CIA Paper Trail Muddies Claims of Forgery and October Surprise Denial

Richard J. Brenneke was an Oregon real estate executive who claimed to have worked for CIA and their proprietary airline companies, including Air America and Intermountain Aviation. As a result of his claimed role in CIA matters and the October Surprise, he testified before Congress on the October-Surprise allegations and its investigations into CIA drug trafficking. He produced documents that appeared to be from CIA, but which were later dismissed as forgeries. This was a crucial issue for Congressional inquiries and law enforcement, as it went to the heart of Brenneke’s credibility. Following the refutation from CIA, media outlets accepted the premise that Brenneke was a conman. New documents undermine CIA’s evidence that the CIA letter provided by Brenneke was a forgery.

A copy of the CIA letter was among the files collected by Danny Casolaro before his death, and were recently rediscovered after independent investigator Christian Hansen photographed the set of files. The full letter can be seen below, but it was summarized by the New York Times thusly:

He provided a letter of reference under a C.I.A. letterhead, dated June 20, 1979, confirming that he had been employed by the agency for 13 years and saying, ”We found him to be thorough, competent and very trustworthy.”

The letter said in part that Mr. Brenneke … left at his own request and was eligible to be rehired. The C.I.A. said it does not comment on employees.

While it is possible that the letters produced were forgeries, CIA’s reasons for concluding that they are forgeries are highly flawed. CIA released a memo calling Brenneke and his associate Heinrich Rupp “CIA impostors” and another from William M. Baker, then Director of Public Affairs for CIA, denying Brenneke had any relationship with CIA. While correctly pointing out that CIA often does not confirm employment, the memo also states that the person who allegedly signed the letters produced by Brenneke was not the Director of Personnel at the time and had left the Agency years before. While it’s true that the individual had retired from CIA, new documents show that he quickly returned to the position he had previously held within the Agency.

Importantly, the memo from William Baker specifies that “a search of records was then undertaken to determine whether Mr. Brenneke had been employed or associated in any capacity with the Agency. … The Agency had no relationship with Mr. Brenneke. The Agency decided on the basis of what appeared to be a doctored letter to deny Mr. Brenneke’s claimed affiliation.” [Emphasis added]

In short, the Agency denied that Brenneke and Rupp were affiliated with CIA because there were no records on them and the letter appeared to be doctored based on the previous retirement of the person who had allegedly signed the letter. While this logic appears sound, the facts reveal a much more complicated story.

As a result of his testimony and affidavits to Congress and the courts, Brenneke was brought up on charges of making false statements to a judge. He was ultimately acquitted of all charges. The jury foreman told a reporter that the entire jury was “extremely convinced that Mr. Brenneke was not guilty of any of the charges.” In the course of the trial, it was discovered through CIA documents and testimony that the Agency had files on Brenneke and Rupp, and that the latter had been trained by Intermountain Aviation, a CIA proprietary company. In other words, the Agency connection and files that they were unable to find had, in fact, existed.

While this may be somewhat difficult to reconcile with the facts as reported by CIA, it’s nothing compared to the labyrinthian bizarreness of Robert S. Wattles’ employment history with the Agency.

memo to the Director of the FBI from two years prior said that CIA officials had the Special Agent in Charge at Alexandria that Wattles was retired and currently in Bangkok. One CIA memo (see below) lists Robert S. Wattles as the Director of Personnel from February 1968 through January 1971. This would seem to be consistent with the statements made by CIA, that he was no longer the Director of Personnel and had left the Agency years before. However, a letter from CIA in November 1972 once again identifies Robert S. Wattle as the Director of Personnel – with a signature that seems to match the one in the Brenneke letter, albeit in jerkier lettering.

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 2.21.55 PM

CIA memos from the following October identify Robert S. Wattles as alternately the Acting and Associate Deputy Director for Management and Services, while another memo from the same month states that “Bob Wattles has announced his intentions to retire 31 December [1973].” While this is strange, especially considering Mr. Wattles had previously left his position as Director of Personnel only to return to it within a few months, it is still consistent with CIA’s statements that he had left the Agency years before the letter allegedly written in 1979.

It is, however, impossible to reconcile with the CIA letter from April 25, 1978 that once again identifies Mr. Wattles as the Director of Personnel for CIA. Even if Mr. Wattles had once again retired from the Agency on the following day, it would have been only a year and a half before the alleged Brenneke letter. This timeframe is incompatible with the one put forward in William Baker’s 1988 memo which stated that Mr. Wattles “had left the Agency years before.”

