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.

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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.”

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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.