Sunday, May 22, 2022

Hall, Keyhoe and the FBI

    Richard Hall served as Donald Keyhoe's assistant in the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena. He is credited as the driving force behind The UFO Evidence, a 1964 report embodying some 750 of what NICAP deemed its most compelling cases. The organization compiled over 5,000 UFO reports by that point in time. 

Hall largely ran day-to-day NICAP operations with a typically understaffed office. Keyhoe is remembered as an off-site manager, perhaps most effective at pursuing public relations and appearances. This provided Hall opportunities to organize projects, conduct research, and coordinate the growing number of NICAP subcommittees, the structure of which he is credited with designing. 

It was Hall holding down the fort at NICAP headquarters on Connecticut Avenue in Washington when the CIA came calling in 1965, as explored in a recent blogpost and WAYWARD SONS: NICAP and the IC. He loaned materials to officers dispatched from the CIA Contact Division for what a now-declassified Agency document indicates was delivery to its Office of Scientific Intelligence. The OSI was composing an evaluation of UFOs at the request of DCI John McCone. The declassified documents do not support the NICAP narrative of an orchestrated CIA and Air Force cover-up.

FBI files on Richard Hall show he was a quick study of Maj. Keyhoe. Hall quickly picked up the technique of requesting Director Hoover clarify FBI official policy on investigating UFOs, circumstances Hoover repeatedly addressed and minimized. The official FBI position probably reflected that Hoover sincerely had no interests in UFOs, at least not until the topic would bleed into areas for which the Bureau considered itself responsible.

Hall got wind of FBI agents reportedly taking an interest in a photo from a case in Flint, MI. Part of his resulting and inquisitive 1960 letter to Hoover:  

The above linked records obtained from the FBI pertaining to Hall do not include a response from Hoover to the above inquiry. I speculate that may be because Hoover did not respond and ignored the query, other than having the letter from Hall placed in his file of correspondence.

This is a throwback to previous exchanges between Keyhoe and Hoover. A 1958 letter written by the major to the FBI chief included the following questions (see page 5):

Keyhoe further requested "an interview with an FBI official acquainted with the facts, and with the FBI policy which may be involved." I guess one could admire his determination if nothing else.

In Hoover's 1958 response (see pages 2-3), he explained to Keyhoe the FBI did not investigate UFO sightings and did not issue instructions not to talk about them to those who report sightings. It was not a function of the Bureau, Hoover continued, to make character investigations of UFO witnesses. The FBI had no information concerning UFOs which could be released, which did not imply it had information which could not be released. 

In closing, Hoover acknowledged Keyhoe's request to interview an FBI official. "Since this Bureau's policy in connection with unidentified flying objects has been fully set forth above," the FBI director concluded, "you may feel that the requested interview is not now necessary.": 

Hall's correspondence with the FBI included apparent efforts to offer assistance to the Bureau. In one instance in 1962, Hall supplied Hoover with a NICAP report compiled on Frank Stranges (view FBI files compiled on the good doctor of divinity). It had come to NICAP's attention, Hall explained to Hoover, the Bureau had investigated Stranges, so NICAP wished to provide the FBI an overview of its experience with Stranges and offer further information as requested. 

Pamphlet by "Former Special
Investigator" Stranges
Hall and Keyhoe often seemed to take exception to individuals exploiting the UFO topic such as Stranges, who launched the story of Venusian Valiant Thor. Hoover did not seem to share such concern. I don't think Hoover cared in the least about honesty and integrity in the UFO subculture. The FBI director took interest if and when such behavior became criminal or, in the case of Stranges, came to stretching the truth about relationships with the FBI. 

Hoover discovered that those attending the lectures of Stranges and reading his literature were often left with the incorrect impression he was a former FBI agent. This seemed to be what Hoover was concerned about, and instructed agents in 1962 that Stranges "should be admonished" to cease implying an affiliation in any way.

