Saturday, July 23, 2022

Working the FOIA

    Earlier this year I submitted a FOIA request to the FBI for all records cross-referencing or pertaining to Ira Samuel Einhorn. The late Einhorn, dubbed the "Unicorn Killer," was convicted of the murder of his former girlfriend Holly Maddux. It is a tragic and somewhat complex saga that winds through the environmental activist community and an international trail of evading authorities.

The infamous Einhorn
Maddux disappeared in 1977 during a trip to gather her belongings from an apartment she and Einhorn previously shared in Philadelphia. A year and a half later her remains were found in a trunk in his closet. Einhorn fled to Europe and was assisted by supporters who he convinced of his innocence. He was not arrested until 1997 in France, and even then the extradition process proved complicated. 

Einhorn was eventually convicted in 2002, but not before taking the witness stand in his own defense and claiming the CIA killed Maddux. He asserted he was set up because he knew too much about the Agency's military paranormal research. The case resulted in researchers such as Mark Pilkington and Greg Bishop showing interest over the years. 

Einhorn died of reportedly natural causes in a Pennsylvania prison in 2020. For those wondering, he was called the Unicorn Killer because "Einhorn" apparently translates to "unicorn" in German.

So a few months ago some friends were discussing the case and I offered to submit a FOIA request to the FBI. The Bureau responded in May with 356 pages of records

However, the response indicated the Bureau was simply providing records which were previously offered in response to other requesters:

This means a thorough search was not actually conducted, but the request was filled by providing the material already offered in response to the same or similar requests. As once pointed out by John Greenewald, an effective means of having an additional search conducted is to promptly respond with a request for all records not included in the release.

I realize this sounds crazy. A FOIA request gets submitted for all records on XYZ, the agency responds, then the requester asks for all the records not included in all the XYZ records. Like, no, really, all the records. But this technique results in additional documents a rather surprising amount of the time. While it is indeed a little crazy, it makes a bit more sense when understood from the perspective the initial response was pretty much nothing more than giving the requester what was already provided to previous requesters.

In this specific instance, FBI notified me July 19 of an additional 4,473 pages of potentially responsive records not included in the initial response to my request:

A large number of additional documents does not always prove to be as interesting as it initially seems. For instance, sometimes 356 pages of XYZ may be stored in a much larger folder containing thousands of pages pertaining to similar cases as XYZ, perhaps from the same era or general topic. Nonetheless, one might indeed prefer to be made aware of such records and browse the material for them self. 

The quoted cost of a reproduction of the roughly 4,500 pages is $130 which may be delivered in pdf in nine monthly increments of about 500 pages each. I will probably order the material and post it as I periodically receive it.

In related FOIA news, I received 47 pages of previously released FBI records on George Hunter White in April. White was a Federal Bureau of Narcotics agent who parlayed his career underperformance into becoming a member of the MKULTRA crew. He ran houses of ill repute for the CIA where hookers dosed unsuspecting Johns in the name of national security and science. 

According to John Marks, the overindulging White once had a fender bender in the neighborhood of a CIA-sponsored brothel, resulting in the Agency paying cash for damages to the other driver in an effort to protect the cover of Operation Climax. He reportedly once used a gun to shoot his initials in the ceiling of a New Orleans hotel room. He's also the guy that released hallucinogenic chemicals on a New York subway for the Agency you may have heard about. Real charmer, this guy. 

In response to my request for all records not included in the initial response, FBI replied July 20 that additional responsive records were transferred to the National Archives:

I will post from my Twitter account as I learn more about the number of pages involved and as I obtain the files. NARA will advise of the circumstances in response to a request for the material.

As I discussed in WAYWARD SONS: NICAP and the IC, the FBI may offer insights into CIA personnel and activities that are not always accessible through the Agency. Director Hoover had his nose in virtually everything, and FBI files may reflect espionage investigations, background checks for security clearance, and any number of circumstances which provide more material than released by CIA.

Along those lines, readers of WAYWARD SONS will recall the significance of the Office of Policy Coordination, a 1948-1952 front for the CIA and State Department. From the book:


    In 1949 the OPC had a total of 302 personnel. By 1952 it had 2,812 with an additional 3,142 overseas contract personnel. The 1949 OPC budget was $4.7 million. Just three years later, in 1952, it was $82 million. By the time of its merge with the Office of Special Operations, OPC activities included worldwide covert missions conducted out of some 47 overseas stations. 

The previously cited 1973 CIA intelligence study and its assertion the Clandestine Services stepped up the pace thereafter could certainly be interpreted as significant, if not outright mind boggling. The study references a CIA-composed history of the OPC made up of five volumes, consisting of 722 pages plus three appendices and eleven attachments (To the best of my knowledge, the five-volume OPC history has not yet been released, although a partially redacted version of its introduction is contained in the referenced 1973 CIA Studies in Intelligence).

