The ‘I&I’ guys: Why I think Ronald Tammen’s psychology professor had a hand in his disappearance

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.

St. Clair Switzer’s ID at Miami University

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.”

Yep, he’s referring to Hull’s 1933 classic book, Hypnosis and Suggestibility: An Experimental Approach. It’s so unbelievably obvious. And yet, the CIA feels that this is classified information. Forward ho:

“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.

Clark Leonard Hull

“…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.

St. Clair Adna Switzer

“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:

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.

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. 

Here’s the full memo.

ACT 2: Seeking the services of Lt. Colonel BLANK

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.

ACT 3: A few anecdotes

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…

KL: Inherited.

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.

KL: Yeah.

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.)

Sun City’s Arts & Crafts Center sign, which has been up since Sun City was constructed in 1962. The Switzers would have seen this sign as well.
Sun City’s lawn bowling field. I don’t exactly picture the Switzers doing this either.

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.

St. Clair and Elizabeth Switzer’s grave marker in Riverside National Cemetery.
St. Clair Switzer’s grave is in the foreground. In the background is the American flag, which is always flying at half staff in honor of the veterans buried here. Further in the background, to the right, is Box Springs Mountain with its “M” to signify March Air Reserve Base (look through the branches of the tree and zoom if you have to).

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:

On Tammen’s hypnosis/suggestibility

On Tammen’s draft status

On possible CIA involvement

On what the FBI knew/knows

On what the university knew

In the weeks before Ron disappeared:

  • 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:

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

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.

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 with David Frost, republished in the Fall 2000 issue of Studies in Intelligence. (The link to the article is currently broken on the CIA website. I’m asking them to fix it.) “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. 

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.” 
  • On August 2, 1995, President Clinton signed Executive Order 12968, which ended the ban on security clearances for gay employees, and which enabled a paradigm shift in the area of protections for LGBT hires within the intelligence community. Additional protections were enacted in subsequent years, though the Trump administration has reversed earlier actions pertaining to federal contractors and transgender workers.

  • In 1996, the CIA created a group called ANGLE, which stands for Agency Network for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Officers and Allies, and which has produced a 43-minute documentary about the transition that has taken place within the agency. Nevertheless, change came slowly for the folks in Langley, VA, as is also described in this 2015 article in the Daily Beast.

  • Sometime around 2011 or 2012 (sources vary), the CIA began publicizing the fact that it was actively recruiting LGBT individuals.

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.

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.

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

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!

Was Ronald Tammen hiding out as a technician at Welco Industries in 1973?

Welco brass plate
Photo credit: Government Liquidation

On Thursday, April 26, 1973, someone placed an anonymous phone call to the Cincinnati office of the FBI. According to a memo from the special agent in charge (SAC), the caller said that “he was aware the FBI has an interest in one Ronald H. Tammen. The caller advised he has strong reason to believe that captioned subject is identical with one [whited out], who is employed with Welco Industry, 9027 Shell Avenue, Blue Ash, Ohio.” The SAC went on to say that “The caller based his opinion upon physical description and ‘other reasons which he cared not to discuss.’” The caller then hung up the phone.

We’ll never know what additional reasons the caller had for thinking that a man who worked at a plant that built motors for the aerospace industry in a Cincinnati suburb was Tammen or, moreover, why he didn’t care to discuss those reasons with the FBI. Did the Tammen lookalike act all weird and evasive when asked if he went to college? Did he drive around with a string bass in his back seat? Did he have an irrational aversion to fish? Or perhaps had the man pulled the caller aside one day and said, “Don’t tell anyone, but the guy they’re talking about in this news article? Yeah, that’s me.”

One thing that we can be pretty sure of is what triggered the unknown man to make his anonymous phone call on that particular day. Note that his call took place one week to the day following the 20th anniversary of Tammen’s disappearance. It was also three days following the article that ran in the Hamilton Journal News—the same article in which Joe Cella revealed that Ron had visited Dr. Garret Boone requesting a blood type test five months before he disappeared. (From what I can tell, no anniversary articles ran in the Cincinnati Enquirer on Tammen that year.) Although no physical description of Tammen was included in that article, it did provide a college photo, which is probably why the SAC referred to the “captioned subject.” So it’s not a stretch to conclude that the FBI’s caller first learned about Tammen in the newspaper and thought the photo looked a lot like someone he knew.

Which is totally fine. In fact, that’s how many missing persons cases are actually solved. Someone spots an old photo of an acquaintance in a news article or on TV and alerts the authorities. It’s the FBI’s actions after that call was placed, however, that are most telling.

Let’s examine the two FBI memos that I received from my FOIA request pertaining to this potential lead. (Link to them here.)

The first memo was written on 5/9/73—almost two weeks after the initial call had been made. The memo was from the SAC in Cincinnati to the acting director of the FBI, who, thanks to Google, we are able to ascertain was William D. Ruckelshaus. Ruckelshaus was the first administrator of the EPA who was subsequently brought over to the FBI as Watergate was heating up. He was only in his position as acting director for a couple of months, before continuing on with his esteemed career (he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015). But for our purposes, he was the man in charge when the question about the guy at Welco came to the forefront; in parentheses, the SAC had added “ATTN: IDENTIFICATION DIVISION.”

The first line reads: “Re Bureau airtel to CI, dated 12/19/58.”

This cryptic little sentence fragment is an example of FBI codespeak, a system of pretend words and abbreviations that keeps their employees informed and the rest of us in the dark. Thankfully, through a variety of means, I’ve been able to decipher at least some of what the G-men of yore were communicating to one another through their typewritten words and their scribbles and scrawls all over my FOIA documents.

In FBI parlance, “Re” is easy. It means “in reference to,” just as it does in any email or memo you might read these days. “Bureau,” as you probably already know, is an unofficial way of referring to the FBI. “Airtel” might sound like a trendy type of overnight accommodations, but it was one of the methods that the FBI used to communicate internally back then. Think of it as a letter that, according to Wikipedia, is mailed the same day that it was typed, which doesn’t sound all that extraordinary, but it is what it is.

So who is “CI”? Fortunately, I own a book titled “Unlocking the Files of the FBI: A Guide to Its Records and Classification System,” written by Gerald K. Haines and David A. Langbart, and published in 1993. According to Haines and Langbart, CI does not mean “criminal informant” or “counterintelligence” or anything exciting like that, at least not in this case. No, the abbreviation CI stands for the FBI’s Cincinnati field office, just as the abbreviation for the Cleveland field office is CV.

