Monday, October 21, 2019

On the Trail of a $7k FBI File

It all started with an FOIA request for records on Joseph Bryan III. The FBI responded by providing one file of about 37 pages and informing me there were two more files, making a total of three potential files. Both of the other two files, the Bureau explained, were transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration, or NARA, and suggested I pursue the files there. 

"Great!" I thought, "I'll just shoot an FOIA request over to NARA and I'll get the other two files!"

NARA soon replied that one of the files was actually still in FBI custody, in contradiction to the FBI statement. The other file was 8,500 pages(!). 

My request would be entered into a third tier review queue since the requested file consists of more than 3,000 pages. To give me an indication of the existing backlog, NARA stated it is currently processing requests received in December 2014. If I want a copy of the file whenever it finally gets made available for release, the estimated fee at this time is $6,800(!!).

"You may order a reproduction copy at the cost of $0.80 per page by contacting our office to place an order," NARA wrote in an Oct. 10 email. "We estimate that the total cost for a reproduction of 8500 pages will be $6800."

I'll explain all that more shortly. First let's consider Mr. Bryan.

Joseph Bryan III
For those unaware, the late Joseph Bryan III was a member of the Board of Governors of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena, a UFO research org back in the day. Bryan was also a military officer, serving in both the Navy and Air Force, and was recruited by the CIA as a psychological warfare specialist, according to many sources. Those sources include numerous obituaries and military sites, as well as the Encyclopedia Virginia which states Bryan worked for the CIA from the late 1940's until 1953. At least one historian wrote Bryan worked for the CIA "as head of its psychological warfare division." Bryan was from a wealthy family who owned a newspaper, and he wrote quite a bit on several topics. 

Bryan sat on the NICAP board from 1957-1969, and again in 1971. It is noteworthy his fellow board members included former Director of Central Intelligence Roscoe H. Hillenkoetter. 

The file on Bryan initially provided by the FBI is an interesting read. It offers significant insight into FBI mentalities and methods during the late 1940's. 

The majority of the file concerns a forthcoming article about the FBI that was going to be published by the Saturday Evening Post. The Bureau was concerned about making sure the article portrayed it in a positive way, and pulled what strings it could to influence who would be assigned to write the piece. Reporters initially thought to be working on it were not acceptable to the FBI, as can easily be discerned from memos in the file. Bryan's name eventually came up as a possible writer for the story, and it is at that point we can read along as FBI agents evaluate Bryan, interviewing numerous sources and compiling reports.

Bryan is invited to tour the FBI headquarters and meet with Director Hoover, which he does. Subsequent notes and memos are included in the file, and the Bureau seems to believe it "should have no difficulty with Bryan" as the author of the Post article, and certainly prefers him to the previous candidates.

Interestingly, Bryan never writes the piece, informing the FBI he became too busy working on other writing projects. We can only speculate about this, but, for whatever reasons, Bryan chose not to write the story after spending time touring the FBI, talking to Hoover, being provided names of sources recommended for statements, and being provided some "material". 

"Should I return the documents you were kind enough to lend me, or should I give them to the Post for loan to their new assignee?" Bryan asks in a letter to the Bureau dated Feb. 25, 1948 (page 19 of the file).

The file concludes with some 1950's memos and letters, in which conflicts arise between Bryan and some other members of the intelligence community. Loyalties and friendships are questioned surrounding the nature of on the record statements, and more research might prove interesting.

Contents of a June 9, 1955, letter from Robert A. Winston to Bryan and obtained by the FBI (pp34-35 of the file):



NARA and the FBI

Okay, so those other two FBI files on Joseph Bryan III... When I first heard from NARA that one of the files, 100-HQ-93216, was 8,500 pages and it would take years and seven grand to obtain, I shared the NARA email with some people. One of them was the resourceful James Carrion, who soon provided me a screenshot indicating John Greenewald previously requested the file. It appeared to pertain to bacteriological warfare.

I contacted Greenewald, who told me he indeed obtained the file in part in 2005, and supplied me with a link to the approximately 360 pages he was provided. John explained the process of transferring files from the FBI to NARA is, unfortunately, not always as reliable as we would hope, in the event it turned out the bacteriological warfare file had nothing to do with the subject of my request.

I emailed NARA again and told them what I'd learned; it seemed very likely that little, if any at all, of the 8,500-pager had anything to do with Bryan. I asked if it could conclusively be determined if the file pertained whatsoever to my request, and, if so, could those pages exclusively be reviewed and provided, rather than the entire file. It was my hope, I added, all parties involved could be saved time and expense.

NARA responded that two pages of the 8,500 specifically pertain to Joseph Bryan III. The Administration offered to provide a redacted copy of the two pages at no cost if I agreed to close the request, which I did. The alternative would be to wait virtually indefinitely for the entire file of which I wasn't going to purchase a copy anyway, but probably would have traveled to DC to view if I was under the impression a substantial portion of it pertained to Bryan, which it doesn't. I will of course publish the two pages when I receive them. 

Sure glad I asked! That would have been an expensive couple pages to read, about $3,400 each, if I got the whole file, but a steal, I guess, compared to metamaterials. 

