Saturday, April 21, 2007

My Lovely Evening with the U.S. Secret Service

Oh yes I do, I know exactly how Billy the Kid felt -- well, except for the fact that he was guilty of something, or actually a few somethings. At least ol' young Billy wasn't involved in UFO research, otherwise he'd have dropped his gun and run screaming into the night.

The night. That night. I remember that night when the U.S. Secret Service agent came looking for me. But his inevitable visit had been written in stone days, not hours, ago.

These were the years of the Jimmy Carter Administration in the seventies. One afternoon while visiting a friend, there was a cryptic phone call for me from a family member. A Secret Service agent was at my home, in search of me, and rather energized about accomplishing his task. However, because my drive back would require about a half hour, he "kindly" announced an evening and time when he would return, and off he went into the daylight. All I could surmise was that he must be after something important, because it was a Saturday afternoon. Not the usual working hours one might expect of the government in a routine matter.

In the meantime, I was able to piece together his reason for visiting, and I was hardly alone in this situation. A threatening letter of some kind had been sent to the Carter White House with my name at the bottom. Further, other names were implicated, people I knew who were all involved in some way with an interest in UFOs. These included an amateur astronomer, a local TV news anchor, a writer and, I was told at some point, even Dr. J. Allen Hynek's name appeared at the bottom. There were probably other names as well. Because of standard procedures, I don't believe any of us had an opportunity to see the letter or know precisely its contents.

By the time the evening arrived for the agent's visit, I was pretty certain that my name was clear; I mean, if the Secret Service thinks you sent a naughty letter to the White House, do they make an appointment for your convenience?

However, one of the people named in the letter wasn't so lucky. It was his misfortune to suffer a visit early on by two Secret Service agents, and according to him they played the good cop/bad cop routine with him. He endured a most unpleasant experience. (ADDENDUM: In a conversation on May 26, he wanted me to add that he was interrogated for four hours, the agents demanded a handwriting sample for analysis, and they also asked if he knew "an Allen J. Hynek" -- obviously a reference to Dr. J. Allen Hynek, whose name, as stated, was also apparently included in the letter. When Monday arrived following the Saturday experience, the person stormed into the U.S. Attorney's office in Syracuse and issued a heated complaint about his treatment at the agents' hands. He, like the rest of us, had played absolutely no role in the White House letter incident.)

So, at last I met Agent X (I'll call him Agent X because that sounds far more mysterious and sinister than Agent John Smith, and I wouldn't dare disclose his real name -- hmm, if indeed HE had disclosed his real name to me...). To my good fortune, he was the "good cop" of the investigative duo, and appeared perfectly calm and conversational. He stayed about a half hour, a very pleasant man who never reached for handcuffs or a firearm even once. In fact, I was somewhat taken aback by how normal he seemed. During my Air Force years, I had met members of the Air Force Office of Special Investigation (OSI) and they could appear almost other-worldly.

None of us named in the letter ever knew the disposition of the White House letter incident, though we were informed that these phony threat letters are received at the White House more frequently than we realize.

As for me, well, I certainly had no connection to the letter hoax, but I'll tell you this: I'm darned grateful, darned grateful that the agent was so consumed with the letter thing that he never noticed the elaborate counterfeiting operation concealed in the garage. (Just kidding. . .)

("Billy the Kid" poster credit: Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)