official stance was at the time.

Clue #1: The CIA was modeled after Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, which had been employing gay spies for decades.

If you’re remotely interested in the world of espionage, you’ll know that one of the most notorious spies during the Cold War was Kim Philby, a handsome and sophisticated Cambridge-educated man who charmed a lot of people, including the CIA’s James Jesus Angleton. Angleton had studied under Philby. He developed his intelligence chops under him in London when Philby was with Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, and Angleton was with the fledgling CIA. The trouble was, Philby also happened to be spying for the Soviets for many years and Angleton had handed him a lot of state secrets and contacts when Philby was serving in Washington as a liaison between MI6 and the CIA and FBI. Philby eventually defected to the Soviet Union, as did fellow KGB spies Guy Burgess, who was openly gay, and Don Maclean, who was bisexual. Phillip Knightley, an esteemed journalist who had interviewed Philby at length for his definitive book, contends in this 1997 piece that Britain has had a long history of gay spies and, moreover, that spying is a natural fit for someone who is gay. In addition, Jefferson Morely, who wrote an acclaimed recent biography on Angleton, has hypothesized that the relationship between Angleton and Philby may have been a lot closer than just that of mentor and mentee.

Clue #2: Jack Anderson said so (sort of).

I’ve already cited the 1976 news article by Jack Anderson that brought to light several sex operations overseen by the CIA. An article that he’d published a year earlier had gone into greater detail concerning the CIA’s love nests that were being used for blackmail purposes on the East and West Coasts. In the last paragraph, Anderson said this:

“To stage the shows, both male and female prostitutes with a variety of sexual skills were used. The CIA possibly got the idea from the Russians, who have long used sex blackmail to entrap Westerners into spying for them.”

Although Anderson doesn’t mention anything about the entrapped being gay, the fact that male prostitutes were used tells me that that’s what he was referring to, since most foreign diplomats would have been male.

Clue #3: Former CIA employee Victor Marchetti said so.

Victor Marchetti, who passed away this past October, was a former Soviet-military specialist and executive assistant to the deputy director of the CIA. Over time, he had become disillusioned with the agency’s actions and one of its most outspoken critics. He’s most famous for coauthoring a 1974 nonfiction book with John D. Marks, formerly of the State Department, titled The C.I.A. and the Cult of Intelligence, which entangled him in a drawn-out legal battle with his former employer.

In a September 1982 Reuters article, Marchetti is quoted in the following snippet:

“Soviet intelligence agents routinely cruise gay bars seeking candidates for blackmail who could be coopted as spies, a spokesman for the CIA, another agency which is concerned about possible espionage, said.

“Former CIA official Victor Marchetti said in a separate interview that the United States employed similar techniques not only against Communists but in order to extract information from officials of allied governments who were ‘closet’ homosexuals.

“The CIA declined to comment on Mr. Marchetti’s statement.”

Clue #4: Allen Dulles was told by his mistress of OSS’s need to penetrate an underground gay network during WWII.

In her book, Autobiography of a Spyauthor Mary Bancroft shared an experience she had while she was the mistress of spy master and future CIA Director Allen Dulles during WWII. Dulles was with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), forerunner to the CIA, in Zurich, and had been using Bancroft to obtain information from various sources. While in this role, she felt it her duty to inform Dulles, who was ten years older than she and utterly naïve about the subject, about an underground gay network among the “Foreign Offices of England, Switzerland, Greece, and our own State Department and through which information traveled even more rapidly than by the channels of the Catholic Church and various Jewish organizations.” She recalled how “a colleague of my generation had told me how essential it was for us to tap this homosexual underground by having, as he put it, ‘Washington send us a guy with a pretty behind.’” Bancroft doesn’t say if Washington responded after she conveyed this request to Dulles, however, if people in intelligence were aware of the benefits of gay operatives in the 1940s, I can’t imagine what would have changed their minds by the 1950s.

Clue #5: Former CIA Director Roscoe Hillenkoetter admitted as much to Congress.

On July 14, 1950, Roscoe H. Hillenkoetter, then-director of Central Intelligence, testified before Congress regarding his views of whether a person who was gay was considered to be a risk to national security. His answer was a resounding yes, and he emphasized that a gay employee needed to be “weeded out of government employment wherever he is found.” His final sentence is a doozy: “The failure to do this can only result in placing a dagger in the hands of our enemies and their intelligence services, and the point of that dagger would lie at the heart of our national security.” 

