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Author and the creator of gonzo journalism Hunter S Thompson could be expected to have an FBI file, and he does. When it was released the FBI admitted that they had destroyed parts of it during the 1990s, and what remains is a smattering of amusing irrelevances. They began their investigations into Thompson in 1967 and continued until at least 1971, but the most interesting aspect of this is that they had an investigation into him at all. They found nothing, but they never really had any reason to look in the first place.
Hunter S Thompson the… Communist?
Thompson was a subscriber to the People’s World, a Communist publication based in San Franscisco. He unsubscribed a few months after this came to the attention of the FBI, and as such was not an excuse or rationale for their ongoing investigation. It appears that what actually upset the Bureau was the 1966 book Hells Angels, based on Thompson’s own experiences spending more than a year embedded with one chapter of the gang. The gritty and at times gruesome behaviour depicted in Hells Angels concerned a lot of moral conservatives, and none more so than the cross-dressing pervert in charge of the Bureau.
The investigation covered Thompson’s 1970 attempt to get elected sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado which was (unsurprisingly) unsuccessful. The Bureau monitored news coverage, obtained copies of The Aspen Wall Poster – a newsletter Thompson published for a time, and sent agents to speak with locals near where Thompson lived. There are several amusing highlights. One local liquor store employee told them that she had seen ‘some very obscene publications come through the mail’ from NY. The Bureau file includes various press cuttings including one titled ‘Hippies may elect sheriff’.
To be fair, Thompson tried his best to upset the political establishment. His run for sheriff was on the Freak Power ticket, and he promised to legalise recreational drugs (their use, but not the drugs trade), ban any building tall enough to obscure the view of the mountains, and to rename Aspen ‘Fat City’ to try to deter investors. Thompson also shaved his head and referred to the Republican candidate (who had a crew cut) as ‘my long haired opponent’.
One of the funniest documents in the FBI file is a June 1970 memo on Aspen Wall Poster #4. It notes how ‘Under the black ink near the top of the front page, are red ink, are words which appear to be “impeach Nixon”, only they use a swastika in place of the “x”. (It is necessary to hold the paper up to a very strong light to read this)
The ‘Bad Boy’ letter
Perhaps the most amusing entry in the entire file is the very last document – a letter dated October 1970 and sent from someone claiming to have known Thompson when he was a teenager and warning about him. Written in a childish scrawl it reads:
Dear Mr. Ricks:
I think but do not know that Hunter Thompson has a police record in Louisville. He was The bad boy of our neighborhood when he was high school and college age… It would probably have been around 1954-, 1955- 6 or 7. At that time, he lived on Ransdell Ave.
I would sign my name but I am afraid I might be sued. I am interested in good government.
The memo to which this letter is attached mentions how it was received by Glen Ricks, the Republican candidate in the election for sheriff in Aspen, who then forwarded it to the FBI. It also notes how the envelope containing the letter was postmarked Aspen. But the anonymous later purports from be from someone in Lousville, Kentucky not someone in Aspen. In all likelihood this letter was sent by Hunter himself, or someone else on his behalf, as either a joke or a very low level form of psychological warfare.
The Department of Defense maintains a database summarising its collaboration with Hollywood productions. The master list for this database was released to me two years ago as the DOD Film List and since then I have obtained a handful of entries. Getting a little more creative I asked for entries on over a dozen films and today got a response with details on Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Contact, Tears of the Sun, Indiana Jones, Deja Vu and others. This provides new evidence of the Pentagon rewriting movies to suit their agenda, sometimes substantially altering the scripts in the process.
My FOIA Request
During my ongoing discussions with Matt Alford we realised that the DOD film list that I obtained back in 2014 is actually a file listing for a database, a database that Phil Strub says is incomplete. Nonetheless, even an incomplete database contains some information so in April I put in a request for all the entries on the following movies, known to have had Pentagon support:
Battle Los Angeles, Battle of Los Angeles, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Deja Vu, King Kong, Tears of the Sun, Rules of Engagement, Contact, Tomorrow Never Dies, Goldeneye, Clear and Present Danger, Patriot Games, True Lies, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, License to Kill, Karate Kid Part II.
