Friday, November 1, 2019

Joseph Bryan III, the FBI and CIA

There are certain stories where researchers may start unearthing interesting nuggets at most any point on the timeline, and they'll soon find themselves immersed in ever expanding lists of people, organizations and circumstances. Many may seem worthy of further study. Pulling on a thread may take them into networks of individuals and actions which could have been accessed from any number of points of entry, and could continue to take research in lots of different directions. 

I eventually came to the conclusion that riding the UFO subject into the intelligence community is often a scenario whereby the topic of entry rapidly fades in brilliance when observed alongside the material to which it led. A shooting star into other vast lines of research. 

Many of those areas of research are specific fields of expertise for historians and scholars. Such scholars often have little interest in the subject of UFOs, and probably with good reason: it's not much more than a minor footnote as compared to wider and more consequential social issues within their fields of study.

This post, as with many here at The UFO Trail, could have been presented a lot of ways. It could have been framed as an exploration of government propaganda and misinformation. It could have been about how the actions and statements of TTSA personnel mirror those of spooks and UFO researchers of yesteryear. We could also have gone down the covert government operations rabbit hole, because behavior modification projects, organized efforts to sow dissension, and the manipulation of the press have more than cameo appearances in this Cold War saga.

Perhaps sometimes it's most accurate, however, if a researcher just presents what they're finding. Truth be told, sometimes we simply don't know what all we're looking at, or at the least we're unable to fully discern some subtleties and conclusively read between the lines of complex social situations. That might particularly be considered the case when a substantial amount of material seems to be obstructed, lost to time, or both. Yet in some instances, the gist of a chain of events nonetheless seems quite apparent.

With that, let's continue to explore the circles and activities of the late Joseph Bryan III, and, as we do so, bear in mind the words of experienced FOIA researcher JPat Brown, who wrote, "By just picking a random page from a random file, you’re doing your part to reclaim a history that has been hidden away, if not outright stolen."

Seeking Files on Joseph Bryan III

Readers may recall Mr. Bryan sat on the Board of Governors of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP), a civilian UFO research group, from 1957-1969, and again in 1971. Bryan had the unusual distinction of serving as an officer in three separate branches of service (Army, Air Force and Navy), and apparently worked with the CIA from the late 1940's until 1953. He was born into a wealthy newspaper family and became a rather widely published writer. Bryan was a psychological warfare specialist, a circumstance which was not known publicly during his time with NICAP. Roscoe H. Hillenkoetter, a former director of the CIA, was also a NICAP board member. 

A summary of our efforts to this point to obtain files on Bryan:

- Sep. 12, 2019, an FOIA request was submitted to the FBI for files pertaining to Joseph Bryan III.

- FBI responded by providing a 37-page file on Bryan, and in a letter dated Sep. 20, stated two more files potentially responsive to Bryan were transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The files were not previously processed under the FOIA, the FBI indicated, and identified the two files as 100-HQ-93216 and 62-HQ-116607.

- Sep. 25 an FOIA request was submitted to NARA, explaining the response from FBI and seeking the two files referenced by the Bureau.

- NARA soon responded that file 100-HQ-93216 was, according to an "initial assessment," confirmed to be related to Bryan. It was also described as an 8500-page document, creating substantial challenges and expenses for processing and producing, including several years wait and a $6,800 copying fee. The other file, 62-HQ-116607, NARA stated, remained in FBI custody.

- Some emails to other researchers revealed John Greenewald of The Black Vault obtained file 100-HQ-93216 in part (about 360 pages) in 2005. The file primarily pertains to bacteriological warfare.

- Following further correspondence with NARA, it was established that just two pages of the 8500 pertain to the subject of my original request, Joseph Bryan III. Oct. 28 NARA subsequently provided at no cost the two redacted pages, a 1953 FBI memo.

- After informing the FBI that NARA stated 62-HQ-116607 remained in FBI custody, FBI responded files potentially responsive to my request, but not specifically stating the file in question, were destroyed. I submitted an appeal.

- Additional FOIA requests on Bryan to other agencies remain pending.