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 2.18.42 PM

The language used in the 1972 letter matches the 1978 letter with the typical rigidity displayed by bureaucratic form letters.

While this doesn’t necessarily mean that the Brenneke letter is real, it does make it more likely and it proves that the Agency’s evidence that the letter is a forgery was inaccurate, incomplete and misleading. This raises several new questions to be explored in the future.

  1. Why did the letter state that Brenneke was employed by the Agency, instead of Air America?
  2. To the untrained eye, the signatures appear to be a match – what do experts think?
  3. Is the increased jerkiness in the 1979 signature due to Mr. Wattles having aged seven years, or is it because someone was imitating his signature?
  4. If it is a forged signature, how did Brenneke know what Wattles’ signature looked like enough to imitate it?
  5. Why did Robert S. Wattles leave the Director of Personnel position in 1971 for another position in CIA, then return to be the Director of Personnel again by late 1972, retire from that at the end of 1973 and return, once again, to be the Director of Personnel for CIA in April 1978?
  6. Where did Mr. Wattles work in 1976 when CIA informed FBI that he had retired?
  7. When did Robert S. Wattles permanently leave the Agency?

See the Brenneke letter, selected CIA memos on Brenneke, and selected CIA memos on Robert S. Wattles below. The 1972 Wattles letter can be seen here and the citation/transcription of the 1978 Wattles letter can be seen here or on page 606 of the The Secret War Against the Jews by John Loftus and Mark Aarons.

https://archive.org/download/BrennekeLetter/Brenneke%20Letter_text.pdf

https://archive.org/download/BrennekeMemos/Brenneke%20memos_text.pdf

https://archive.org/download/WattlesMemos/Wattles%20memos_text.pdf

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18 comments

  1. The career of Robert Wattles is not as complicated as you paint it. The Washington Post has an obituary for Robert S. Wattles (December 7, 2004; Page B07) that states: “Mr. Wattles was an administrative support officer who worked at the CIA and a predecessor agency for 27 years until 1973. His assignments took him to field offices in Japan and the Philippines. His professional honors included the CIA’s Distinguished Intelligence Medal. ”

    This is consistent with the memo you give from October 3, 1973, which says that Wattles announced he planned to retire on December 31.

    The CIAs CREST system already has online dozens of letters, memos, and notes from Wattles, none of which postdates 1973. (None of these, by the way, is a letter of reference.) This is also consistent with the obituary statement that he retired in 1973.

    Another memo you give above (apparently interviewing Wattles after his retirement about historical policy/practice) states that he was Director of Personnel from Feb. 1968 to Jan. 1971. This is consistent with other available CREST documents. For example, a May 1968 document (cia-rdp80b01676r001600200003-2) has Wattles as D/P.

    In addition to the CREST documents, the CIA records released by the JFK AARB also have dozens of references to Wattles, some of which go back to the 1940s. (Check Mary Ferrell.) None contradict Wattles serving as Director of Personnel 1968-1971.

    By January 2, 1971, CREST documents show Wattles submitting memos to the Director of Personnel (CIA-RDP84-00780R003900230012-4), indicating he no longer held this position. By October 1973, as your documents show, he was “associate deputy director for management and services.”

    The memo further shows that they had, strangely, taken to calling the “vice deputy-directors” “acting deputy-directors.” As a good bureaucrat, Wattles objected to this, and the very memo you have reflects the change to “associate deputy director.” The division of Management and Services was a rebranding of the division of Administration, which took place in March 1973. Nothing contradictory here either.

    As far as documents released by the CIA (and FBI in one case) show then, there is no inconsistency whatsoever. That Wattles moved from Personnel to Management and Services does not indicate a gap in his career.

    The inconsistency comes from documents that were NOT released by the CIA. Putting Brenneke’s forged “letter of reference” aside, the other two documents you say are inconsistent were not released by the CIA through any of its regular channels for declassified documents.

    The 1972 document is from the “Friends of Micronesia Newsletter,” not the CIA. There are a number of 1972 documents from Wattles in CREST. Take a look and see what his title is. If they conflict with the FOM document, which do you believe?

    Loftus and Aarons don’t even bother to reproduce their putative 1978 document, why accept this as authentic at all? That it is dated 5 years after the CIA, in an internal document, announced his pending resignation at the end of 1973, can only bode ill for its authenticity.