Last but not least comes the date, 12/19/58. The SAC was referring to an airtel that had been sent from Headquarters (most likely) to the Cincinnati field office about 5 1/2 years after Tammen disappeared. Don’t bother looking for that airtel in the FOIA documents I’ve posted online, however. It wasn’t included in the first batch of documents that the FBI sent me in December 2010, nor was it in the documents sent to me on appeal or in my lawsuit settlement. Ostensibly, the FBI doesn’t have it anymore. As its name might indicate, that airtel seems to have been teleported into thin air. (If you’re thinking that I should ask the Cincinnati office directly if they might have the memo, I’d already contacted them and the Cleveland office before I filed my lawsuit. Both said that FBI Headquarters had everything on the Tammen case.)

The second and third paragraphs refer to some personal information about the Welco employee that the Cincinnati field office had sent to Headquarters for both its use and the use of the folks in Cleveland. We learn in the accompanying pages (which are almost entirely redacted) that they’d obtained this information from his personnel file, when a special agent paid a visit to the company the same day in which they’d received the phone call.

Paragraphs four and five summarize Tammen’s case, though the SAC erroneously states that a missing persons notice was filed with the Identification Division on 5/26/58, when it was actually filed 5/26/53. (Does that mean that our 12/19 airtel was also from 1953 instead of 1958? We’ll never know, although I don’t have a document from 12/19/53 either.) The writer also says that the Cleveland office was the “Office of Origin in SSA, 1948 case.” Translation: The writer is referencing the Selective Service Act of 1948 and he’s saying that the Cleveland field office had opened an investigation into why Ron didn’t show up for the draft after he disappeared. The FBI called off that investigation on 4/29/1955. The SAC also mentioned Ron’s fingerprint file from 1941, #358 406 B.

The last paragraph on page one and the first paragraph on page 2 discuss the phone call concerning the Welco employee, the details of which we’ve already mentioned at the beginning of this post.

The memo ends with this:

“The Identification Division is requested to compare the fingerprints of [whited out] with those of subject and advise Cincinnati and Cleveland of the results.”

In memo #2, dated 5-22-73, Acting Director Ruckelshaus responded to Cincinnati’s SAC. True to FBI form, he opened with the pretend word “Reurlet,” which, according to Haines and Langbart, means “Reference is made to your letter.” He then said that, in a nutshell, they compared the Welco guy’s fingerprints with Tammen’s prints, and there was no match. In a note at the bottom he’s included some background information on the case that we already know and, in the last sentence, he said “MP,” which stands for missing person, “placed in 1953 to be brought up to date.”

And that’s it. If you were to glance at the next memo to appear in our FOIA docs, you’d see that there is nothing more until 2008, when the Walker County Sheriff’s Office in LaFayette, Georgia, contacted the FBI about the dead body that had been found in a ravine in June 1953, and they were checking to see if it might have been Tammen.

As we’ve already discussed in the January 16, 2018, post, Tammen’s father had written the FBI in October 1967, saying that he could swear a soldier in an AP photo might be his son. But J. Edgar Hoover didn’t bother asking his Identification Division to compare the soldier’s fingerprints with Ron’s, even though he was a big believer in fingerprints for solving missing persons cases and they could have easily run the comparison. Five and a half years later, with Hoover out of the picture, the Cincinnati office had approached the Identification Division directly with the request to compare Ron’s prints with the Welco employee’s. This time, the Identification Division ran the comparison and it turned up negative. FBI Headquarters wrote its memo to Cincinnati’s SAC on Tuesday, May 22, 1973. Two weeks later, on June 4 or 5, 1973 (there are notations that mention both dates, but most say June 5), something related to Ronald Tammen’s case was “Removed from the Ident files.”

Removed from Ident files

Coincidentally or not, June 5, 1973, also happened to be exactly 20 years after the memo was sent from Headquarters to the Cleveland office in which they acknowledged that the young man who had been reported missing by his mother was the same person who had been fingerprinted back in 1941. For this reason, some readers may conclude that the removal of whatever it was from Ron’s record is not coincidental—that the FBI may have had a protocol in which, if there were no promising leads in 20 years, the FBI would make some sort of status change in the case, perhaps to the point of calling off the search.

This makes sense, except for a couple factors: I’ve received no indication from any source that there ever was a 20-year cut-off. When I asked Stephen Fischer, chief of multimedia productions and the media liaison for the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Systems (CJIS), if he had a suggestion regarding the meaning of the phrase “Removed from Ident files,” he said, “Sorry, but we do not.” If they had a 20-year rule, it would have been easy enough for him to say so. Also, if there were a 20-year deadline, wouldn’t it have coincided with the date in which the missing person report was filed, which was May 26, 1953?

I do think that the 20-year timeframe is significant, but not because of FBI protocol. I think it’s significant because of the news article that ran on the 20th anniversary of Tammen’s disappearance, which brought about the Welco lead.

So the question remained: What was removed from the Ident. files, and why?

There’s something that I need to share with you at this point, and I do so with a great deal of embarrassment. Sometimes, when a lot of information comes at me firehose style, I’ll focus on what I believe to be the most crucial take-home message—such as the fact that Ron’s fingerprints were expunged in 2002 and the FBI had probably confirmed him dead seven years prior—while accidentally letting some of the other details slip by, even though they may be even more important in answering a question at hand. As I was writing this blog post, I revisited emails from 2015 in which I was discussing the “Removed from Ident files” language with members of the FBI. Even though Stephen Fischer said that they didn’t know what it could refer to, Dr. John Fox, the FBI’s historian, did have something interesting to say.

“The reference to ‘Removed from Ident File,’” he wrote to me in an email, “refers to the missing person notice on file.”

Ron’s missing person file was the one that begins with the number 79—#7931966, to be exact—that you see scribbled on many of the FOIA documents, and it contained correspondence between FBI Headquarters and its field offices as well as the Tammens. It was different from the fingerprint card that was contained in Ron’s #358 406 B file. Fox also said that Tammen’s missing person file was managed by the Identification Division.

At that moment, nearly three years after first reading Fox’s email, the significance of the Identification Division became clear to me. John Fox wasn’t telling me anything that I hadn’t read many times elsewhere. The division’s name had been written in the 5th paragraph of the 5/9/73 memo and in the first paragraph of every form letter leading up to it. It had been written at the top of the May 26, 1953, document in which the Cleveland office summed up its conversation with Mrs. Tammen—ATT: IDENTIFICATION DIVISION. For so long, I had been fixated on the fact that the Identification Division was known informally as the fingerprint division, which housed the hundreds of thousands of fingerprint cards in the enormous building that’s now the D.C. Armory. (Listen to two brief audio clips about the history of the Identification Division and its fingerprint records: Part I and Part II.) All along, I had been grappling with the question of how the FBI could remove Ron’s fingerprints from the Identification Division, but not expunge them until 2002. But it wasn’t just Ronald Tammen’s fingerprints that were maintained by the Identification Division. It was also Ron’s missing person file.