And the third file, the other one the FBI told me was transferred to NARA, but NARA said was still at the FBI? It was 62-HQ-116607, for the record. I informed the FBI that NARA replied the file was in FBI custody, and the FBI now tells me it was destroyed. 

Okay... I empathize with FOIA officers, I really do. I understand it's a difficult and often thankless job that is never-ending. After working all day, there is more work to do than when they started.

That stated, there is some merit to criticisms. There are inherent flaws to the system and the culture. I'm not going to expand on that right now, but suffice it to say the effort to obtain files should not morph into an Abbott and Costello bit that threatens to become more of the story than the contents of the files.

Last but not least, those 360+ pages Greenewald got on FBI interest in bacteriological warfare make some interesting reading. Page 72 is a 1945 FBI teletype addressing a Japanese balloon apparently found in Montana. Concerns included livestock poisoning. 

Page 75 is a 1945 memo pertaining to information apparently obtained by a Special Agent in Charge who attended an intelligence conference. Investigations were reportedly conducted concerning Japanese balloons landing in the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska. The memo quotes the pertinent information relayed by the SAC:

The implications to cattle mutilation reports and some theories pertaining to the Roswell saga should be apparent to those familiar with UFO lore. These are circumstances many readers will have previously heard about, but I find it interesting to be able to identify relatively original sources. This type of material has been cited before, but it never hurts to make it a little more widely available for people to consider and access.


  1. This is fascinating on a number of levels, especially the FBI ‘evaluating’ a CIA man …. and the “FBI Obscenity Room” ?

    and ‘lost files ‘ / “destroyed file” ?

    If the UFOs are not a problem then why is there such a problem getting info on them?

    from Larry W. Byrant :FOIA warrior

    “Certain federal agencies (and various "compartmented" areas thereof, perhaps totaling fewer than 400 persons) have been juggling the hard stuff so long that it has become a way of life…”

    “Issues such as UFO-related abduction, livestock mutilation, underground bases, shadow-government collusion between "us" and "them," alien-earthling hybridization programs -- and all the rest of the folkloric baggage currently weighting us down -- could then be confronted more knowledgeably and forthrightly.”

    Remember: Since we are studying only UFO reports (and our responses thereto), we may never really learn much about UFOs themselves.

    from “Interview with Jerry Pippin”

    rave on

    1. Haha, I love the term: FOIA Warrior. It reminds me of Vallee's assertions about the value of FOIA requests.

      If the UFOs are not a problem then why is there such a problem getting info on them?"

      Perhaps these agencies just don't know how to archive these reports correctly. Although they did archive one sighting well enough. They knew it concerned a UFO because the object had U...F...O printed on the side :-D

      But, as for concerns about the livestock poisoning mentioned in the file. This was due to uncertainties about the Fugo balloons and whether or not they might be used to deliver biological weapons. Nothing more.

    2. The Fugo balloon history is very interesting -forget who wrote about it in depth -
      there was extra effort to keep all the 'events' secret so the Japanese wouldn’t know what the results were i.e. where they landed and so on - biggest worry was balloons starting forest fires.
      and maybe Roswell balloon had something to do with our ‘experiments’ other than ‘weather’ ( or listening for Russian atomic blasts -

    3. Yep. As far as I know, John Keel was the first to suggest Roswell was actually a Fugo recovery. He reasoned that even in 1947 the Army was reluctant to reveal too many details. Fun fact though: Fugo balloons are still being recovered. They found one just a few years ago in Canada. It landed in an area that was so remote it took 70 years for someone to stumble on it.

    4. I don’t think it was a Japanese Fugo balloon but ‘our Fugo’ type experiment and coverup -and Brazel’s balloon would be more of a decoy — but this is stuff for Randle to handle (-:

  2. All this labrynthine process around getting the files just adds weight, IMHO, to my feeling this is all about espionage operations and the only UFOs (in the purest definition of the acronym) in the mix are enemy combatant balloons drifting over the US West. The DC power grab merry-go-round that spins in perpetuity can easily account for FBI interest in the CIA, no ETs or alien spaceships required to set it in motion.

    By now, we all should at least be suspecting NICAP was an intelligence operation whose real target was overseas and not off-world.

    Meanwhile for your sake, so you can take a nice vacation next summer or maybe even get yourself Superbowl or NBA playoff tickets, I'm sure glad you didn't need to shell out thousands of dollars or waste your time and money to read those yellowing pages in some DC sub-basement.

  3. Yeah, no kiddin'. lol

    As you've certainly gathered by now, I'm completely on board with the espionage and counterespionage angles. It's clear enough in certain cases.

    Don't look now, but the more I browse that 360 pages Greenewald got of the 8500-page file on FBI investigations of bacteriological warfare, the more interesting it gets. At least parts of it seem to document the rise of Bluebird, MKULTRA, etc., at the CIA from the FBI perspective. I really don't think these 8500 pages should be sitting dormant without historians ever getting to lay eyes on them. Just sayin'. For now.