As explored in a recent blogpost, FBI agents were similarly dispatched in 1954 to pay pulp writer and editor Ray Palmer a visit to clarify the Bureau's displeasure with being granted a starring role in his sensational saucer stories. The misrepresentation and exploitation of the FBI was Hoover's concern, as compared to the ethical shortcomings of writers and UFO investigators as NICAP seemed to have tried to urge the director to monitor and patrol. 

J Edgar Hoover
It could also be interpreted Keyhoe and Hall tried less successfully than they hoped to build bridges with the FBI by framing themselves as honest saucer brokers. Hoover was diplomatic but wasn't biting and, frankly, NICAP probably greatly overestimated Hoover's commitments to honesty and integrity.

Further example of NICAP efforts to build bridges with the Bureau may be observed in a 1957 letter of congratulations Keyhoe wrote to Hoover about the FBI work on the "Trip to Venus" swindle. Career conman Harold J. Berney was arrested after using a UFO-inspired story about his travels to Venus to separate a woman from $38,000. Factoring inflation, that's approaching 400 grand. 

A resulting article stated Keyhoe congratulated Hoover for exposing the fraud and offered full NICAP cooperation in securing evidence of other false UFO claims (see pages 184-185). It's a bit difficult for me to envision Keyhoe was not being obtuse when he emphasized potential FBI interest in the false UFO claims of the Berney case as compared to financial extortion perpetrated by a career criminal. I suspect Keyhoe was attempting to capitalize on potential advantageous public relations while simultaneously encouraging Hoover to get in the business of UFO fact-checking, or at least Keyhoe's version of it. The article went on to explain Hoover diplomatically yet carefully responded to Keyhoe, "I have received your letter of May 29, 1957, concerning our activities in the 'Trip to Venus' case and I want to thank you for your thoughtful congratulations."    

The above linked FBI records were obtained over the course of writing and conducting research for WAYWARD SONS. In January 2021 the FBI advised a document yet to be processed for the FOIA and potentially responsive to my request on Richard Hall was in the possession of the National Archives and Records Administration, or NARA. FBI identified the document as 100-HQ-359927 Serial 41. I subsequently filed a FOIA request to NARA.

In recent months NARA provided what proved to be the 3-page document, which contains two pages of a 1961 FBI memo from the Washington Field Office to Director Hoover on a William Francis Johnston. It appears the FBI was trying to determine the activities and interests of Johnston, particularly including his interaction with NICAP:

Hall was apparently interviewed by Special Agent Fisher, who determined Johnston, of Long Island, submitted a NICAP "Membership Subscription Application" in 1959:

SA Fisher further discovered Johnston sought assistance from Keyhoe and NICAP to secure a speaker for a civic group. Keyhoe and Hall each indicated they were unable to specifically recall Johnston or if they supplied a speaker, while office notes provided by Hall to FBI suggested they offered to help, which was essentially part of the NICAP mission.

Curious to see what else the file contained, earlier this year I requested NARA provide FBI file 100-HQ-359927 in its entirety. NARA advised in an April 13 email that William Francis Johnston was the subject of the requested records, compiled as part of a domestic security investigation created between March 1942 and January 1972, consisting of about 400 pages.  

The estimated time to process the file under the FOIA is 39 months. Current cost for a reproduction, or pdf in my specific circumstance, is 80 cents per page, or about $320. It should be noted it is not necessary to pay to have files processed and, once processed, they may be viewed for free at the NARA facility in College Park, MD. I am therefore of the opinion the first step is to have the material made available for release, then worry about how to obtain and view it, thus I proceeded with the request.

Perhaps Mr. Johnston was involved in some type of employment requiring security clearance. Perhaps he was an asset of the FBI, or maybe he was of interest for any number of other reasons, or all of the above. It could nonetheless be considered interesting his path intersected with 1959 NICAP. I look forward to eventually reading more about William Francis Johnston and the FBI.  


Recommended further reading:

Cold War Cash, Politics and Saucer Stories

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

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