    Rather than complain that the CIA released material doesn’t fit the material someone else claims, without visible support, is from the CIA, a simpler approach might be to reconsider the accuracy of their claims.

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    • I cited and uploaded several documents from CREST (in addition to reviewing every document on CREST that even mentioned Wattles), and but I also explicitly didn’t paint the matter as simple – rather I posed several questions at the end, because the documents and citations DO raise new questions. As for Loftus, the book doesn’t reproduce any documents – which was not uncommon for a book published in 1994. The claim is more than enough to raise new questions, which is all that I did.

      “Rather than complain that the CIA released material doesn’t fit the material someone else claims, without visible support, is from the CIA, a simpler approach might be to reconsider the accuracy of their claims.” Perhaps you missed the section at the end where I addressed the possibility that it was a forgery, and acknowledged it was an open question.

      I find it interesting that you anonymously object to questions being raised and new FOIA requests being filed to find out more by having documents released, especially since I was able to find a copy of a document and a citation for another, neither of which have been challenged on their merits, and accusing one of the US Government’s own investigators of forging/lying about a document – without any evidence that this is so.

      And of course, the Agency’s denials are completely credible. They never deny anything that actually happened, like Rupp’s ties to a CIA proprietary which they denied but were forced to admit under cross-reference.

      I also find it interesting that you think there is significance in the Mary Ferrell Foundation not having any documents mentioning Wattles after 1973 when the majority of their documents predate that and there is no reason to expect a document mentioning Wattles to appear in their database.

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  2. I’m sorry you took my comment to mean that I didn’t appreciate your FOIA work. I am fully in favor of filing FOIA requests, the more of the record that is on hand, the better. I’m already looking at the DOJ reports on INSLAW and Casolaro you dug up, and they are very interesting stuff. I wish they had been available earlier.

    The CIA material you presented above is very useful as well, it clearly shows the paper trail that all bureaucracies leave behind them. It’s the non-CIA material you try to integrate with it that I find questionable.

    I have no doubt the CIA will lie under certain circumstances, but in the case of Brenneke’s “letter of reference”, I am now convinced that they did not. The proof is that his letter is dated 1979 but signed by Robert Wattles. Of all the things to lie about, one of the most difficult has to be the dates someone worked at a desk job.

    First, the personnel records for Personnel personnel HAVE to be present in the CIA, and anyone with authority, like the SSI or HPSCI, can look at these without restriction. These are not field officers, these are bureaucrats at CIA headquarters. To lie to the Congressional oversight committees on this is absurd, you’ll be caught right away.

    Second, personnel directors do nothing but write on paper all day long, and there are dozens of pieces of paper from Wattles in the declassified record already. It’s not a question of lying about one piece of paper, they’d have to lie about many many pieces of paper.

    This is the basis of my conviction that Wattles’ journey through the CIA is just as described. To show it was not, one must find inconsistencies in the CIA record. The point of shuffling through all the declassified documents on CREST is to find these, but I don’t. Instead, I see all the records I mentioned above that fit the description of Wattles’ career. You misunderstood my reference to Mary Ferrell, it just provides a bunch of records that confirm the claim that from 1968 to the end of 1970 Wattles was d/pers.

    Because of all this confirmation, I believe that Wattles moved out of Personnel in 1971, and lo, I find a 15 November 1971 letter signed by F. W. M. Janney (Frederick Wistar Morris Janney) as Personnel Director. This confirms my faith.

    Like Wattles before, Janney leaves pieces of paper behind, even more than Wattles, going without interruption from 1971 to June 1978 (letter to Gerald Hughes). This convinces me that the Friends of Micronesia letter is no good and sets my suspicions of the Loftus and Aarons document in stone.

    Janney’s paper trail stops in 1978, and in February 1979 there is a reference to a memo for an acting director of personnel. I suspect this is because Janney died of a heart attack in January 1979, and they had to appoint a replacement.

    I haven’t found d/pers documents for the rest of 1979 to 1980, but by 1981 James N. Glerum was Director, so he is my candidate for the director of personnel who WOULD have signed Brenneke’s letter 1979 if it had been real.

    (It’s actually an absurd letter, full of things that would never be said. Find another letter for a CIA pilot that tells you what planes he flew and where. As for the cover letter pretending that Wattles was his buddy, Brenneke has enough gall to divide into three parts for Caesar to conquer.)