Bryan and the FBI

The 37-page FBI file on Bryan, as explained in a previous post, largely chronicles the 1947 investigation of Bryan stemming from FBI attempts to groom him to frame a then-forthcoming article on the Bureau in a way that would please Director Hoover. After touring the FBI, meeting with Hoover, and being supplied material and sources for the story, Bryan informed the Bureau in early 1948 he would not be writing the piece. Bryan suggested a heavy workload was the reason.

Bryan's association with the CIA is not overtly discussed in the file, and it is not clear at what point the FBI may have became aware of it. A somewhat interesting exchange seems to have taken place during Bryan's meeting with Hoover, and is described in an Oct. 20, 1947 memo (see p16) from Assistant to the Director Lewis B. Nichols to Associate Director Clyde A. Tolson.

Describing an interaction with Bryan, Nichols explained to Tolson, "Sometime during the conversation with the Director he told the Director he was still a Naval Officer. The Director replied, 'I know.' He asked me how the Director knew he was still a Naval Officer." 

Nichols goes on to describe how he tried to reconcile the situation with Bryan, and seems to be passing his ostensible explanation along in the event the issue should ever come back up, as pictured below, along with a handwritten response from Hoover.

The latest two-page FBI file obtained from NARA skips ahead to 1953. It is a memo from Tolson to Assistant Director D.M. Ladd, subject line, "'Brain Washing' movie".

The memo documents a June 11, 1953, meeting in the Attorney General's office. In attendance, among others, were Ladd, Hoover, and Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles, who presented the CIA film, "Brain Washing," for viewing. It pertained to material we now know to have involved implications to such topics as the use of bacteriological warfare by the U.S. in Korea, damning confessions issued by American prisoners of war, and what was ultimately Manchurian Candidate-type subject matter. 

There is a single mention of Joseph Bryan III midway through the third paragraph of the memo, as Bryan is described as an associate of what seem to be certain people related to the film: 

The release of the two-page memo was accompanied by a letter dated Oct. 18, 2019, from Steve Hamilton of the NARA Special Access and FOIA Staff. Mr. Hamilton explained about the memo, "I have completed a line-by-line review of FBI file 100-HQ-93216-642 and released information to the greatest extent possible. The file has been redacted to protect names of CIA employees and former employees." 

As we proceed on this exploration of people and events from yesteryear, it might be an apt time to suggest keeping in mind such projects as MKULTRA and COINTELPRO. Many readers will be aware the former was an infamous CIA descent into behavior modification, with forerunners bearing such titles as Bluebird and Artichoke that started in the late 1940's. COINTELPRO was a decades-long covert FBI operation designed to surveil, infiltrate and disrupt organizations. We very well may have never heard of either of the projects or any of the related operations if it weren't for the work of activists.

Cold War Fever

If this is supposed to be covered up as a defensive feasibility study, it's pretty damn transparent.
- CIA officer commenting on MKULTRA to his boss as quoted by John Marks, The Search for the Manchurian Candidate 

Now, remember that the two-page memo, "'Brain Washing' movie", was lifted from a yet to be fully released 8500-page file on bacteriological warfare, as was the case with the 360-page file obtained by John Greenewald. Each of those pdf's came from the same FBI master file, the 8500 pages of 100-HQ-93216, the vast majority of which, the Bureau informed me, has not been processed pursuant to the FOIA.

We previously considered some of the records in the 360-page bacteriological warfare file, and how the documents carried implications to reported cattle mutilations. Also found in the pdf are FBI memos outlining an ongoing series of late 1940's meetings between representatives of various agencies and academics to discuss what is described, at least overtly, as the threat of bacteriological warfare. Among other points of potential interest is the ominous reference to a "National Academy of Sciences Committee on Truth Serum".

Longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover
A blog reader apparently found the topic interesting, further browsed the file, and shared something we agree was intriguing. Pages 207-212 of the 360-page file contain a May 31, 1949 FBI memo from Ladd to the Director, Subject: Biological Warfare. 

The memo indicates the Bureau used a "liaison" to attend the ongoing meetings pertaining to bacteriological warfare and what were described as "unconventional methods of warfare". Minutes were obtained from what is described as an Advisory Committee to the Secretary of Defense, and "regular" members of the Committee were in attendance, which included representatives from the CIA, Johns Hopkins and Yale.