The DOD’s response letter states that ‘the database does not contain an entry for some of the requested titles, and the entries for many titles are incomplete’. Despite this the released records do contain new information, some it quite startling.
The Collaboration Database Excerpts
Three entries include in the ‘note’ section ‘File in Georgetown Library’ – Clear and Present Danger, King Kong and Rules of Engagement. This is a reference to the large amount of pre-2002 records on the Pentagon’s collaboration with Hollywood held in a private archive by the academic Lawrence Suid. Suid has consistently refused access to this archive to anyone, since he allowed investigative journalist David Robb to look through some of the files resulting in Robb writing a scathing book about DOD propaganda.
However, most of the entries don’t include this and though some say ‘no file’ the other files may still be held by the DOD themselves. When a more complete copy of this database has been obtained I will begin requesting the files for the most prominent films and see if the Pentagon denies having any of them, as Strub has when academics and researchers have asked him.
Script Changes at the Pentagon’s Request
The collaboration database excerpts make a few mentions of changes to scripts being made in exchange for DOD production assistance. The note on Clear and Present Danger says:
Requested aircraft, ships, locations. After an extended period of script negotiations, approved assistance. Use of aircraft carrier to launch attack on drug lords.
The details of these changes I have previously written about but the whole process took five months of rewriting and changed numerous elements in the script. A fuller account of the assistance provided by the DOD is available through this document from the Defense Intelligence Agency, which shows that the Pentagon and possibly other government agencies reached out the Mexican government for permission to move two MH-60 Blackhawks into Mexico for filming.
For Contact the database provides more information. The note says:
Originally a fair amount of silly military depiction. Negotiated civilianization of almost all military parts. Minimal military depiction, but positive (benign). Allowed use of vehicles & helicopters for National Guard sequence. No file.
Contact was always one of the more surprising entries in the database since the storyline doesn’t involve the military in any significant way but this shows that even movies that receive minimal assistance can have their scripts substantially altered. The original script clearly satirised the military and these aspects were removed or attached to civilian characters instead just so the producers of Contact could borrow a few vehicles for one sequence.
The tale of License to Kill is quite odd. The note records how:
Initially, filmmakers did not approach Pentagon, believing they could not obtain assistance. After seeing script, Marines indicated they would assist if certain scenes revised. As a result, company did receive assistance, particularly with filming of take off from helicopter assault carrier.
This is strange for several reasons – (1) the Bond films have been friendly with the Pentagon since Goldfinger, (2) How did the Marines see the script if the film’s makers did not send it to them? (3) What were the changes that were made, again in exchange for minor assistance from the DOD?
The most explicit account in the released excerpts is for Tears in the Sun, a movie the CIA praised but also labelled ‘just Rambo in the jungle’. The database says:
After lengthy script negotiations – mostly to increase military realism among the SEAL team members and between the team and higher authority, and also to prevent the depiction of the US Govt as complicit in nasty conspiracies overseas – approved filming in Hawaii with Navy helicopters.
Notice that it doesn’t say they prevented the depiction of the US military as complicit in nasty conspiracies, but the US government. So these were not simply about making the Pentagon look good for recruitment purposes, but are nationalistic, statist propaganda. The DOD used similar leverage on Clear and Present Danger where scenes depicting the White House and senior government officials as reckless and incompetent. On the other hand they very much encouraged the negative depiction of the State Department in Rules of Engagement, so exactly where the Pentagon stands politically is not certain.
There are a couple of amusing items. On Iron Man 2 the database describes how the Pentagon:
Gave the visual effects department access so they could meticulously and accurately reflect realistic aircraft markings on the War Machine character. The Air Force assisted in designing the War Machine markings.
This is the form of assistance that productions companies get but, it appears, do not have to pay for. Instead the US taxpayers are paying so that Pentagon officers can sit around designing the paint job on a supporting character in a Marvel film. Oh beautiful, for spacious skies…
King Kong also has a curious history with the DOD. The producers of the 1933 original asked the Pentagon to borrow some planes for the climax but were turned down because such aircraft ‘were commercially available’. So the producer ‘went to Floyd Bennett Field on Long Island and convinced the commander there to send a flight of four planes to attack King Kong’. It seems that way back in 1933 the Pentagon were slow to react to attacks on skycrapers in Manhattan.