    Throughout the record as the CIA has been forced to declassify it, there are no contradictions with their claim that Wattles retired in 1973. This is what makes Brenneke a forger. Perhaps the FOM newsletter and Loftus/Aarons just got their letters from a bad source, rather than making them up themselves. Don’t know which, but I am convinced they are worthless as documents for writing history.

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    • I appreciate your clarification, however the documents on CREST still leave numerous holes in the paper trail (setting aside the fact that many documents are not reviewed for CREST and most of the documents that are reviewed are never added it, even in part), such as not actually having confirmation of his retirement or anything documenting his transfer/demotion from Director of Personnel.

      The essential problem is this: there is a document that has not been shown as a forgery, and a respected researcher who specializes in this field who has another which would seem to corroborate the date.

      “Because of all this confirmation, I believe that Wattles moved out of Personnel in 1971, and lo, I find a 15 November 1971 letter signed by F. W. M. Janney (Frederick Wistar Morris Janney) as Personnel Director. This confirms my faith.” It confirms that in 1971 Wattles wasn’t the Director of Personnel – something already admitted, however one of the points of the article was that he seemed to have been shuffled around the Agency some.

      “I haven’t found d/pers documents for the rest of 1979 to 1980, but by 1981 James N. Glerum was Director.” In other words, no documents have yet been found by either of us about the crucial time period – leaving the question open, which is all this article raised. I didn’t claim it confirmed anything, even the headline was rather understated by saying that the paper trail muddies the claims of forgery and that even the claims of forgery are very thinly backed up by the Agency. At the end, I raised a number of questions, the first four of which all acknowledge that the issue is not at all cut and dry. The first asking about an apparent incongruity, the second about the need for someone who specializes in handwriting/signatures to look at the issue, the third explicitly asking if the minor differences in the signature were due to it being forged, and the fourth asking how Brenneke would have known what signature to imitate.

      As for “First, the personnel records for Personnel personnel HAVE to be present in the CIA, and anyone with authority, like the SSI or HPSCI, can look at these without restriction. These are not field officers, these are bureaucrats at CIA headquarters. To lie to the Congressional oversight committees on this is absurd, you’ll be caught right away.” That’s not exactly true, the Agency has lied to and misled Congress a number of times… including about personnel who have been with the Agency. Take a look at the article on Morton “Tony” Barrows Jackson and Watergate for one, and the Congressional Inquiry about CIA Involvement in the Watergate and Ellsberg/Fielding Break-in – where Jackson’s CIA employment was deliberately buried.

      This wasn’t the only time this sort of thing has happened, since the HSCA was also compromised by the fact that the Agency lied about their liaison and his timeline of employment…. “First dismissed by the CIA as possibly a mere “routing indicator,” and after the Agency denied any affiliation with the DRE in 1963, “Howard” was revealed to be George Joannides, an experienced career CIA officer known at the time only as a liaison between the CIA and the House Select Committee on Assassinations during their late 1970s investigation into the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Joannides kept his 1963 activities secret from the HSCA, in strict violation of the CIA’s agreement with the HSCA that no operational officer from the time of Kennedy’s murder would work with the HSCA.”

      Also, while the Agency did provide the Task Force with access to some documents, they still have a history of burying extremely relevant ones and right now we unfortunately have no idea what documents were reviewed.

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  3. To be clear, I acknowledge that this is an ongoing and important question and if it can be directly addressed through primary documents that would be ideal. There is a substantial FBI file on Brenneke that might well shed light on the subject, but unfortunately I do not have the $400 to cover the duplication costs. I’m still trying to get the Bureau to waive the duplication costs on the main Iran-Contra file, which seems more likely to succeed (and is more relevant overall) than just the Brenneke file. I’m still waiting for a page count on their files relating to the October Surprise investigation.

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  4. Also, since CIA never acknowledged my FOIA requests relating to this I will refile soon through MuckRock. I’m in agreement that there are problems, but one of the problems is figuring out where the problem is – especially given the way CIA seems to have carefully phrased their non-denial denial of an association with Brenneke, and especially given the Agency misleading denial of a relationship with Rupp.

    In the meantime, if anyone wants to help cover the costs of the FBI file on Brenneke, I would be very grateful. I have no doubt that those thousands of pages would shed a lot of light on the issue one way or another. One of the most damaging things the various agencies do is these limited releases which raise more questions than they answer. Their unwillingness to properly waive duplication fees only worsens this problem, which they have repeatedly complained about to Congress but refused to take basic steps to address them.

