Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cranks, Nuts, and Screwballs

David R. McLean

Volunteers for intelligence--the fringe and farther-out.

"I have always had adequate sex that no one appreciated. I need a better grade of iron to eat, and so do the astronauts." (Excerpt from a July 1964 letter to the Director of Central Intelligence.)

"A defenseless woman having husband trouble sincerely requests your help." (June 1964 letter to the DCI, enclosing picture of a convertible and address of a suburban motel.)

"O.K.! Keep me off the payroll. I'll try and sell my abilities to the Soviet Union." (1965 postcard peevishly addressed to the U.S. Lower Intelligence Agency.)

"Please be informed, old pal, I have entered my name with the 87th Congress as a candidate for the Presidency of the United States in the next elections. If I make it, I am going to reinstate you in CIA." (1962 letter to Allen W. Dulles.)

"You can tell John A. McCone to go to hell if you think I'm going to be treated this way after all I've done for you people." (Early morning telephone call from "Agent 44" on his release from the drunk cell of a Washington police precinct.)

"ORNISCOPYTHEOBI BLIOPSYCHOCRYSI ARROSCIOAEROGEN ETHLIOMETEOR OAU STRAHIEROANTHRO VICHTHYOPYROSI DEROCH PNOMYOALE . . ." (Excerpt from a 1963 telegram to CIA.)

Something about a secret intelligence agency attracts an endless stream of letters, cards, telegrams, phone calls, and personal visits from deranged, possibly dangerous, or merely daffy citizens who want to horn in on the cloak-and-dagger act. Mixed into the CIA morning mail, these unsolicited testimonials to the Agency's drawing power create some delicate screening problems, waste a lot of time, and justify elaborate security precautions to protect its top officials.

The Agency's Office of Security keeps a watch list of nearly four thousand persons or organizations who have tried to visit, write, or phone its officials and who have been, at a minimum, a source of annoyance. Every suspected crank contact is checked against this list. The signatures include "The Green Russian" in Charlotte, N.C., and "Your Aunt Minnie" in San Francisco. Nearly all crank letters are domestic, but alongside addresses in Pewee Valley, Ky., and Big Bear City, Cal., are foreign listings from Quito to Warsaw and from Edinburgh to Australia.

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