Could it be that Ron’s entire missing person file was removed from the Identification Division on June 5, 1973? Nearly every one of the letters of correspondence regarding Tammen’s case had the words “Removed from Ident files” written on them. In addition, stamped at the bottom of the June 5, 1953, memo are the words “Return to Ident Missing Person File Room,” and a number that looks like 429. The October 11, 1967, letter from Hoover to Mr. Tammen and the 5-22-73 memo from Ruckelshaus to the Cincinnati field office have a similar stamp, but the room has been moved to 1126. In all cases, the stamps are crossed out.

I believe that the reason for the removal of all of those pages was that Ronald Tammen was no longer considered by the FBI to be missing.

Here’s my theory: When J. Edgar Hoover chose not to compare the soldier’s prints with Ron’s in October 1967, he likely already knew what had happened to Tammen and he felt it would have been a waste of time to compare the two men’s fingerprints. It’s also my belief that Ron’s whereabouts were to be kept secret, even from his family members, for whatever reason. (Heck, 65 years after Tammen’s disappearance, I believe that’s still the case.)

In 1973, the Cincinnati SAC didn’t know what Hoover had known. He innocently submitted the fingerprints to Headquarters, and, just as innocently, the Identification Division ran their comparison. But something happened between May 22 and June 5, which led to the FBI’s decision to remove Ron’s missing person file from the Identification Division. Could that be what Ruckelshaus (or whoever authored the 5-22-73 letter for the acting director’s signature) had meant when he said that “MP placed in 1953 to be brought up to date”?

I think someone discovered what Hoover had known in 1967 and ordered that Ron’s missing person file be placed elsewhere, so they would no longer be bothered by additional MP-related requests. His fingerprints, on the other hand, would remain on file with the Identification Division, and later CJIS, until 2002, at which point the prints were expunged.

To sum up where my head is right now: not only do I think that the FBI knew when Ronald Tammen had died—seven years prior to 2002, or around 1995—but I also believe they knew what he was doing when he was still very much alive. They just don’t want us to know they knew.

But it’s still just a theory. I need to talk to a few more people.

________________

On a side note, I’ve come to learn the name of the person who worked at Welco as well as the details that were included in his personnel file. I won’t be revealing his name in order to protect his privacy and the privacy of his family, but I will say this: his name had a similar ring to Tammen’s. It would have been logical for the caller to make that connection because people who run away and change their names often use new names that sound like the old ones. The other details I’ll divulge here are his height and weight, which were recorded in his personnel file as 6 ft. 2 ½ in. and 185 pounds, respectively. Unless Tammen had experienced a major growth spurt after he disappeared—his medical records at Miami listed him as 5 ft. 9 in. in April of ‘53—there was no way this man could be confused with Tammen.

 

 

Hoover, JFK, and the day the FBI stopped writing to the Tammens

Over these next several posts, we’ll be continuing to focus our attention on what’s in the documents that were sent to me by the FBI as a result of my 2010 FOIA request, and what, if anything, they might add to the story.

________________________________

 

JFK funeral
Jacqueline, Caroline, and John Kennedy, Jr., among other family members, on the day of Kennedy’s funeral. Photo credit: National Archives; Photographer: Abbie Rowe, National Park Service

On the morning of Tuesday, May 2, 1972, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover didn’t wake up. His body was discovered at around 8:30 a.m. by his maid, who had arrived at his home to make his breakfast. He’d worked all day at the office the day before, had dinner with his long-time companion and deputy director, Clyde Tolson, and then died of a heart attack sometime during the night or early morning.

Immediately upon Hoover’s death, and at his instruction, his secretary, Helen Gandy, went into high gear destroying what she later claimed to a House subcommittee to be “letters to and from friends, personal friends, a lot of letters.”

Yes. How very thoughtful of this man who’d made an art form of gathering the goods on the powerful, famous, and nonconforming to preserve the trust of those he held most dear by having his secretary tear up, and then send away for further shredding, all of those friendly, personal letters.

Hoover’s death also seemed to bring an end to a different kind of letter—something more relevant to those of us who are concerned with what happened to Ronald Tammen: the form letters. You may recall that the FBI would send a form letter to the Tammens every two or three years, usually in the autumn, to ask if they should continue looking for Tammen. Mr. or Mrs. Tammen would check the box marked “Is still missing,” sign the bottom, and mail the letter back to the FBI. After Hoover died, however, the letters came to a halt, even though, in the final letter, the “Is still missing” box was checked by Ron’s father.

While Hoover was still alive, the FBI had been fairly consistent about sticking to the schedule—jarringly so in 1963. That letter was dated November 29, just seven days after President Kennedy had been assassinated, and the last day of a grueling week in which the country had bid their tearful goodbyes to him. On a day when the nation was still mired in the shock and grief of having seen their young, energetic leader being carried around in a flag-draped casket, someone in Hoover’s employ had the clarity of mind to glance at the calendar and say to him or herself, “Time to send the Tammen family another form letter.”

To put the above action into context, let’s take a quick look at the timeline of that unspeakably sad week, juxtaposed with a few of the more tangible ways in which J. Edgar Hoover had busied himself.

Friday, Nov. 22, 1963

President John F. Kennedy is murdered in Dallas; President Johnson is sworn in. Hoover speaks with Attorney General Robert Kennedy and later sends a memo to his executive staff summarizing his conversation: that the person whom he believed shot and killed the president was in custody at Dallas Police headquarters, and the name of the shooter was Lee Harvey Oswald, who was “working in the building from which the shots were fired.” He concluded, “I told the Attorney General that, since the Secret Service is tied up, I thought we should move into the case.”

Saturday, Nov. 23, 1963

President Kennedy’s casket is on display in the East Room of the White House. President Johnson declares Monday, Nov. 25, 1963, a National Day of Mourning. J. Edgar Hoover briefs LBJ about the FBI’s investigation (transcript — 3 pages), telling him, among other things: they had charged “this man in Dallas” with the president’s murder; they had the rifle that killed the president, the bullet, and the gun that killed the policeman; and “one angle that’s confusing”: a person who showed up at the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City in September 1963 using Oswald’s name was not Oswald.

Sunday, Nov. 24, 1963

JFK’s casket lies in state in the Capitol Rotunda for 21 hours. Roughly 250,000 mourners wait in long lines to pay their respects. At Dallas Police headquarters, as he is being transferred to the county jail, Lee Harvey Oswald is shot on live television by nightclub owner Jack Ruby, and he later dies. At 4:00 p.m. ET, J. Edgar Hoover dictates a summary of the investigation, saying that Oswald is dead, and that he was shot in the stomach by Jack Ruby. “The thing that I am concerned about, and so is [deputy attorney general] Mr. Katzenbach, is having something issued so we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin,” he said.