The minutes of the May 15, 1949 meeting, apparently conducted in an apartment, describe a CIA representative addressing security implications concerning a research subject and related issues:

Techniques of interest were covered. Topics included extraction of classified information through subconscious isolation and interrogation through regression; reproduction of the subconscious state and related possibilities of espionage and sabotage guidance; instilling of false information and eradication of information from the conscious mind; negative visual hallucinations and the surveillance possibilities involved; destruction and re-creation of personality and character traits:

It was further stated the Committee expressed considerable interest in isolating the subconscious, particularly in relation to using drugs to enhance hypnotic techniques:

Readers may find the memo reminiscent of the "work" of CIA-funded consultants such as Maitland Baldwin, Ewen Cameron, and a host of hypnotists including Martin Orne. Experiments also come to mind pertaining to early attempts to employ hypnosis to manipulate the morals of research subjects. Corresponding records are contained in the published MKULTRA Collection.

While the acts and implications may not be news, one might nonetheless wonder what the other 8100+ pages of 100-HQ-93216 hold. The above material seems to provide a fascinating, albeit dark, glimpse into the rise of MKULTRA from an FBI perspective. Such records, more of which may well exist within the unreleased trove of FBI investigations surrounding bacteriological warfare, would seem potentially quite valuable to historians. 

Furthermore, the possibility is raised that individuals involved in unethical and sometimes illegal FBI and CIA operations collaborated to some extent. We simply do not know what we would learn from file 100-HQ-93216 in its entirety until given an opportunity to find out, and what we've seen so far would suggest a deeper look would be worthwhile.  

A strong argument can be made the file should be fully processed pursuant to the FOIA and released. Researchers should not be denied opportunities to comb through it, particularly as compared to just leaving the thousands of pages of Cold War era FBI material to sit dormant behind a wall of bureaucracy. 

So, where does that leave us with Joseph Bryan III? What do currently available FOIA files and authenticated documents tell us about the man and his social circles? How directly does any of it involve covert intelligence operations? To begin forming answers to such questions, we must cross reference more files and sources.

Bryan and the CIA

As I digested the two files I obtained from the FBI on Bryan, some of the material was increasingly perplexing to me. In the recently obtained two-page 1953 memo referenced above, the one about the brainwashing film, why was Bryan's name mentioned without further explanation? That certainly seemed to imply a familiarity with Bryan between the sender and recipient of the memo, a familiarity that would not have existed without mention much more recently than Bryan's visit to the FBI years earlier. I continue to wonder what other files might exist - or have been destroyed - that could further clarify the situation.

Similarly, it was perplexing that I simply did not understand what some of the documents were doing in the 37-page file. Take, for instance, an April 17, 1953 memo from M.A. Jones to Assistant to the Director Nichols (pp27-30). The subject of the memo is Lewis Steenrod Thompson, a.k.a. "Pinky" Thompson. The document contains no mention of Joseph Bryan, other than where his name was handwritten under the subject line. Why?

The name notation, along with a synopsis of the memo, may be viewed below:

Even given my limited understanding of the situation, a few things stood out to me about this memo. For one thing, the FBI believed Mr. Thompson to be wealthy, as was the case with Mr. Bryan. This in itself may not be significant, but it indeed appears segments of the intelligence community seemed to prefer dealing in certain capacities with what agencies may have considered well off, cultured individuals. I also noticed Thompson was a Princeton man, something else he shared with Bryan, which I recalled reading in bios pertaining to Bryan.

I happened to be aware DCI Dulles officially gave MKULTRA the green light in 1953, though the project would not become known to the public until 1975. A quick check of a point of reference indicated Dulles approved Project MKULTRA April 13, 1953, just four days prior to the memo. 

How relevant any of that may be, I didn't know, but I found it interesting. Nonetheless, I seemed to have a jumble of inferences, players, and circumstances. Cross referencing an FBI file on NICAP with the 37-page FBI file on Bryan brought a few things into a bit more clear focus, such as meanings behind some material concerning a Robert A. Winston contained in the Bryan file. In short, by the mid 1950's information pertaining to Hoover's sexual interests were at issue. This of course resulted in a number of consequences to those discussing and condemning Hoover, as well as the FBI itself. For further referencing and info, see an FBI file on Winston.