However strong that statement was, and however homophobic his views are throughout the rest of his statement, he actually does a 180 in a couple places and shares that it wouldn’t be so bad after all, and may actually be beneficial, to have a gay person on his intelligence squad. On page 25 of his typed comments, he says this: “…while this agency will never employ a homosexual on its rolls, it might conceivably be necessary, and in the past has actually been valuable, to use known homosexuals as agents in the field.” (bold added)

In addition, on pages 35 and 36, he says: “In one case in which were were [sic] interested abroad in the early months of this year, we found what I believe to represent a Soviet intelligence operation, and we believe that our task will be made considerably easier by the appearance in the area of a known homosexual who we think will be extremely helpful in this particular case.” (bold added)

[You can read his full statement here. But be prepared: it’s, um, a wee bit vile.] 

Granted, the above evidence isn’t much to go on, but, at the very least, it doesn’t rule out the argument that the CIA may have recruited gay men back in Tammen’s and Cox’s day for some purpose that it deemed useful to our country’s service, despite its official policy. I’ll close with these two thoughts:

Executive Order 10450 was signed eight days after Tammen disappeared, at which time, it would have likely been extremely difficult for a person who was gay to obtain a security clearance. Could the CIA have recruited Ron the week prior to get his name on the books before the E.O. went into effect?

Also, some have wondered why the CIA would have had any interest in recruiting a student from quaint little Miami University in rural southwest Ohio, be he gay or straight. Didn’t they have a hefty supply of Ivy Leaguers to choose from on the East Coast? But those doubters probably aren’t aware that the first director of Central Intelligence was a Miami graduate. His name was Sidney W. Souers, and he was born in Dayton. Just saying.

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Care to weigh in? I’ve set up a poll on a new page on this website.

FOIA follies

(or…how I came to learn about a little-known, upper-tier CIA official through a run-of-the-mill FOIA request)

Top-Secret-glossy

So guys…I’ve been blogging for a little over a year and a half on Ron Tammen, and I think by now most readers would agree that, even though there’s still more information to be revealed, we know a lot more than when we did at the get-go. I think most readers also have a fairly decent idea of how tough it can be to get ahold of some of this information, since not everyone has been forthcoming. Sometimes an embarrassing amount of chutzpah has been required to pry certain bits of info from certain entities’ filing cabinets.

Take the FBI, for example. I’ve already posted several updates that let you know about the kinds of tactics that are employed by their Freedom of Information/Privacy Act (FOIPA) Office. Alas, I’m sorry to say that I’ve developed a hard-shelled cynicism through it all and have come to view many of their responses to my inquiries on Tammen (or Tammen-related topics) as bluffs, smokescreens, or flat-out, um, departures from the truth. My forever goal is to find the crack in whatever tale they’re telling.

Case in point #1: the 1631 pages of documents that they somehow forgot about during my initial FOIA request for the Richard Cox files.

When I first submitted my request for everything the FBI had on Richard Cox’s disappearance, they sent me 24 pages of documents and left it at that. Only when I realized two years later that two other researchers had received tons more documents than I had, and pointed that fact out to them, did the Department of Justice send me three CDs filled with 1631 pages. There was no letter of apology or explanation for their error—just a here-ya-go, I-guess-you-caught-us sort of response. This leads me to ask: If you happen to be a plain old taxpaying citizen on the outside looking in, who doesn’t have a hefty slush fund for the sole purpose of hiring FOIA lawyers, how do you know if what they’re sending you is all that they have? Answer: you don’t (#alwaysappeal).

Case in point #2: their shifting reasons for sending me Ron Tammen’s documents.

As you may recall, a supposedly hard and fast rule of the FBI is that they won’t send you documents concerning another person without proof of death or authorization from that third party. (They do mention a “public interest” caveat, but it’s hard to tell how they define that category, and they never agree with my assertions that anything I’m doing holds any interest for the public.) For some reason, they’d sent me Ron Tammen’s documents without either a proof of death or third-party authorization. When I tried to find out why, a representative of the FBI first conveyed to me through a liaison that they’d sent me Tammen’s documents because “…over the years the FBI had contact with his family who indicated that they believed Mr. Tammen to be deceased given some suspicious facts, namely, that after his disappearance a fish was found in his college bed.” When I pursued that dubious explanation further with the FBI rep by phone, he said it was just a poor attempt at humor and that he’d been referring to a famous scene from The Godfather. I knew I’d caught him in a lie, so my lawyer pressed them on that issue during my lawsuit’s settlement process. We were informed in writing that “The FBI inadvertently accepted plaintiff’s third-party request despite the fact that it is the FBI’s policy not to process third party requests in the absence of a policy waiver, proof of death or a showing of sufficient public notoriety. Based on the administrative records available to us, we have determined that the reason [the Record/Information Dissemination Section] proceeded with this request, despite its deficiencies, is that it treated the request as a request for a missing person investigation.”