Monday, Nov. 25, 1963 – National Day of Mourning

Beginning at roughly 11 a.m., there is a procession and funeral for John F. Kennedy, after which he is buried at Arlington Cemetery at roughly 3:30 p.m. (View Associated Press footage.) President Johnson calls J. Edgar Hoover at 10:30 a.m., to speak about his concern that people are calling for a presidential commission to look into the assassination. “Some lawyer in Justice is lobbying with the [Washington] Post because that’s where the suggestion came from for this presidential commission, which we think would be very bad,” (Hoover: “I do too,”)…“and put it right in the White House. We can’t be checking up on every uh, every uh, shooting scrape in the country…” Johnson then said that they planned to do two things: 1) Hoover would give a full report to the attorney general, which would be made available to the public, and 2) the attorney general of Texas would “run a court of inquiry.” Listen to the conversation (20:23) or read the transcript.

Wednesday, Nov. 27, 1963

President Johnson gives his “Let Us Continue” speech before Congress.

Thursday, Nov. 28, 1963Thanksgiving

(Unbelievably, Americans that year had to celebrate Thanksgiving three days after watching the funeral of their president.)

That evening, President Johnson delivers a televised speech to the nation asking Americans for their help, strength, and prayers, “that God may guard this Republic and guide my every labor.” (See transcript.)

Friday, Nov. 29, 1963

On Friday evening, President Johnson names the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination of President Kennedy.

 

Earlier that day, at 1:49 p.m., President Johnson and Hoover discuss possible members of the presidential commission. When they move on to the FBI investigation, Hoover says “We hope to have this thing wrapped up today, but could be we probably won’t get it before the first of the week.”  Listen to Part 1 (10:06) and Part 2 (10:24) of the taped conversation or read the transcript.

Oh, and one more thing: a form letter signed by Hoover is mailed to the Tammen family.

I don’t know about you, but I find it extraordinary that the FBI was even thinking about Ronald Tammen during that momentous week in our nation’s history.

Of course, Hoover may not have been aware that a letter with his name and signature was mailed to the Tammens on November 29, 1963. It could be that a low-level civil servant had readied the memo and had it signed with an autopen while Hoover was on the phone with the president telling him about Oswald’s ties to the Fair Play for Cuba Committee or the ACLU. Regardless, what this says to me is that in a week when the FBI should have been firing on every cylinder in an effort to determine who killed our president and why, someone within the organization had a more menial task on his or her plate. Even if that person’s job had nothing to do with helping with the Kennedy assassination investigation, even if his or her only job was sending out missing person memos, in my view, it was rather unseemly to be going off-topic so soon. For the rest of the country, the week was rife with cancellations, postponements, and closings in somber reflection of the upheaval we’d experienced. Why couldn’t the FBI—the nation’s top law enforcement agency—have held off on some of its other public duties until, say, after the weekend? Apparently, the bureau had moved on, and they didn’t seem to care if anyone outside its walls knew it.

One last point about the 1963 memo: it wasn’t as if there was a firm date when the memos were mailed out. Nope, the dates were all over the map, as can be seen here:

August 25, 1955

October 1, 1957

November 16, 1959

October 30, 1961

November 29, 1963

January 19, 1967

October 1, 1970

I’m sure the Tammens wouldn’t have minded if the FBI had waited another week or two before sending the letter.

Here’s the other thing that I want to point out about those dates. Based on the above pattern (other than the blip in January 1967), it would be logical to conclude that Mr. Tammen was due to receive another letter in 1972 or 1973, probably in October or November. But then Hoover died in May 1972 and the letter was never mailed. In fact, if these documents are telling us what I think they are, the FBI never wrote the Tammens again. Either Tammen’s case had fallen by the wayside or someone had made the decision that it was time to put a stop to the form letters.

________________________________

In my next post, I’ll discuss the two documents from May 1973.

 

 

The dog handler, the dad, and the director

Director Hoover Portrait
J. Edgar Hoover, FBI Director from 1924 to 1972 — Photo credit: FBI

Let’s take a few steps back to the year 2010, when the FBI had sent me their first round of FOIA documents on the Tammen case. What do the FBI’s officially sanctioned records say and how might that information offer up some additional clues into the case, knowing everything else we know now?

For a quick recap, here are the FBI documents we’ve mentioned so far:

  • This is the initial report that was submitted roughly a month after Marjorie Tammen contacted the FBI informing them of her missing son.
  • This document shows that the FBI had Ronald Tammen’s fingerprints on file as early as 1941 “for personal identification.”
  • This form letter (as well as this one) sent by the FBI to Ron’s parents features the notations used to describe Ron’s fingerprints.

The document that I want to focus on today is the below letter, written to J. Edgar Hoover from Ronald Tammen’s father, Ronald H. Tammen, Sr.:

Mr. Tammen's letter to JEH on AP photo
Click on link for closer view

The document isn’t dated, however it references an Associated Press photo that appeared in the October 2, 1967, issue of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, as well as numerous other newspapers around the country. The photo was of a dog handler and his dog in Vietnam.

Here’s the photo:

Vietnam South U.S.  Forces  Dogs
ASSOCIATED PRESS — For Editorial Use  — http://www.apimages.com

 And here’s the caption that ran beneath it:

COOLING OFF IN VIETNAM – A dog handler attached to the U.S. 173rd Airborne Brigade and his dog take a cooling swim in a stream near the unit’s home base at Bien Hoa, near Saigon. They had just returned from a patrol and both leaped into the water.

Mr. Tammen had this to say about the photo: “From the few features I can see of this soldier, I would swear it is my son.”

Although I can see a resemblance, I have no idea if the soldier in that photo was Ronald Tammen, who would have been 34 at that time. However, the letter does tell me a couple things about Mr. Tammen. First, counter to the FBI FOIA liaison’s claim that Mr. and Mrs. Tammen thought Ron “to be deceased given some suspicious facts” (the FBI’s supposed reason for sending me the FOIA documents without requiring proof of death or third-party authorization), as of October 1967, Mr. Tammen was still hopeful that his son was alive. (Mrs. Tammen had passed away by then, in 1964.) Second, the letter shows that Mr. Tammen had no idea what had happened to his son. If any readers have been secretly wondering if Ron’s parents might have known something by that time, this letter should put those suspicions to rest.