The OPC originally operated on the watch of Director of Central Intelligence Roscoe Hillenkoetter. Col. Joseph Bryan III was recruited and ran a psy warfare subdivision consisting of such notable characters as E. Howard Hunt. Both Hillenkoetter and Bryan were destined to play influential roles on the board of directors of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena.

Curiously, Hillenkoetter's CIA successor, DCI Walter Bedell Smith, expressed interest in the use of the UFO topic as a psy warfare tool. He wanted to know "what use could be made of the UFO phenomenon in connection with US psychological warfare efforts," according to the CIA itself. In 1950, DCI Smith took complete control of the Office of Policy Coordination from the State Department. Surrounding circumstances and the cast of characters are explored at length in WAYWARD SONS.

On July 21 the FBI responded to a 2021 FOIA request on the Office of Policy Coordination. All responsive material was withheld in full:

The cited exemptions involve privacy and security issues. I am in the process of appealing the FBI determination to withhold the material, most, if not all, of which is now over 70 years old.

I recommend those interested in studying the FOIA process (and particularly obtaining related resources) follow Beth Bourdon, a fulltime attorney and parttime FOIA activist. She maintains a Patreon which has proven valuable in furthering my understandings of FOIA appeals as well as related steps of effectively navigating the entire process.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Skinwalker Transparency and Burden of Proof

    The Uintah County Sheriff's Office (UCSO) issued a response to a records request that it shows no record or contact at the property popularly known as Skinwalker Ranch. Records are no longer kept on file that date earlier than 2007, the UCSO added in its response dated July 7. The request specifically sought all records cross-referencing or pertaining to Skinwalker Ranch, Sherman Ranch, Myers Ranch and/or the physical address of the property, which was provided in the request, with a date range of 1983 to present.

The inquiry resulted from a June Twitter exchange with Brandon Fugal, in which the current ranch owner and television personality alluded to law enforcement responses to the property reportedly taking place during the 1980s. Following requests for citations, Fugal provided a link to an interview of an apparent former Uintah County Deputy Sheriff, Kris Porritt. I indicated I was interested in original law enforcement reports resulting from any such police responses, as compared to witness testimony. Fugal then provided me with the contact info of an associate he suggested I contact for further inquiry. 

I subsequently had a series of email exchanges with the individual, who initially offered to speak by phone. I advised that I may not require that much of their time and attention, further explaining I was seeking either law enforcement records or information to assist me in submitting a request for such records. They clarified they do not have any police reports. 

At my request, Fugal's associate helpfully provided additional information that would potentially support an effective records inquiry. It was after my email exchange with them that the request was submitted to the Uintah County Sheriff's Office. The person asked me to inform them of results, to which I agreed.

Saturday I emailed the individual a copy of the response from the UCSO and offered them an opportunity to comment for this blogpost. They responded that they respectfully do not wish to comment, nor do they give consent to use their name or any information they shared regarding the ranch. I opt to honor their request, curious as the circumstances may be. 

The irony of the turn of events is rather striking, given Fugal's consistent claims of transparency, combined with the fact it was he who recommended in the first place I consult his associate concerning my search for law enforcement records. In the event you're wondering, the information shared with me was not shockingly damning by any means, but suffice it to say neither did it strongly support urban legends associated with police calls to Skinwalker Ranch. 

It was after I provided both Fugal and his associate the UCSO response, and after I informed Fugal of aspects of the email exchange with his associate (in order to offer Fugal an opportunity to comment on the specific circumstances), that the individual - who initially offered to speak by phone - advised me of their request to neither be named nor quoted. We can only speculate exactly how that evolved.

Offered an opportunity to address the circumstances, Fugal responded in a long message that he spoke to his associate and indicated they are concerned I have a "clear negative bias." According to Fugal, they therefore do not want their name associated with an attempt to disparage witnesses. Fugal suggested he applauds what I do "relative to calling out people who are exploiting the phenomenon or spreading disinformation and lies," yet alternatively went on to state I give voice to people who hide behind a cloak of hypocritical skepticism or self-righteous critical thinking. Some, he stated, are clearly dishonest. He also stated he hopes I am honest and not a disinformation agent.

Fugal was obviously much less inhibited about commenting than the person who will remain nameless who he initially recommended I hit up for info. Directing our attention back to his original statements about law enforcement records, Fugal stated the lack of corroborating records "doesn't make the fact that [Porritt] went on record regarding the multiple events that occurred and his relationship with Ken Myers any less real or true. For instance, I have closed billions of dollars of transactions going back to 1991, but in countless cases couldn't give you the exact dates of groundbreaking events, transactions closing or key meetings with leaders structuring some of the most important business deals in the Intermountain West. My testimony and track record stands."

I'll let the reader decide the tenability of the argument. Fugal further asserted they have interviewed other law enforcement professionals who "recall responding to incidents in the area" that predate the Sherman and Bigelow era.

"Furthermore," Fugal continued, "we have an interview with a respected professional who had a firsthand experience coming on to the ranch in 1984, who did provide exact dates, who happened upon a freshly surgically dissected cow in the same area on the property that other strange incidents have occurred in the field just south of Homestead 1." 