I’ll admit that that excuse got by me in 2012, but as I was going through all of the back-and-forth with them in seeking an answer to whether or not they’d already confirmed Tammen to be dead, I revisited their settlement declaration. Not having any idea what a “request for a missing person investigation” was and how that differed from my FOIA request, I asked my lawyer about it. He suggested I do some online research and, if I found nothing, to submit a FOIA request on that question. In September 2016, I submitted a FOIA request seeking “policy documents that describe the FBI’s Records/Information Dissemination Section’s protocol when handling requests from the public pertaining to a ‘missing person investigation.’” Just to make sure we were discussing the same timeframe, I then added: “If the protocol has changed in the recent past, I am interested in the protocol that was in place in 2010.” I didn’t refer to my lawsuit, because I knew what they’d say: We don’t have to address any more questions about your silly little lawsuit. Several weeks later, I received their response: “Based on the information you provided, we conducted a search of the Central Records System. We were unable to identify main file records responsive to the FOIA.” Yeah, I didn’t think they would.

Yet, the FBI has been a cup of honey-sweetened chamomile tea when compared to dealing with the CIA. Many of you who have predicted some sort of CIA connection in Tammen’s disappearance will be pleased to know that I’ve been submitting FOIA requests to them since I began my research, and more earnestly beginning in 2014. I get it—they have a lot of secrets they need to keep to protect our national security. But I also think that they tend to overdo it in the classification department, long after everyone involved has died and programs have been shelved. I mean, if it takes them 50 years to declassify a high school student’s praline recipe, that just tells me that their rule of thumb with FOIA is to turn over as little as humanly possible.

Occasionally, however, they will send something your way, which brings me to our topic for today’s blog: a little-known CIA employee during the late 1940s and early ’50s by the name of Cmdr. Robert J. Williams. What I’m about to share with you is breaking news. As far as I can tell, the internet has not yet had access to this information. He’s not even mentioned in the CIA’s FOIA Reading Room. However, Williams’ name was provided to me courtesy of the CIA in response to one of my FOIA requests. It carries some degree of intrigue for the Tammen case, particularly given the department he represented, which was the Office of Scientific Intelligence, or OSI. (Fyi, “Cmdr.” is an abbreviation for commander in the U.S. Navy. The Air Force also has a commander rank, but the abbreviation they use is CC.)

I’m posting this information now so that you can see what I’ve been up against for the past several years. The way I view things is: If I can contribute to the greater good by offering up a bit of background information for the Google algorithms to chew on so that this blog post will pop up whenever someone runs a search for Cmdr. Robert J. Williams, then it will be well worth it. Cmdr. Robert J. Williams. Cmdr. Robert J. Williams. Cmdr. Robert J. Williams. (The more a term is mentioned on a website, the higher the ranking Google will give it in a keyword search, right?) Cmdr. Robert J. Williams!

So what does this stealth commander have to do with Ronald Tammen? Back in July 2014, I found a CIA memo that I consider pivotal to the Tammen case. On that document are three names—all blacked out—that I would even call the smoking gun regarding what happened to Tammen (or as close to a smoking gun as I’m going to get). I am 100 percent certain of the identity of one of the persons on that memo and 99 percent sure of the second person. (I’ve changed my mind about the third person, but he really doesn’t pertain to our story anyway.) In August of that year, I filed a FOIA request asking that those names be released to the public because the men were deceased, and I sent some obituaries along as proof. They came back and said (and I paraphrase here), no. They did so on the basis of Section 6 of the Central Intelligence Agency Act of 1949, as amended, and Section 102A(i)(l) of the National Security Act of 1947, as amended. The latter statute doesn’t say much of anything except for establishing the Central Intelligence Agency. The former statute, however, says this (bold added):

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. The CIA’s FOIA Office did offer up a consolation prize. They lifted the black bar off of the person in the “To” line of the memo to reveal our friend Cmdr. Robert J. Williams, OSI.