Now let’s review the response from then–FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, dated October 11, 1967:

Hoover response to Mr. Tammen
Click on link for closer view

I’m going to go ahead and say it: That was one lame-o response, J. Edgar Hoover! Why do I think so? This was a disappearance in which the FBI had, at least at one time, more than a little interest. It was a case on which they’d staked their fabled reputation, one they’d sunk some serious tax dollars into, dispersing agents hither and yon to investigate what might have happened to Ron. Then, after 14 years with (supposedly) little to no new evidence, Ron’s father—someone who knew Tammen about as well as anyone could—writes in to tell them, Hey fellas! I could swear the person in this photo is my son! Can you check it out? Mr. Tammen hadn’t asked that much of the FBI up until that point. It wasn’t as if he’d been calling them once a week asking for an update. I’m no expert, but I’d call this a potential lead.

But is J. Edgar intrigued? Does he put a couple of his dark-suited G-men back on the trail to follow up in hopes that he can wrap up this case, while getting some great P.R.? No, he does not. Instead, Hoover responds with a tepid, “In reference to the newspaper item you enclosed, you may wish to write directly to The Adjutant General, Department of the Army, The Pentagon, Washington, D.C. 20310, for possible assistance.”

That, Good Man readers, is what I would call a first-class, grade-A, top-of-the-line brush-off.  If Mr. Hoover had truly been interested in finding out if the soldier in the photo was Ronald Tammen, don’t you think he would have made a phone call of his own to the Adjutant General? After all, in 1967, Tammen’s fingerprints were still on file with the FBI, and the Army obviously would have taken the soldier’s fingerprints when he enlisted. If the FBI didn’t already have the dog handler’s prints in their identification files (a big if), the Army could have sent them a copy, and, bada bing bada boom, question answered. But Hoover didn’t take that simple step. Why not?

I’ll venture a guess. By 1967, I think Hoover had stopped caring about what happened to Ronald Tammen. Either that, or he already had a good idea what the answer was. And if it was the latter, there must have been some reason that he didn’t want that information to be made public.

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Congratulations! You’ve just completed post #20 of A Good Man Is Hard to Find. After reading some of the new details presented on this website, you may have begun forming an opinion of your own about what happened to Ronald Tammen—or maybe your opinion has evolved. If you wish to discuss your views, the floor is always open, and, at this stage of the game, there are no wrong answers. Also, don’t forget to share this blog with friends and family members! The more followers we have, the more people we can involve in the discussion, which could produce more leads and possibly more answers.

Did Ronald Tammen cross paths with Richard Colvin Cox?

Richard Cox
Richard C. Cox

Happy New Year, Good Man followers! Did you know that January 2018 marks the 68th anniversary of another person’s disappearance from his college dorm? That individual is Richard Colvin Cox, from Mansfield, Ohio, who was a sophomore cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, in New York, in 1950, the year he disappeared. On the day he went missing, Cox had been watching a basketball game with roommate Deane Welch, and, on their return to their room in the North Barracks, he took a detour to check his grades. While in that vicinity, Cox ran into an acquaintance who had visited him the previous weekend—a person he’d known in Germany while he was in the Army who supposedly went by the name of George. After a brief conversation, Cox headed back to his room to change into the requisite uniform before going to dinner at the Thayer Hotel with his visitor. At 6:18 p.m., he said a quick goodbye as Welch preceded him out the door, and was never heard from again.

Although the two young men’s stories have their differences, there are plenty of parallels. Here’s a short list:

Personal/Family Characteristics

  • Both were from Ohio. Tammen was from Maple Heights, a Cleveland suburb, while Cox was from Mansfield, a small town between Cleveland and Columbus.
  • Both were intelligent and studious.
  • Both were considered leaders in their class. Tammen was a counselor in Fisher Hall, and Cox was voted by his classmates as the highest-ranking yearling (the term used for sophomores at West Point) in his company.
  • Their birthdays were only two days apart, though Tammen was five years younger than Cox. Cox was born July 25, 1928, and Tammen was born July 23, 1933.
  • Both were considered friendly, but private. They tended to keep things to themselves.
  • Both were handsome with similar smallish builds. Cox was 5’8” and 165 lb.; Tammen was 5’9” and 175 lb.
  • Both came from families of modest means. Cox’s family owned an insurance agency in Mansfield, however Mr. Cox had passed away when Richard was 10. Tammen’s father worked as a clerk for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen in Cleveland.

Conditions of Disappearance

  • Both disappeared while they were sophomores in college.
  • They disappeared within three years of each other. Cox disappeared Jan. 14, 1950, and Tammen disappeared April 19, 1953.
  • They disappeared on a weekend—Cox on a Saturday, and Tammen on a Sunday.
  • They disappeared at the end of the day. Cox disappeared a little after 6:15 p.m., while Tammen disappeared sometime between 8:00 and 10:30 p.m., based on varying accounts of his final moments.
  • Both young men appeared to be showing signs of stress or inner conflict. Cox sometimes shared that he was growing fed up with West Point, while Tammen had spoken of being “tired lately” and had been seen reading the Bible several times, which was considered out of character.
  • Both seemed to be in good spirits on the day of their disappearance.
  • Both walked away with just the clothes on their backs and little money.
  • Both had supposedly been sighted after-the-fact by people who knew them. Cox was reportedly spotted in March 1952 at a restaurant in the Greyhound bus terminal at 11th Street and New York Avenue, N.W., in Washington, D.C. Ernest Shotwell, a friend of Cox’s from their days at the Stewart Field Prep School in New York, had seen him sitting at a table, and they spoke briefly, though Cox appeared uncomfortable and left shortly thereafter. (The Greyhound building is still there, a curvy, Art Deco blast from the past now bordered on three sides by more modern—and boring—structures.) Tammen was potentially seen in a restaurant in Wellsville, NY, in August 1953, by H. H. Stephenson, the housing administrator at Miami who had given Tammen permission to have a car on campus. Stephenson had walked out of the restaurant without saying anything to the young man.
  • Both men’s fingerprints were on file with the FBI when they’d disappeared. Tammen’s had been on file since 1941, when he was in the second grade, and Cox’s was on file at least since he’d enlisted in the Army in September 1946.
  • After committing significant resources and manpower into finding the young men, the FBI ostensibly, failed to solve either case.
IMG_0314 New York Ave terminal
The Greyhound bus terminal, in Washington, D.C., where there had been a potential sighting of Richard Cox in 1952.

Finding the similarities compelling, in June 2011, I submitted a FOIA request to the FBI seeking all documents that they had on the Richard Cox investigation. At that time, I hadn’t yet come to fully appreciate the nuances of FOIA—and by “nuances,” I mean, well, let’s just say that it isn’t an exact science. People at the agency of interest are likely to make judgment calls on a regular basis. Some decisions may hinge on the topic in general, the way a request is phrased, and any number of factors.