The apparent respected professional and an accompanying friend were so disturbed, Fugal continued, they promptly reported the circumstances to law enforcement. Fugal hopes to obtain permission to release the account to the public, along with what he described as additional witness testimony, seemingly either ignoring or oblivious to the relative lack of value such material has to a more discerning research community not under the ether of Skinwalker lore. 

Similarly, Fugal explained how a member of his security detail interviewed many retired officers who attest to strange and disturbing activity. Their accounts go back many decades, he contends.

"Since I know you have a tendency to give weight and voice to the criticism of people with no credibility or credentials, I encourage you to continue to interact with people who actually know what they are talking about. My professional track record and history is unimpeachable, as is the case with my principal investigator/physicist, ranch manager, law enforcement & superintendent."

Fugal's remark about me giving a voice to criticism may be related to my willingness to explore the arguments of those which include James Carrion. Fugal has previously expressed disappointment to me specifically about my interest in Carrion's perspectives. I identify Carrion's criticism of the Skinwalker saga and television series as worthy of consideration, particularly in the context of Fugal's persistent suggestions the show portrays legitimate scientific study. Related posts may be found at Carrion's blog in addition to the example linked above.  

What would Fugal say to people who might feel he is attempting to stack the deck by suggesting he has documentation of law enforcement responses while no actual records of such responses, or what was originally recorded in them, is available?

"Transcribed interviews & testimony from former law enforcement stating they responded to incidents on the ranch in the mid-1980s constitutes documentation. We have verified that the people involved and cited were indeed acting in that capacity during that timeframe and have no reason to doubt their testimony or credibility. Although you were unable to obtain the actual records from the Sheriff’s office from that time period, you cannot say that the events did not occur."

Fugal directly denied he is trying to stack the deck, continuing, "My own firsthand experience (with multiple witnesses) coupled with countless events with data involving 3rd party experts has proven (so far) there is no conventional, prosaic explanation for past & present extraordinary events at Skinwalker Ranch. I respectfully request that you take a balanced view and appreciate you giving me the opportunity to respond & address your questions."

    There are a number of people in addition to James Carrion who challenge several aspects of Brandon Fugal's stated positions, and one of those people is Erica Lukes. The outspoken host of UFO Classified understands the winding Skinwalker saga and personally knows the players about as well as anybody who rolls the UFO dice.  

"When bold claims are made about a particular location having an excessive number of paranormal phenomena, the expectation for me is that they are not just narrative tall tales but are well-documented, testable events," Lukes responded. "Can the anomalous nature of these events be demonstrated beyond 'they came without warning and left without warning' that we always seem to get in such reporting? 

"If they can’t rise above the usual level of narrative story-telling, there is a presumption that errors can be introduced into the events. After all, the usual method of relating the details is done verbally from the mouths of human beings, a notoriously flawed means of recording transient events. It’s a mistake to accept verbal testimony at face value without extensive testing of that information by means of questions designed to assess the accuracy and consistency of the related information."

Some people don't see the issue as a matter of verifying claims, but suggest those who do not unquestioningly embrace the stories must be calling the supporters of those stories frauds. What would she say to them?

"No, not frauds, at least initially," Lukes explained. "Fraud comes from deliberate intent to deceive. Supporters of the claims can simply be accepting bad information by not exercising due diligence at considering all the more possible mundane explanations before opting towards the unusual, sensational ones."

What does Lukes think is most important for people to keep in mind when considering claims associated with the ranch?

"It's critical to understand that as with any extraordinary assertions, the burden of proof is on those making the assertions and not on those raising questions about them. That is real science."


    The lack of significant documentation of sensational Skinwalker claims continues to haunt the saga worse than a hitchhiking bipedal wolf. While a valid argument can be made that a lack of UCSO records does not completely negate the testimony of Porritt, the fact remains law enforcement visits to the ranch cannot be verified. More importantly, the extent anyone may have originally perceived the events as extraordinary cannot be verified. We are unable to examine descriptions of events and the interpretations of those involved as may have been entered into original police reports. This does not allow us to compare those reports to the possibly dramatic narrations recorded decades later for an entertainment-based television show. It seems the UFO subculture indeed often needs to be reminded the burden of proof is on the claimant.

As observable in various internet spaces, a concerning aspect of the online Skinwalker fan base and cast is their tendency to sensationalize until checked. They then encourage more patience for ongoing investigations, as if they have not been suggesting all along a supernatural presence is a foregone conclusion. They are promoting conclusions; many of them only deny it and urge suspension of judgment when called on it. 

Investigations, by definition, must include systematic examination. That is particularly the case if framed as scientific activity. 

One might get the idea the faithful would never tap the brakes if their claims went entirely unchallenged. When challenged, a typical response is to act as if a request for proportionate evidence is unreasonable, as if anything less than extending limitless patience and unquestioning belief is a disrespectful personal attack. All of this without so much as forming a hypothesis, identifying a sustained research objective, or proposing how progress will be measured. We're in for a long wait under such conditions.