The 1976 version did receive assistance from the Pentagon but it appears even they realised it was a poor effort:
Air Force provided jets for attack on King Kong in bad remake of classic original. This time Kong climbs the World Trade Center.
My good friend Pearse has been given the opportunity to do his show on the radio so he invited me on as his guest for the very first episode. We took on an old favourite – Chase Brandon – and discussed his relevance to the world of state-sponsored entertainment before engaging in a multi-faceted conversation going into the reports from the Pentagon’s entertainment liaison offices, the expansion of the DOD’s role in the entertainment industry, the total lack of accountability. We also get into the question of why this matters, why government involvement in entertainment is important. We rounded off having a back and forth about the media coverage of the attempted coup in Turkey.
You can listen to Porkins Policy Radio (on the radio) on AFR, 9-11pm GMT, 4-6pm Eastern, 1-3 pm Pacific.
NASA’s Multimedia Liaison Office was founded in the 1990s but they have recently become more aggressively involved in the entertainment industry. In particular they have replaced the Pentagon as the most prominent government agency working on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the world’s biggest film franchise, working on The Avengers, Captain America: Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Guardians of the Galaxy. This is the first time NASA have released a copy of the agreements they sign with film makers, and it is the only document they released in response to a broad request about their involvement in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
NASA and The Avengers
The opening sequence of 2012’s The Avengers (aka Avengers Assemble) was largely filmed at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Ohio, including the Plum Brook Station which is part of that facility. Plum Brook Station is home to the B-2 Space Power Facility – the world’s largest vacuum chamber, where they test spacecraft. It is here that the most dramatic scenes that begin The Avengers were actually shot.
According to NASA’s website:
Part of the agreement required Plum Brook personnel to clean out all items in the chamber so that the facility could become a bare backdrop for the customers to come in and “dress it up” as they wanted. SPF Facility Manager Jerry Carek said about 20 Glenn civil servant and support service contractors were involved in the preparation. Some helped build smaller portions of the set when needed as well.
While there are thematic reasons why NASA would enjoy this scene there are more practical reasons why they were so happy to have The Avengers film at Glenn and Plum Brook. The most obvious reason is money. The production agreement (which NASA’s site calls a Multimedia Agreement) details that Marvel Studios paid over $150,000 to NASA for helping to make The Avengers. It was reported that:
NASA officials were happy to get the business and hope it will be the first of many Hollywood movies filmed at the site.
The manager of Plum Brook Station Jerry Carek said:
This is how we survive, by allowing the private sector to use the facility as needed. Their contributions allow us to stay in operation.
Budget Problems at Plum Brook Station
He is not kidding – according to a 2015 NASA Inspector General’s report the Plum Brook Station is a massive white elephant. It consists of five major facilities, two of which – the Hypersonic Test Facility (a wind tunnel) and the Cryogenic Components Laboratory – had not been used in four years and another of which – the Combined Effects Chamber designed for large-scale experiments with liquid hydrogen – has never been used.
NASA established their Multimedia Liaison Office in 1997. Given that NASA’s involvement in the entertainment industry has been followed by meaningful increases in their budget, the $150,000 dollars is peanuts compared to the promotional value NASA gained and the effect that has on Congress.
The Joint Dark Energy Mission
The scenes shot in NASA locations involve the Tesseract – an extraterrestrial shiny cube that is a source of energy and can be used for opening portals to other dimensions and blah blah obvious bait for people obsessed with ‘the occult’ blah blah and then Loki arrives and gets the story going. Back in the real world, it appears that there is such a thing as ‘dark energy’ and there is a Joint Dark Energy Mission (JDEM) by NASA and the Department of Energy to find out more about it. Curiously, the producers of The Avengers wove the real JDEM into the Avengers/SHIELD myth. The set dressing for the opening sequences makes it clear this is a joint NASA/SHIELD research lab looking into dark energy:
However, the Glenn Research Center has nothing to do with the real JDEM. So where did this idea come from? Was there more to NASA’s involvement in The Avengers than merely renting out a couple of filming locations?