    “I find a 15 November 1971 letter signed by F. W. M. Janney (Frederick Wistar Morris Janney) as Personnel Director. This confirms my faith. Like Wattles before, Janney leaves pieces of paper behind, even more than Wattles, going without interruption from 1971 to June 1978 (letter to Gerald Hughes).” Without interruption is actually complicated by the fact that documents from 1972 and 1973 lists Harry B Fisher as the Director of Personnel. See http://www.maryferrell.org/showDoc.html?docId=60409&relPageId=108 and https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP80R01731R001900080087-3.pdf This is just one more element that complicates the question of who was Director of Personnel when.

    In other words, Janney was Director of Personnel in 1971 (https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/DOC_0005461028.pdf), stopped being Director of Personnel in 1972 and 1973 and then became Director of Personnel again. This would seem to be the same sort of personnel shuffle that the article is bringing up and raising questions over, wouldn’t it?

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  5. Yes, I agree that Harry Fisher was Director of Personnel from 1972 to 1973. Good catch; the Washington Post has a December 2000 obituary for him which indicates he, like Wattles, retired in 1973. Looking again at Daniel A. Cullen, the subject of Janney’s “1971” letter, it turns out he retired April 30 1974 (0005460083). If you look at Janney’s letter, the date of November 15 1971 should actually be Nov. 15 1974, simply an error in reading a smudged date stamp. In a June 26, 1975 memo from Janney himself (0005460091) confirms the retirement date of April 30 1974, and requests the hiring of Cullen as an independent contractor to handle FOIA requests, which they are swamped with.

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    • [Forgive the rough editing, it’s getting late and I haven’t slept well in more than a week]

      A few problems with that. Janney’s letter of 1971/1974 isn’t legible enough for me to be able to read the final digit, but CIA’s own metadata says it’s 1971. See: https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/document/0005461028 While it would be reasonable to assume the metadata is incorrect and it’s actually 1974, another letter lists Janney as Director of Personnel BEFORE Cullen’s retirement. “Looking again at Daniel A. Cullen, the subject of Janney’s “1971” letter, it turns out he retired April 30 1974 (0005460083).” So he retired in April 1974… yet more than a month before that, Janney was already listed as the Director of Personnel, on 5 February 1974. See: https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP80R01731R001900080057-6.pdf

      But wait, there’s more. 11 August 1971, Harry B Fisher is listed as Director of Personnel, and there isn’t really a chance that it’s a smudge – the year is written three times. See: https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/DOC_0001517112.pdf

      But wait… there’s more! Even earlier than that, back in May 1970, Harry B Fisher is listed as Director of Personnel. See: https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/DOC_0001496408.pdf This despite Wattles have been Director of Personnel from February 1968 to January 1971. Could it be that we had he dates on Wattles wrong, and the one memo we both saw is incorrect? Well, here’s one from June 1970 (a month after the H.B. Fisher memo) that still lists Wattles as Director of Personnel: https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/DOC_0005461485.pdf And one from April (a month before the H.B. Fisher memo) that also lists Wattles as Director of Personnel: https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/DOC_0001496402.pdf

      But wait… there’s more. In 1973, the Director of Personnel was listed as being J.F. Blake. See: https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP80R01731R001900080032-3.pdf and https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP80R01731R001900080068-4.pdf

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      • I appreciate your time, hopefully this will all be of some use in your work on CREST. I may get back to you with another comment. Just as an addendum, the “publication date” metadata given in CREST records is almost always different from the actual date on the document. Usually the pub date is a month or so earlier than the doc date, but the Janney record that gives 1971 instead of 1974 stands out as clearly an error. Names are often misspelled as well, thus Janney is listed a number of times under F. W. N. Janney as well as F. W. M. Janney. These are all common errors in this type of database system, as I know from painful experience using products like JSTOR and EBSCO.

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      • You’re right about the metadata issue, of course, which is one reason I was happy to cite other letters that muddy the question of who was Director of Personnel when, including one letter that unquestionably lists Fisher as the Director of Personnel at that time. If you come up with anything else though, I’ll be happy to consider it. We have to be ruthless with ferreting out misconceptions and misinterpretations, after all, and continually question everything – including my conclusions and the Agency’s assertions.

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