CIA headquarters, Langley, VA
Whether or not we may be interested in clashes between agencies, agents and officers, tracking such stories may provide us with a list of relevant players. As I continued to read about these people and their mid 20th century exploits, it was becoming increasingly apparent that Pinky Thompson was an intelligence asset himself. 

What began as seeking files on a NICAP board member eventually led me to learning about a CIA department called the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC) which acted as a covert operation wing of the Agency, circa 1950 onward. The OPC apparently conducted extensive operations throughout Europe, and, as of this writing, I do not know exactly what CIA interests were promoted and actions were carried out. 

I did discover, however, that Pinky Thompson, who was investigated by the FBI and a memo to that effect was placed in the file of Joseph Bryan, was involved. From The CIA, the British Left and the Cold War: Calling the Tune?, p229:

However, as the numerous intelligence connections of its officers strongly suggest, ACUE [American Committee on United Europe] was in fact an OPC/CIA front operation much like the NCFE [National Committee for a Free Europe]... According to Braden's later recollection, the first payment arrived in the form of a bag containing $75,000 dumped on his desk by CIA officer Pinky Thompson with the words, "This is for you." 

Author Hugh Wilford goes on to explain the operation became more sophisticated, and describes the scale of funding as "massive." Wilford continued:

Only about 'one-third of the total disbursements' were recorded on the ACUE's books, however, and these were disguised as gifts from 'fictitious donors' or 'company-sponsored foundations and trusts'. The remaining two-thirds were 'transacted covertly'. In short, Blumgart's memo suggests that the CIA was passing nearly a million dollars a year via the ACUE to the European unity campaign in the mid-1950's.

Further establishing Thompson's role as a CIA officer, we find a 1950 entry from the calendar of then-DCI Lt. Gen. Walter Bedell Smith. A phone call conducted with Thompson and his interest in leadership of the NCFE, described above as a CIA front organization, was recorded (p79): 

Then came the proverbial money card, at least to this point. Joseph Bryan III apparently ran the Political and Psychological Warfare subdivision of the OPC, which employed Thompson. Bryan recruited Thompson and Princeton alumni, among others, to work in the CIA's OPC. From American Spy: My Secret History in the CIA, Watergate and Beyond, p46, by the notable E. Howard Hunt and Greg Aunapu:

Pinky worked for Joseph. Interestingly, it seems Howard Hunt did as well.

Flying Saucers Again 

We're left to wonder, at least for now, how much Hoover and the FBI knew about the activities of Joseph Bryan, Pinky Thompson and other CIA officers. We're also left to wonder what the Bureau wanted to know. As previously suggested, one might reasonably surmise additional files contain yet more clues and stories waiting to be added to the collage of information.

Joseph Bryan III
It would seem Mr. Bryan was indeed a well connected man. He turns up in the company of figures with substantial influence within the Cold War intelligence community. While it feels a lot of info might yet be obstructed, it nonetheless seems Bryan was given significant responsibilities, particularly pertaining to propaganda and psychological warfare. 

Taking all of this into consideration, it feels as if we are then somewhat expected to believe that Bryan, former DCI Hillenkoetter, and various career military officers decided it would be a good idea to sit on the board of a UFO research organization, NICAP. Maybe they found UFOs fascinating. Maybe they thought it was fun. Maybe a lot of things.

It's possible a man specializing in psych warfare wanted to learn more about UFOs, completely independent of his employment history, and he thought one of the best ways to do so would be to join and help run an outfit like NICAP. That's certainly the case for some former officers and intel professionals, I suppose. I won't launch into a lot of speculation, but I will say it doesn't seem likely, given the connections and experience of men such as Bryan. 

An underlying point here deserves emphasizing: If assumptions formed in the early years of the modern UFO phenomenon are wrong, then much of everything that was built upon those flawed fundamentals is extremely questionable. 

