Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Ongoing NICAP Research: FOIA Request Lands FBI File on Counsel Services Co-Founder

    FBI records recently obtained through the FOIA on Leo H. McCormick indicate the co-founder of Counsel Services, Inc. was investigated extensively to clear him for work with the Economic Cooperation Administration (ECA). The records were provided in response to a request for material pertaining to McCormick.

The ECA, a government office, served as an intelligence gathering asset for the CIA. Counsel Services was contracted by the ECA for work in China and later acted as the lead component along with T. Townsend Brown in the incorporation and initial operation of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena. The circumstances are detailed in Wayward Sons: NICAP and the IC

FBI reports contained in the recently received 30-page file reveal multiple investigations were undertaken on McCormick. It is also suggested McCormick applied for employment with the FBI in 1935 (see page 30), some 12 years prior to launching Counsel Services. In this blogpost we will explore the FBI file on McCormick and review some of the surrounding circumstances.

Leo H. McCormick

    Leo Heise McCormick (1908-1988) became the subject of an FBI investigation in September 1949, per a message written by Director Hoover found on page 1 of the recently obtained FBI file:

Information compiled by the FBI was to be furnished to the ECA. The "European Recovery Program," as referenced in the subject line of Hoover's memo, involved investigating applicants for positions with the ECA, according to the National Archives. The Program was outwardly designed to provide financial support and economic recovery to war-ravaged areas. 

Pages 4-5 of the FBI file consist of McCormick's 1949 application to the ECA. His listed employment history:

Note McCormick's employment from 1941-1946 with the OPA, the Office of Price Administration. The OPA was a federal agency established in 1941 to combat inflation during World War II. 
FBI reports indicate McCormick was the OPA Director for the State of Maryland. 

It should be noted the OPA was created under the Office for Emergency Management, which, coincidentally or otherwise, employed Lewis "Pinky" Thompson during this same point in time. Thompson became a career CIA asset and was a longtime associate of future NICAP board staple and CIA man Joseph Bryan III, as explored in Wayward Sons.

The most recently obtained FBI records show that, in addition to McCormick, the OPA also employed Mary Vaughan King during the early 1940's. She was destined to be an incorporator of both Counsel Services and NICAP. From an October 1949 FBI report compiled in response to Hoover's directive to investigate McCormick for the European Recovery Program (see pages 23-24):

It appears Mary "Vaughan" King was misspelled as "Vaughn" by the reporting agent. McCormick left his position of leading the Maryland branch of the OPA and about a year later collaborated with King to incorporate Counsel Services.

It is noteworthy in 1948 McCormick then left Counsel Services, for reasons including an unsuccessful election campaign for Congress, and in 1949 secured employment with the Economic Cooperation Administration which apparently required security clearance. As documented on page 25 of the FBI file, a Mr. Richard L. Hyde of Union Central Life Insurance advised the Bureau that McCormick resigned from the company in August 1949 to take a position with the ECA. Hoover enacted instructions to launch the latest investigation of McCormick in September 1949.  

Pages 17-18 of the FBI file indicate the Bureau was made aware by a confidential informant at the Civil Service Commission that McCormick was investigated in 1941 and 1942 for suitability for employment with the Office of Price Administration. McCormick came to be politically well connected through his work, listing Gov. Lane of Maryland as a personal reference. Lane recommended McCormick for the European Recovery Program. Similarly, Gov. Bowles of Connecticut was interviewed during the course of the 1949 investigation by the Bureau due to the governor's former employment with the OPA and familiarity with McCormick.

Counsel Services and the ECA

    Correlating the above circumstances with previously explored information, we see Leo McCormick launched Counsel Services, along with associates Mary Vaughan King and L.G. Shreve, in 1947. The ad below was obtained from the March 10, 1947, edition of The (Baltimore) Evening Sun:

March 1949 letter obtained from the CIA, written by future NICAP chairman of the board and then-DCI Roscoe Hillenkoetter, establishes an ongoing relationship between the Agency and the ECA. Hillenkoetter sought to up economic intelligence information supplied from the ECA from levels of "SECRET and lower" to "all classifications, including TOP SECRET": 

1949 clipping indicates by May of that year Counsel Services was working "under ECA auspices" in China:

1950 article reported Counsel Services had "specialists" under contract to the ECA, working in China and abroad:


Counsel Services and NICAP

    In 1956, NICAP was incorporated by T. Townsend Brown along with Counsel Services officers Mary Vaughan King and Thomas D. O'Keefe. A note later penned by Brown (see pages 22-24 of NICAP records) indicates he had an ongoing relationship with Counsel Services. The alliance dated back to no later than 1951 and Brown's apparently unsuccessful efforts to obtain funding from the Defense Department for his Project Winterhaven, a seemingly ill-advised exploration of antigravity technology.  

Brown, King, and O'Keefe formally incorporated NICAP, as shown on the 1956 NICAP certificate of incorporation (see page 3):

An inordinately expensive contract was immediately submitted by Counsel Services to NICAP, stipulating consultants and directors may be retained to work under the supervision of O'Keefe and King (see pages 6-7):

Fascinatingly, O'Keefe's employment history reveals he was a Deputy Director, Commodities Branch, at the State Department in 1947 (see page 192). According to his work history on file with NICAP, O'Keefe's responsibilities at State included sitting on a board charged with selecting personnel for foreign assignments (see page 39).

One such consultant apparently retained as an early NICAP organizer was the enigmatic Nicholas de Rochefort. As explored at length in Wayward Sons, Rochefort was a psychological warfare expert, almost certainly a CIA asset, and credited with founding The Committee of One Million in 1953. The Committee became recognized by historians as the most well-known aspect of the wealthy and powerful China lobby, circumstances we might correlate with both the Counsel Services operations abroad and Rochefort's 1956 work on the upstart NICAP.


    At this point in the ongoing research, it could be considered quite feasible to think it extremely likely the launch of NICAP reflected operations of the CIA. While that does not in itself allow conclusions about the motives and intentions of the entire cast of characters, it is indeed reasonable to question why the UFO subculture has so long averted from the available documentation. 

The more popular narrative opts instead to frame the mid 20th century intelligence community as tyrannically oppressive of UFO activism and as persecutors of NICAP. The fact of the matter is not nearly as clear cut. Official documents actually suggest that not only did the CIA have a number of evolving interests in the activities of NICAP, including reasons that went far beyond UFOs, but outright facilitated the birth of the organization. The UFO subculture may be guilty in some instances of stubbornly clinging to a past that never actually existed in the first place.