James Forrestal and the NSA

The first Defense Secretary of the United States committed suicide in 1949. His name was James Forrestall and they named an aircraft carrier after him. His death has an element of mystery, but then again don't most suicides? But there is also a mystery in his relationship to the founding of the National Security Agency. What is underneath the covers of this secret history? We do not know. I would like, however, for there to be at least one or two paragraphs on the internet that mention this but are not conspiracy theory, anti semitic ranting, etc.

James Forrestal was the Secretary of the US Navy in the last days of World War II, before he became the Secretary of Defense. What happened before he committed suicide? He was heavily involved in the discussions surrounding the National Security Act of 1947. What was that act? It created, among other things, the CIA, and, important for this thought-excursion, the NSA, or National Security Agency. How do we know that he was involved? It is in his diaries, which were published in the 1950s by various people including the New York Herald Tribune and the Viking Press. He mentions the "ancillary agencies" created by the act and their budgeting, and editor Walter Millis told us in the notes to the diaries that he was heavily involved in later amendments to the National Security Act.

What is the NSA? The NSA started as the 'electronic spy' group. It's origins were in the war-time government groups that had spied on US citizens, with help from telecom firms like ITT, Western Union, and RCA. In 1947 these agencies were officialized by the National Security Act. The NSA grew to have men in ships and airplanes in secretive places listening in on Soviet & other countries signals, radio waves, satellite communications, etc etc. Many were killed in incidents whose details remained secret for decades, like the downing of flight 60528 over Armenia or the USS Liberty incident during Israel's Six Day War in 1967. A large number of these incidents involved US Navy ships - and remember that Forrestal was Secretary of the Navy.

The agency was mostly secrety until the 1970s. Only a handful of books have been published on it, and the first and most in depth are by James Bamford. By 2011 the NSA was much bigger than the CIA, and had become heavily involved in 'domestic surveillance' and the Global War on Terror.

Did the NSA weigh heavily on Forrestals mind? If there is an answer, it may, perhaps, be found in the much larger 'unedited' version of his diaries, which are available, according to Wikipedia, from Adam Matthew Publications (click to go to their site). Then again. He may have self-edited his own thoughts.

Coincidentally, the diaries came from the Seeley G Mudd Manuscript Library, Princeton University. Seeley G Mudd was involved in the Cyprus Mines Corporation, which had started a big copper mine on Cypress before WWII, based on reading ancient Roman histories of the area. But I digress.



So. What makes this few paragraphs any better or worse than the dozens of conspiracy theory sites about Forrestal's suicide? Those that claim he was assassinated by "Zionists"? Those that talk about coverups and all sorts of other things? How do you know when your writing is a conspiracy rant, or when you are simply stating the facts? How do you know if you, yourself, are crazy? It is a Philip K Dick kind of question, and an important one.

Consider one of the great modern truth seekers, Carl Sagan. He was not simply interested in the science itself, or the truth itself, but it the human mind's relationship to truth, and the human experience of seeking knowledge. How do we know something is true? The question that the philosophers call Epistemology.

Sagan was particularly fascinated by UFO sightings, and the people who claimed to have made them. He gave detailed analyses of these sightings and people's reported experiences in some of his lectures and writings. He showed some of the flaws in thinking, the pitfalls of logic that we can all fall into. The brain teaser that is the universe, as though reality fools our sense of cuase and effect and existence, just as optical illusions confuse our sense of sight and vision.

But Sagan himself spent enormous amounts of energy searching for UFOs, and figured it was probable that they existed, somewhere, out there. This is displayed by his proxy character(s) in the film based on his book Contact, and their work at the SETI organization. How did Sagan know that he wasn't simply another crazy person shouting into the wilderness?

We can get a hint of his reasoning in his film Cosmos, which you can find on hulu.com. Argument from authority means nothing. Question authority. Every theory is up for question, and no theory is more important than the evidence. Question your own theories, and question your own evidence. But in the end, you have to rely on evidence, and distinctly separate out what you are speculating about, from what you know for certain. He thought it might be probable that aliens existed, but he understood that this was a thought, perhaps even a wish... and it was in no way evidence. Evidence was he spent his life looking for. It was not enough to wish it or to dream it.

This is the difference between the conspiracy theory writings and the writings of Carl Sagan. The conspiracy theory writings demonstrate a lack of concern for whether the evidence matches the author's theory or not. For a conspiratorial theory the theory is everything, the evidence is an afterthought. For Sagan, the evidence itself is the important thing, and the theory is the beautiful human explanation, the understanding, that grows from it. This is our legacy as a species. Other than cities and buildings and smart phones and television. It is our search for the stark beauty of the truth.

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If I follow this logic, then I basically have barely anything to write about. I guess I will have to be satisfied with that. What do we know for certain?

James Forrestal was involved in the beginnings of the NSA, which are largely secret.


James Forrestal was the Secretary of the Navy during WWII, and Secretary of Defense in the first days of the cold war.

James Forrestal was extremely depressed.

James Forrestal left us a large number of diaries that might not have been yet combed through properly by researchers of NSA history

James Bamford wrote about Forrestal's participation in the Shamrock domestic spying program in his book The Shadow Factory (2008), Doubleday. But I am not sure if his source was the diaries. (see randmhouse.com bibliography.)

James Forrestal's son, Michael Forrestal, was in the government advising top officials during the Maddox / Gulf of Tonkin incident, which also involved the NSA. This is according to Bamford's "Body of Secrets". The fact that he was the man's son comes from the New York Times by way of Wikipedia.

I'm guessing there is a lot more, but it's all I personally had time to dig up. Sorry if you were expecting more. Good luck to the future generations, whom will fill in the details. And good luck to the Used Book Store where I happened upon these curious things, one night when I was bored.



And why did this book pick my eye? Forrestal Diaries? Because of a book named The Asylum, by Leah McGrath Goodman, in which she makes an offhand remark about James Forrestal and his unhappy end. And to tell the truth, there is a conspiracy portion in my own mind, that ponders insane things, like whether Goodman has some secret knowledge of Forrestal and the NSA - after all, her book was the first time I had heard that the NSA had a line directly to the Nymex Oil Futures trading organization during the reign of Zoltan Guttman. This is where I have to take that conspiracy part of my brain, and tell it to chill out, calm down, and take it easy. Don't fly off the deep end. You might wind up like John A Stormer or Elizabeth Clare Prophet. Remember, even Solzhenytsin wrote a crap book, "Two hundred years together", about Jews in Russia. Awful, awful book. And even the great Michael Lewis can turn out bizarre articles like his recent theory that the German banking participation in the crash of 2008 was related to a "character" trait of Germans being obsessed with feces. Maybe Solzhenytsin was talking not just about good and evil, but sanity and insanity, when he talked about that dividing line, being not through countries or ideologies, but down the human heart itself. Even, they say, Carl Sagan in his later years sometimes appeared to be a bit of a curmudgeon.

Maybe Flowers for Algernon was not a tragedy about some guy in an experiment. Maybe Flowers for Algernon is about us, the human race? And maybe we are all that guy, to some extent or another, through our lives? Or even week to week?

And how can we ever survive such a strange and curious feature of our construction?



Update:

NSA was apparently founded much later than 1947. However, I do not think this tragically destroys my article, above. Forestall was involved in intelligence and in naval intelligence - the Navy always playing an important part in intelligence in modern history, whether you are talking about the USA or Germany or other countries. I'm not sure why this is - perhaps the dependence of ships on signals transmission gives them some sort of technical insight that other services had to come to grips with decades later. I don't know.

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