This stands to be much more significant than a single randomly botched UFO investigation or a relatively harmless incorrect conclusion. If a correct direction of study was thrown off course by a few degrees 70 years ago, it is wildly off target by now. That is the case whether the loss of direction was due to innocent mistakes, covert exploitation, charlatans, or combinations of such factors. 

Last but not least, Project 1947, a website stating it is dedicated to documenting the origins of the modern UFO phenomenon, posted a transcript of a 1966 newspaper article containing a statement attributed to Joseph Bryan III. Flying Saucers Again: Do You Believe in Them? seems to have originally run in the Washington, D.C.-based Sunday Star and was written by a retired Air Force colonel. 

More than a bit similar to articles we are currently seeing about TTSA and UAP, the piece could easily be expected to have aroused interest in UFOs and describes Mr. Bryan as "one of the most highly qualified members" of the NICAP board. The lead up and Bryan's statement:

The article is accompanied by a photo, reportedly taken in 1957, of a B-57 bomber. A saucer-like object is in the photo and it is noted by the author to not have been noticed until after the negative was developed:

Quite interestingly, a photocopy of the 1966 newspaper article is on file at the CIA website. I also find it interesting that the original clipping clearly states the photos were provided for publication by NICAP. 

As I consider Bryan's emphatically pro-ET comment and the photo material provided by NICAP, I keep thinking about the statement above from Howard Hunt on Bryan's CIA/OPC team:

The staff was soon joined by artist-illustrator Hugh Troy, who then formed another small coterie of political cartoonists and polemicists who would generate a large amount of material that found its way into newspapers around the world.

Sure, I guess there's no rule that says UFO Disclosure can't be led by guys in the business of propaganda and information warfare. I suppose it's possible. They sure haven't gotten very far with it since the early NICAP days, though, and it sure seems as if intel pros at the top of their agencies, of all people, should know the history of disclosure efforts of their predecessors if they cared. 

It just doesn't seem propaganda specialists would be the most likely group to want to grab the UFO bull by the horns. Neither does it seem the most likely scenario for what we're looking at here. 


  1. As I stated in a previous post, I would encourage someone to apply for a research stipend/grant to help cover the FOIA fees. There is a wealth of information there that would be of interest to any Cold War historian.

    It also might be worth noting that the CIA and FBI played roles in the Counter Culture movement of the 60s and the Satanist Cult scare of the 80s. It's also pretty conclusive that LSD came attention to the American public directly through CIA funded experiments in San Francisco.

    Oddly enough, and for whatever reason, UFOs remain an enigma even in this framework. Many interesting intelligence overtones, and a wealth of psychological and sociological "explanations"; yet they are still nowhere as cut and dry as other heinous operations of the past.

  2. Just random thoughts/rhetorical questions as I read the piece.

    NICAP might have been created as a psyops tool. However, if it were we don't have information yet to know its target. That it helped influence Americans to believe that alien spacecraft are flying through our skies might well not have been its mission, but rather an unintended consequence of its operations.

    A myth (e.g., alien UFOS) developed for a specific purpose might show itself to be useful for other situations as they arise over time. Therefore, the myth is "goosed" regularly to keep it alive and maintain its usefulness (TTSA being the latest effort to “goose” the UFO myth?)

    If the CIA and FBI regularly use the media, who's to say some or even many of the sightings reported in the media, as well as assertions about the witnesses and their character, aren't CIA or FBI plants? Could the steady drip, drip, drip over the years of the one- or two-paragraph UFO stories with no follow up be part of psyops activities?

    I have nagging doubts about taking any UFO report at face value without doing some minimal checking on the background of the witness. How do we know they are who they claim to be? Do UFO “researchers” even look at standard IDs?

    One’s stated profession doesn’t in any way ensure one’s credibility in the context of a UFO report. If the intelligence community can enlist the media to help advance its purposes, why wouldn’t it also enlist law enforcement and members of the military as well?

    Okay, I’m done spinning my wheels. Enjoyed the piece. Keep up the great work.

    1. purrlgurrl, great questions. And, it's not only the background of the witnesses that should be checked. Sometimes the researchers themselves can be just as suspect even if their intentions are good. Data will be filtered and omitted depending upon the argument they are presenting and/or the researcher may not even be aware of said data. It's just human nature, and it happens in academia all the time (peer review anyone lol).