With that said, the FBI saw fit to send me 24 pages on the Cox case within the same month of my request. (They told me that they were sending me information that had already been processed for another requester, which is the probable reason behind the quick turnaround.) As with my FOIA documents on Tammen, the amount seemed surprisingly small to me, considering the fact that Cox had been affiliated with the U.S. Army, and the military doesn’t take disappearances from its ranks lightly. Nevertheless, I moved on without submitting an appeal. I had little knowledge of the case at that point and 20-odd pages seemed to be the FBI’s M.O. when it came to men who’d gone missing in the 1950s.

And then I dug deeper. What I found was that two people had done a good deal of digging ahead of me, and they got much, much more from the FBI. One person was James Underwood, who, as a reporter for the Mansfield News Journal, wrote an in-depth investigative series on Cox’s disappearance in 1982. (In 2012, Mr. Underwood appeared on the History Channel’s episode on West Point and the Cox disappearance.) The second person was Marshall Jacobs, a retired Florida teacher who began investigating Cox’s disappearance several years after Underwood. Jacobs eventually collaborated on a book, titled Oblivion, with Harry J. Maihafer, a graduate of West Point. Jacobs had conducted the research, while Maihafer did the writing. In their respective publications, Underwood and Marshall/Maihafer had disclosed that they’d both received thousands of pages from the government—some from the Army, some from the FBI—which provided me with ammunition for a follow-up FOIA request. In 2013, I wrote (in part):

…after reading the attached article from the 8-1-1982 issue of the Mansfield (OH) News Journal, I’d like to make a second FOIA request for FBI Bureau file 79-23729 as well as file #79-25 from the Cleveland field office. I understand that Mr. Underwood and another researcher (Marshall Jacobs, who is now deceased) received more than 1200 pages [I guesstimated] on the Cox disappearance from their FBI FOIA requests, and I would like to receive the same documents they received…

Of course, I realized that it had also been roughly 30 years since they’d submitted their FOIA requests, and a lot of purging can happen in that amount of time. Still, I thought it was worth a try. The one thing I had going for me was that, because Richard Cox had been declared dead by the state of Ohio in 1957, there was no need to provide proof of death or third-party authorization.

With little fanfare, and no apology whatsoever, the Department of Justice (DOJ), the FBI’s parent agency, sent me three CDs with 1631 pages of documents on them—which is a far cry from the original 24 pages the FBI had sent me in 2011, and serves to underscore the oft-repeated advice that one should always appeal his or her FOIA request. Why my Cox FOIA was bumped up all the way to the DOJ, I’m not sure. At the time, we were still in the middle of my FOIA lawsuit on Tammen, and they seemed to be tying the two cases together, even though they’re unrelated. (As for the Army, they’ve been harder to crack than the FBI. So far, they’ve sent me a smattering of documents, though I’m currently following up on one FOIA request.)

Incidentally, I wasn’t re-requesting the Cox files to be a thorn in anyone’s side or because I didn’t have anything better to do. I was trying to locate the source of a certain piece of information that had been mentioned on page 97 of Marshall and Maihafer’s book. What to most readers appeared as a footnote of little consequence seized my attention as if it had been written in blazing, buzzing neon.

Maihafer wrote: “Meanwhile, tips about Cox had continued to come in at the rate of nearly three a day. One report said a man resembling Cox was working at Miami University in Ohio…”

What kind of a crazy coincidence would it be to have one inexplicably missing person turning up in the same tiny university town just prior to someone else going inexplicably missing? What’s more, wouldn’t it be incredible if Richard Cox and Ronald Tammen had actually known one another? The book said that all of the leads turned up nothing. Still, I had to see the documents for myself.

I feel compelled to point out here that the documents I received from the FBI weren’t electronically searchable. They’re PDFs of old, difficult-to-decipher pages that require reading. Lots and lots of reading. On evenings and weekends, and even during a trip to Switzerland, I’d insert one of the CDs into my laptop and, folder by folder, wade through the bureaucratic minutia of names, places, and dates, until I was bored out of my mind, my lower neck muscles were screaming, or both. Periodically, I’d have to reassure myself that this wasn’t a colossal waste of my time. It took months for me to get through them all. As I was nearing the end of the third CD, when I’d just about given up hope, I found the reference to Oxford, Ohio.

The first document to catch my eye was an FBI report recounting a visit to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Curtis Sandage, of Lombard, Illinois, by agent William H. Gray. The report was dated November 21, 1952, and the visit was in response to a letter that Mr. Sandage had written to the Army’s 10th Criminal Investigation Detachment in New York, NY, on August 5, 1952. A few details of the letter were included, such as the fact that the couple had recognized Cox’s photo from a recent article in Life magazine. Although Mr. Gray didn’t specify the date of the magazine, I can tell you that it was the April 14, 1952 issue. The article can be read here (albeit not easily), beginning on page 147.

FBI report
For closer view, click on link

Gray indicated that the visit yielded no new information, as Mrs. Sandage had “nothing pertinent” to add to what her husband had written in the letter. In the main narrative, however, he also mentioned that the Sandages didn’t know the young man by name, but that both felt sure that “the man they knew was employed in some public or semi-public place such as a restaurant or filling station in Oxford, Ohio and that he wore sport clothing.”

About 20 pages later, I arrived at the letter, which had been reproduced in a summarizing document by the Army and thus the reason that there’s no signature. Here it is:

Page 1:

Sandage letter to CID, page 1
For closer view, click on link.

Page 2:

Sandage letter to CID, page 2
For closer view, click on link.

As the letter states, the Sandages, who were both faculty members at Miami, remember seeing Cox (or someone who looked like Cox) between January and September 1950, before they moved to Illinois. During that same winter and spring, Ronald Tammen was a junior in high school, and, that September, he was just beginning his senior year. If it were Richard Cox and he was pumping gas over the next couple years, when Ronald Tammen was at Miami, I’d think that the chances would have been pretty good that they would have bumped into one another, especially since Tammen was one of the few students with a car on campus during his sophomore year. Those are a lot of “ifs,” I know, but it’s interesting to ponder.

The Sandages have both passed away, however, I contacted a son to find out if he was aware of their potential sighting of Richard Cox. He was interested, but knew nothing about it.

I won’t be discussing Jacobs’ theory regarding what may have happened to Richard Cox in this post. Cox’s family feels strongly that the assertions made in his and Maihafer’s book are untrue, so I’ll be steering clear of that debate for now.