    1. It's gonna take a determined historical researcher with some grant money to pry the rest of those pages loose before the glacier finally disgorges them. Sigh.

      Keep the faith. I find everything you write worth my time to read, even if I might sometimes quibble on a few points.

    2. I'm really glad to hear that, PG. Thanks.

  4. It's just funny to me that people lean towards aliens or psychological operations/espionage so quickly while the real elephant in the room (i.e, advanced technologies testing and cover for illicit activities) continues to be downplayed. One has to relay on more than one source when supporting an argument.

    Just an example, I've seen blogs that still claim the Air Force was using props on Archuleta to scare Bennewitz. The problem is that there are photographs taken from the 50s (of which even I have copies) that show a military presence on the Mesa.

    But, then again that is the danger of believing things posted on the internet.

    Sorry, just venting my frustration at society.

    But, as someone who has been professionally published in academia, I would say that if you are really serious about the 8500 page file, you could possibly apply for a research stipend to help cover the cost. I would think that the file would be of great interest to Cold War historians.

  5. For the Record

    “John Randolph Bryan: The Confederate Aeronaut, 1862”

    from J Bryan III ’s book “The Sword Over The Mantel,” about his great uncle.

    mentioned in -
    Boxes in the Attic: John Randolph Bryan: The Confederate Aeronaut, 1862

    Also, Col. Bryan’s son, C.D.B. Bryan was also an author and in “ 1992, on the campus of the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a "mixed and motley crew" of scientists and skeptics, UFOlogists and psychologists met to discuss UFOs and alien abductions.
    The New Yorker sent Dad to write a tongue-in-cheek piece about the conference.”

    The event of John Mack ( the Harvard psychiatrist).

    from which the book

    Boxes in the Attic: Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind 1995

  6. The conference you mentioned was funded by one Laurance Rockefeller, who claimed a prodigious interest in UFOs in his later life. At times, it feels like someone is just playing a very interesting game and nobody is sure of the players. I don't believe the phenomena is as simple as espionage, though there is little question an aspect exists.

    I mean, the alphabet agencies are rather small potatoes once you get into these old-money families: which have been billionaires for generations. Regardless of how they vote, or who they fund, they still attend the same parties...

    1. I think someone IS playing games, but again, the ‘subject’ is multi-level crazy anyway.
      Did you check out the latest viral UFO flares from Outer Banks NC -too much - it’s simply obvious - and anyone familiar with the area knows it’s from Marine Base about 30 miles away over Pamlico Sound - it’s a 30sec video and the guy says he’s “in the middle of the ocean” on a ferry boat- commenters can point this out on and on but “it’s reported in the press” as Dylan sings that, “However, a spokesman from the military base confirmed to Fox 10 Phoenix that no aircraft from that base was in the area the day the video was posted." - Windows 10 News

      And “ Seymour Johnson Air Force Base located 77 miles northeast of Cherry Point confirmed that no aircraft from the Air Force base were in the area the day the video was posted.”

      And “Stars and Stripes” picked up the original story from the Charlotte Observer/Mark Price’s “Aliens or US Marines? Strange lights off the Outer Banks spark UFO debate” .
      ( do u think maybe this might have been re-printed for the fun of it ). Who knows how ‘connected’ everyone is in all this - old frat brothers still pranking for kicks ?
      Yet those who laugh about it are those who are actually most frightened by the idea …
      And consider Gov. Fife Symington’s humorous turnaround…
      just another Ivy League flyer (-:

    2. I think it’s pretty clear from their writings that Maj.Keyhoe and Capt. Ruppult were sincerely fighting for the truth rather than being involved in any kind of ‘coverup’ or ’spy game’ - and the little known about Adm. Hillenkoetter speaks to the same determination.

      I agree with ‘that elephant’ - “ ie advanced technologies testing and cover for illicit activities”.
      MUfON is a different ‘game’ - Walter may have been a little naive -
      but the Bigelow involvement strikes chords of Howard Hughes -out there in Nevada you can’t get away from certain ‘elements’ - like HH and Robert Maheu (started with FBI in 1940 and worked with them as a ‘spy’ in the War ).
      Or think of Bobby Baker and the $7B TFX fighter plane from General Dynamics in the good old state of Texas. On and on it’s too much to grapple with.

    3. "Or think of Bobby Baker and the $7B TFX fighter plane from General Dynamics in the good old state of Texas. On and on it’s too much to grapple with."

      For sure. John Keel often used the term "boondoggle" when describing these situations. An apt description I would say.

      "“Stars and Stripes” picked up the original story from the Charlotte Observer/Mark Price’s “Aliens or US Marines? Strange lights off the Outer Banks spark UFO debate” .
      ( do u think maybe this might have been re-printed for the fun of it ""

      Probably :-)

      "but the Bigelow involvement strikes chords of Howard Hughes -out there in Nevada you can’t get away from certain ‘elements’"

      This is something I would love to see fleshed out more. To my knowledge Bigelow came on the scene around the same time as Bob Lazar. Lazar, in turn, was good friends with John Lear whom I believe was also living in Las Vegas at that time. As the saying goes, "what happens in Vegas..."