In most ways the NASA document is just like the equivalent agreements between film makers and the Pentagon. It guarantees NASA the power of script approval, i.e. the power to request changes in exchange for allowing Marvel Studios to use their property. So this isn’t simply a hiring agreement where Marvel rent out a building. They not only had to pay for that, they also had to accept NASA potentially interfering with the script.
In particular a phrase that is repeated is that the film makers weren’t allowed to do anything that might ‘degrade or diminish the goodwill’ associated with NASA, their logo and so on. While there is more explicit language saying that NASA will not tolerate being portrayed as an ‘evil or corrupt’ organisation, the ambiguities in this core phrase in the agreement leave quite a lot of room for manoeuvre.
For example, NASA are portrayed alongside SHIELD as part of the JDEM. But this experiment accidentally leaves the world open to invasion, first by the Norse demi-god Loki and consequently by generic giant alien monsters. While NASA aren’t being portrayed as evil they are portrayed as part of an incredibly arrogant and incompetent mistake that opens the door to a massive threat. However, it seems this does not ‘degrade or diminish the goodwill’ associated with NASA, this is an idea they are perfectly content to be out in one of the biggest films of all time. Just like the Pentagon they quite like the idea of portraying the universe as dangerous, and as something that sometimes they might accidentally make more dangerous. But if there are demi-gods and aliens out there, aren’t you glad NASA are here to deal with it so that you don’t have to?
Recently released documents on former White House consultant and MPAA capo Jack Valenti strongly suggest that his appointment as president of the MPAA in some way involved the CIA. The new documents on Valenti come from the CIA and the State Department. Though they are tiny fragments in themselves the details they do contain are eye-opening. Valenti was a State Department consultant with a Top Secret clearance in the early months of taking over at the MPAA. At the same the CIA were interested in Valenti ‘in connection with certain sensitive matters’.
The State Department Document on Valenti
Released to The Black Vault under FOIA, the only State Department record on Valenti that they were willing to provide is a 2-page FBI airtel relating to investigations into Valenti done by the State Department’s Office of Security. This airtel does not appear in the FBI release on Valenti. It says:
The files of the Office of Security (SY) Department of State, reviewed by Special Agent (redacted) on October 11, 1974, disclose that on 5/5/66 the appointee was under consideration for appointment as a Consultant to the Secretary of State; SY in May 1966 reviewed his personnel and security files at the White House and utilized a previous full field investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
SY granted him Final Clearance for Top Secret on 5/25/66 as a Consultant, valid for 180 days only, unless appointed in the meantime: SY again granted him Final Clearance for Top Secret on 5/31/67 as a Member of the Board of Foreign Scholarships.
It was announced in April 1966 that Valenti would be leaving his White House position to take up the vacant job as head of the MPAA, so why was he simultaneously being granted a Top Secret security clearance? Valenti began his new job in June so he was a consultant to the State Department in the early months of his new job at the MPAA.
The CIA Document on Valenti
While this was going on the CIA’s Office of Personnel Security sent a memo to Marvin Watson, a special assistant to President Johnson. They requested a copy of the FBI’s investigation of Valenti (complete with rumours that he was secretly homosexual and a pervert) on the grounds that:
Subject is of interest to this Division. He is not being considered for staff employment but rather is of interest in connection with certain sensitive matters in which the Agency is involved.
Naturally, this could mean anything. But the date is significant – after Valenti’s new job at the MPAA had been announced but before he took up the role. This cannot be related to his role at the State Department because they had reviewed the FBI’s investigation for themselves. Given that Valenti’s predecessor Eric Johnston was some kind of CIA asset, was this CIA request made because Valenti was being considered for recruitment by the Agency? Was this because CIA director Richard Helms planned to approach Valenti, as he subsequently did? Did they want dirt on Valenti for possible blackmail purposes?
While not conclusive, these new documents add yet more weight to the contention that Valenti was not just friendly to the government but was an active CIA asset in Hollywood.