I will say this: Nothing I read in the FBI files indicated that they had followed up on the Oxford sighting after the November 1952 visit to the Sandages’ home. (The pages I’ve received from the Army don’t mention the potential sighting.) That also means that I’ve seen nothing to indicate that the FBI had ruled out whether the person in Oxford might have been Cox.

Although we can’t be sure that the person the Sandages knew in Oxford was Richard Cox, here’s what I come away with as a result of their story:

  • There’s a chance that Richard Cox and Ronald Tammen may have known one another or perhaps had a common acquaintance.
  • It’s also possible that their disappearances might have been related to one another.
  • It’s intriguing how, just five months after their visit with the Sandages to discuss a possible sighting of Richard Cox in Oxford, Ohio, the FBI was brought in to search for Tammen, who happened to disappear from, of all places, Oxford, Ohio. If anyone at the FBI wondered if there was a connection between two high-profile cases of missing college men and the town of Oxford, they didn’t put it in writing.

What does their story tell you?

The missing fingerprints, part 4*

(*or the myriad ways to answer a yes-or-no question)

Yes-And-No-Typography-Black-800px
Clipart by GDJ at openclipart.org

In a mid-day moment of inspiration, I realized that I could contact the FBI’s public affairs office seeking comment about their actions on Ronald Tammen. As a former fed who had worked in other public information offices, I knew that reporters did that sort of thing all the time. In fact, it always made me proud to live in a country where a reporter could contact a government agency with questions and have them directly responded to. They could be from anywhere—the New York Times or the Pahrump (Nevada) Mirror. Readership didn’t matter. Here I was, a wannabe author, a quasi member of the press. Why couldn’t I do it too?

On October 29, 2015, I sent the following to the FBI public affairs office:

For a book I am writing, I’m seeking comment from an FBI spokesperson on the following:

Background:

It appears from FBI’s past actions that the FBI has confirmed Ronald Tammen, Jr., (FBI #358 406 B), who has been missing since 1953, to be deceased. This is evidenced by the following:

— Tammen’s fingerprints were expunged from the CJIS database in 2002, when Mr. Tammen would have been 69 years of age. It is CJIS policy to expunge fingerprints when a person is 110 years of age or seven years after a person’s confirmed death.

— In 2010, the FBI’s FOIA office released to me documents on Tammen  without requesting authorization or proof of death. Likewise, authorization or proof of death was not requested for Lyndal Ashby, whom I’ve subsequently discovered died in 1990. Such proof was required for missing persons William Arnold and Raymond Harris. 

Questions for Comment:

For these reasons, I am seeking a comment from an FBI spokesperson in response to these questions:

Is it true that the FBI has confirmed that Ronald H. Tammen, Jr., is dead?

IF YES:

  1. How did the FBI confirm Ronald Tammen, Jr.’s, death?
  2. When did the FBI confirm Ronald Tammen, Jr.’s, death?
  3. Where is Mr. Tammen’s body?

IF NO:

  1. Why were Ronald Tammen’s fingerprints purged in 2002?
If the FBI confirms a death of a missing person, is the next of kin usually notified?

IF YES:

  1. Why didn’t the FBI notify surviving members of the Tammen family that they had confirmed Ronald Tammen’s death?

Thank you, in advance, for your responses to these questions.

Yeah, I know, I could have eased up on all the follow-up questions and just left it at the single yes-or-no question for starters. I could have always followed up later. However, if the FBI hadn’t confirmed Ron Tammen to be deceased, any PR rep worth his or her salt could have easily provided the shortest of responses and sent me on my way. Something like: The FBI has no additional information that would confirm whether the subject is alive or dead. Unfortunately, we have no information as to why his fingerprints were destroyed in 2002. Seriously, that’s all they’d have had to do—if the FBI hadn’t confirmed Ronald Tammen to be dead, that is.

Instead, I received this email:

“Thanks for contacting the FBI.  Your request was forwarded to me for review and handling.  I contacted the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division (CJIS).  They informed me that you should submit a FOIA request in order to obtain the information you are seeking.  The following link will provide some guidance on submitting a FOIA request https://www.fbi.gov/foia/sample-fbi-foia-request-letter.  If you have further questions, do not hesitate to email or call me.  Thanks again for contacting the FBI.”

Yes-And-No-Typography-2-Black-800px
Clipart by GDJ at openclipart.org

As instructed, I didn’t hesitate to call her. To my surprise, she picked up. Here’s how our conversation went, taken from notes I’d written after-the-fact (comments are paraphrased as closely as I could recall at the time):

I told her I had already been through the FOIA process and there are no more documents. Because of my lawsuit, I’m not even allowed to submit a FOIA request on the Tammen case unless I think there is a source that hasn’t been searched. I said that I was seeking a statement from the FBI saying whether Ronald Tammen was dead based on their actions.

FBI rep: I asked them, and they said that you needed to submit a FOIA request.

JW: I FOIA’d information on four guys. You returned docs on two of them, and for the other two, you told me I had to prove they were dead or I needed their approval. The other guy whose docs you sent to me—Lyndal Ashby—I’ve since discovered is dead. Which leads me to believe that you know that Ron is dead. You also discarded Ron’s fingerprints, which is another sign that you think he’s dead. And that is what I’m asking. Something is causing you to act in a certain way and I am requesting a statement based on your actions.

FBI rep: The FBI has a right to decline requests.

JW: So the FBI is declining my request for a statement? Are you a spokesperson?

FBI rep: No, ma’am. You cannot use me as a spokesperson.

She then said that they were declining on the basis that they didn’t have documents to back up what I was asking for.

JW: I feel like we’re going in circles here. It’s not about documents. It’s about actions. Something is causing the FBI to treat these cases differently. I’m seeking an FBI statement on whether the FBI has concluded Ron Tammen to be dead based on your actions.

Again, she said that I would not be receiving a statement from them.

My reasoning during that thoroughly enjoyable exchange was I felt that there must be some way in which the FBI’s FOIA office could tell whether or not Ronald Tammen was confirmed dead without having the information exist in document form. Remember that FOIA is all about documents, be they hard-copy or electronic. I wondered if there were some database that they could check.

Regardless, the public affairs rep was so insistent that I submit a FOIA request, I wondered what request I might be able to submit that didn’t drift into the forbidden territory of my former lawsuit. I decided that emails were fair game and submitted a FOIA request on all internal communication that was sent among CJIS staffers pertaining to their decision to purge Tammen’s fingerprints in 2002.