Seriously bummed at my failed attempt, I decided to follow the new lead and submitted a FOIA request to the CIA for Commander Williams’ personal bio plus any personnel/human resources files they had on him. As back-up, I referred to the memo and how I’d recently learned that he was the memo’s recipient. When I received their response—from the same person who sent me the memo with Cmdr. Robert J. Williams’ name unredacted—I had to laugh. Here’s what he said:

“Although you have provided some of the identifying information required, before we can effectively search our files on an individual, we still need additional data before we can begin processing your request. Specifically, we require the individual’s full name, date and place of birth, and date and place of death. Without this data, we may be unable to distinguish between individuals with the same or similar names.”

Now, they knew darn well which Robert J. Williams I was referring to. The one who was a commander in the Navy. The one who was high up in the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence. The one whom they’d just been discussing regarding whether they should release his name or not, and ultimately determined the answer to be OK. But no. They wanted me to try to figure out when and where the guy with the extraordinarily ordinary name of Robert Williams was born and when and where he died. For all I knew, his name wasn’t even real. The CIA gives its undercover operatives fake names, so why not its higher-ups? It even refers to itself as a cryptonym on occasion. (See KUBARK, WOFACT, BKCROWN, PALP, etc.)

I made use of my genealogy resources to find out who this guy might be. The biggest and best clue was a 1948 declassified document that had originally been posted on the website of the nonprofit organization National Security Archive. (Because it was taken down at some point, I’ve made a copy for this site.) The document told me that his middle name wasn’t John or James or any of the typical “J” names I was trying out in my searches. It was Jay, which, thank heavens, isn’t as common. I now knew that his name was Commander Robert Jay Williams.

And with that, I eventually landed on this little gem of an obit in the Danville (VA) Bee:

Robert Jay Williams burial
Excerpt reprinted with permission of Danville (VA) Register & Bee

The obituary listed him as a captain, which would mean that he’d been promoted from commander. It also didn’t provide his birthplace, but that would be easy enough to find now that I had all of the other information. Funny how the CIA wasn’t mentioned anywhere, but that’s probably institutional policy.

That same month, I let the CIA folks know that the Cmdr. Robert J. Williams about whom I was inquiring was the one who was born in Spokane, WA, in 1913 and who died in Bethesda, MD, in 1969, just shy of his 56th birthday.

Here are the specifics:

Name: Robert Jay Williams

Date of birth: 11/12/1913

Place of birth: Spokane, Washington

Date of death: 10/25/1969

Place of death: Bethesda Naval Hospital, Bethesda, Md.

By then, I’d also discovered that Commander Williams, who also went by R.J. Williams, was one of a handful of individuals who attended an infamous high-level meeting in Montreal in June of 1951. The meeting concerned a “top-secret” CIA program having to do with “all aspects of special interrogation.” A paper by Alfred W. McCoy, a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, mentions Williams on page 404, in the first paragraph under “Our Man in Montreal.” The entire manuscript is worth devoting some time to, but at the very least, we know that a memo that I believe contains a name that is relevant to the Tammen case is addressed to a high-level CIA official who is interested in “all aspects of special interrogation.” That’s not nothing, right?

And what of the memo? I was told by one of the best lawyers on intelligence matters that it wouldn’t do any good for me to sue the CIA based on the specific exemptions they’re claiming. I had virtually zero chance of winning. Fortunately, as back-up, I’ve found another memo in which I’m relatively certain—probably a 50/50 mix of confidence and hope—that my person of interest’s name is on it, though it’s also heavily redacted. I’m currently seeking the release of his and another person’s name, although this time, I’m employing a different mechanism than FOIA. FOIA has failed me far too many times. We’ll discuss the alternative mechanism on another day.

In the meantime, for researchers who have landed on this page because you’re interested in learning more about Commander Robert Jay Williams, here are some newly released documents for you to peruse.

Also, I’m including a link to this article from The Onion once again, because I think it’s hilarious and totally apropos.

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The floor is now open for comments. Please be aware that comments will be reviewed and posted as soon as I’m able, though there may be a wait.

Also, if you’d like to comment on the preceding post on Ron Tammen’s sexual orientation, here are my ground rules: I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on the evidence I presented or other related musings you’ve had that pertain to the topic. But please, no divisive language and no grandstanding on religion, your views on morality, and the like. Oh, and let’s not get into a nature/nurture debate, OK? Let’s keep comments focused on Ron. Lastly, please try to use terminology that doesn’t offend. Just fyi, here’s the latest guidance from GLAAD. Thanks!