      I would just add that, while I don't know very much about NICAP, what I have learned has led me to reasonably conclude it did not start out as psyops tool. The organization was founded by T. Townsend Brown who founded it because he felt someone stole his flying disk idea. He was ousted, and when Keyhoe took over; Keyhoe personally asked Hillenkoetter to join the board because they had been roommates together as youths and Keyhoe trusted Hillenkoetter (we can draw our own conclusions on this decision).

      After this, the waters become murky. However, the CIA certainly would not have needed any influence on the organization if the goal was just to try and convince people of alien spacecraft. Keyhoe was (loudly) advocating that himself right from the beginning.

    2. My take:

      I don't believe the initial goal of the whole flying saucer/UFO circus was to convince the American public of alien spacecraft flying through our skies. The public was not the target of these intelligence operations. Instead, that belief in alien UFOs was a side effect of classified/intelligence activities aimed overseas.

      Because the public's belief proved useful over the ensuing decades, it has been shaped and manipulated to serve a wide variety of classified purposes.

      There are no alien spacecraft and there never have been. It's just a purposefully created myth that's kept on a back burner so that it can be served up again when it's needed.

  3. Great work... Today's propaganda creates powerful delusions that is almost impossible to resist to the target demographic.
    The seed was planted decades ago and it's starting to grow.

  4. These two articles on Col. Byran have been a real treat of information and like you say, it opens a well of interests for further research.
    I’m wondering why you were only offered 2 pages and not the 350 Greenewald received - what was his cost ?
    Also, it might be interesting to test FOIA by requesting files that have been redacted from the 50/60s for a ‘history’ of what comes up now …

    It’s easy to understand folks jumping on the ‘conspiracy band wagon’ when they learn the ‘background’ of some board members, but I cannot imagine Maj Keyhoe or Capt Ruppelt ( and even Adm. Hillenkoetter with nothing known about him but his friendship with Keyhoe) to in any way allow it’s use other than seeking the reality of the UFO .

    I don’t quite understand the argument either in light of the Robertson panel ?
    They ( both military and ‘intelligence’ ) were afraid more of another Orson Wells ‘Invasion’, and actually influenced a major article in Saturday Evening Post that totally ridiculed the idea of ‘alien spaceships’.

    And certainly Col Byran would be aware of this ‘influence’ and at the same time have knowledge that ’something unknown’ really was going on which puts him in the same bag with my heroes against any pre conceived use of the ‘subject/NICAP’ for ‘psychops/whatever’.

    Sidney Shallet's (with ATIC ) article in The Saturday Evening Post, two parts April 30 and May 7, 1949. "What You Can Believe About Flying Saucers"

    when Ruppelt is involved at ATIC
    Robert Ginna April 4, 1952. Life magazine : "Have We Visitors From Space?"

    July 1952 ‘UFOs over DC’ - Gen. says ‘nothing but a’heat wave’.

    Robertson Panel - January, 1953

    and remember the “Estimate of the Situation” = Top Secret YES!

    It’s like Democrats and Republicans everywhere !

  5. Thanks for your comments and encouragement, everybody. I appreciate your interest.

    Mousemoon, here's how it went: FBI instructed me to seek two files from NARA. One NARA said FBI still has, the other it said was 8500 pages. I then discovered John Greenewald had received 360 of the 8500 pages in 2005. The file primarily pertains to bacteriological warfare. In an ensuing exchange with NARA, and after I asked if it could determine how much of the file actually pertained to the subject of my request, Joseph Bryan III, NARA responded that two pages of the 8500 fit that description. NARA subsequently provided the two, a 1953 FBI memo linked above, at no cost.

  6. BTW, I requested NARA conduct a Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) of the May 31, 1949 memo from Ladd to Hoover on pages 207-212 of the 360-page file Greenewald obtained. As described in the blog post, the memo references ongoing meetings between intelligence agency representatives and academics who discuss unconventional methods of warfare involving research subjects.

    NARA responded favorably to the MDR request and the further declassified memo, obtained today, Nov. 4, may be viewed here:

  7. Thank you for doing great research on this topic.