Several weeks later, I was told that they’d checked their Central Records System (CRS) and came up empty. I appealed on the basis that, while I was no expert, I didn’t think staff emails would be in their CRS, which is the catch-all system that holds current and past case files on virtually everyone whose ever been investigated by the FBI, from Al Capone to Busic Zvonko, and anything else on its radar. In my view, employee emails would be stored on an email server. In March, I received a response from an Appeals staff member, who boiled things down to this:

“After carefully considering your appeal, I am affirming the FBI’s action on your request. The FBI informed you that it could locate no records subject to the FOIA in its files. I have determined that the FBI’s response was correct and that it conducted an adequate, reasonable search for records responsive to your request. The FBI determined that, depending on the reason for the purge, there would have been no emails created, or if there were, they would be well past the records retention period for such records.”

So there were no emails. I think I’ve mentioned before that I don’t take no for an answer terribly well, especially when I think I’m being yanked around. However, another awesome aspect of our democracy is that an average citizen such as myself can contact her or his congressional representative or senator for assistance with a federal agency that isn’t being particularly responsive in providing a service that is part of its mission. Most requests probably have more to do with Social Security checks, veterans’ benefits, and whatnot, not so much journalistic inquiries seeking an answer to a yes-or-no question. Nevertheless, I thought I’d give it a whirl. I contacted my senator, and asked if he’d be willing to approach the FBI on my behalf. He accepted my request and one of his staffers contacted the FBI’s Office of Congressional Affairs with my question and related follow-ups.

I was optimistic. They could give my small-potatoes self the brush-off, but a sitting U.S. senator? Surely, they’d address any questions coming from him promptly and truthfully.

A little over two months later, the FBI’s deputy general counsel at the time—a guy named Gregory A. Brower—contacted my senator with a response.

It opened like this:

“This letter is in response to your email dated March 29, 2016, which was sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on behalf of your constituent, Ms. Jennifer W. Wenger, who is requesting information as to whether or not the FBI searched Sentinel as part of her original FOIA request. The matter was referred to the FBI’s Office of the General Counsel (OGC) for response.”

How my simple question about whether or not they’d confirmed Tammen to be dead morphed into “whether or not the FBI searched Sentinel,” I’m not sure. Before that moment, I’d never heard of Sentinel.

“Sentinel is the FBI’s next generation case management system for FBI investigative records generated on or after July 1, 2012,” Mr. Brower explained. Since Tammen’s case was from 1953, it obviously wouldn’t apply. Fine, I thought, but what about the question I’d actually asked?

Mr. Brower then went into great detail about my entire FOIA experience with them, reliving every thrilling twist and turn, even disclosing information to my senator that I’d been told by my lawyer I was not permitted to make public. I’m not going to reveal that information on this blog, despite Mr. Brower’s (perceived) breach, because, quite frankly, I don’t want to piss these guys off any more than I already have. Truth be told, they seem humorless. If I showed you the letter, you’d see what I mean.

But there was something else that Mr. Brower told my senator that I couldn’t let go unchallenged. Mr. Brower spoke of how “Ms. Wenger received unprecedented access” and, later, “Ms. Wenger obtained special access” to certain information concerning the Tammen investigation as part of our settlement agreement.

His use of the terms “special” and “unprecedented” to describe my access to information about the Tammen case is, well, slightly overstated. As I’d discovered by then, the information I received is available to any person on the planet with an internet connection. Sure, they tailored it to their liking by rearranging a few sentences, switching out a couple of words, and adding two tidbits of info that took a minimal amount of research, but it was pretty much wholly ripped off from a write-up found on a well-known missing persons website called The Charley Project. The good news is that you won’t have to pay thousands of dollars in legal fees to access it. I give you, Good Man followers, the source of the FBI information that I received as a result of my settlement:

http://charleyproject.org/case/ronald-henry-tammen-jr

(If you’re wondering when The Charley Project had posted the original version, I contacted the person who manages the website to find out. She told me she was the author and she posted it on March 1, 2005. I’m thinking some FBI staffer lifted it from the website around the time Frank Smith came calling requesting Ron’s fingerprints in 2008, but that’s just a hunch.)

OK, back to my little saga. I made the above points to my senator’s staffer—that the FBI didn’t address the question at hand, that this wasn’t a FOIA request, and that my access to information from the settlement was neither special nor unprecedented—and, God bless him, he went back to Mr. Brower on my behalf.

Mr. Brower’s response was a lot shorter, and again, he stuck with his original talking points: she sued us, we settled, we don’t have to give her another thing on Ronald Tammen. He closed with this:

“If she has questions about the FBI’s response to her FOIA request, which was resolved by the settlement agreement, she should pursue resolution through the proper legal avenues.”

I thanked my senator and his staffer for their efforts, and decided that the FBI’s wall was impenetrable. I gave up, and moved on to other parts of my research.

Until last week, that is. As I was writing up this blog post, I started mulling over what a database would be like in which the FBI tracks anyone who has been fingerprinted. We already know that fingerprints and other biometric information are kept in a giant database called Next Generation Identification (NGI). Let’s imagine that there’s a field in which information can be entered stating whether or not a person has been confirmed dead, and, if so, the date in which they were confirmed dead. To the best of my knowledge, that information wouldn’t be considered FOIAable. It would be one or two fields in a ginormous database, not a bona fide document. But without such a system, how would they even know when it’s time to purge a confirmed dead person’s fingerprints after seven years—the institutional memories of its employees?

“Hey, Fred?”

“Yeah, Barney?”

“Wasn’t it seven years ago that we finally learned that Mr. Slate had died? You know, the guy from Pahrump whose fingerprints we’ve had on file since the 1970s?”

“Has it been seven years? Well, I’ll be. You’re right!”

“I’d say it’s high time we expunged those prints!”

Methinks not. With a fair amount of trepidation, I decided that I needed to go back to the FBI one more time. This was, after all, a question about departmental protocol. I wasn’t asking them about Ronald Tammen, Lyndal Ashby, or anyone else in particular. I just wanted to know how CJIS knew when it was time to purge fingerprints. Maybe no individual is alerted. Maybe the deadline hits and the fingerprints are expunged automatically. Either way, that would be a hypothetical means in which the FOIA office could retrieve info that stated whether someone listed as missing had been confirmed dead.

Last Tuesday, I sent an email to the public affairs person who’d contacted me before, requesting an answer to that question within the week. No one has responded in time for this post. (Of course, you’ll be the first to know if anyone does.)

At least one point bears repeating, a point that reaffirms my faith in the decency of people. If the FBI hasn’t confirmed Tammen to be dead, “NO” would have been the most obvious and easiest of responses to my question. Instead, some representatives hid behind FOIA, while another used legalese as pushback and even changed the question. If the FBI has confirmed Tammen to be dead, no one lied to me. If someone from that organization knows the answer to be “YES,” perhaps he or she can be convinced that the right thing to do is to come forward and let Tammen’s surviving family members know what happened. You know how to reach me. And I won’t share your name with a soul.