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Exploring 'The Vault'

Published April 09. 2011 09:00AM

Do you wonder what the FBI knows? This most famous national law enforcement organization that made a reputation for fighting the gangsters and bank robbers of prohibition and depression days to investigating spies and espionage in the Cold War, the Mafia and organized crime families of the 1970s and finally the terrorists of today has created a new website called "The Vault" in which more than 2,000 digitized documents are released to the public.

A quick survey of the site shows several different topics ranging from Administrative Policy Procedures to the Gangster Era, from Extremist Groups to Organized Crime and Political Events to Unexplained Phenomena. For fun, I took a look at the category "Public Figures" and some of the celebrities listed included Lucille Ball, Sonny Bono, George Burns, Paul Harvey and Malcolm X among others. The file on Lucille Ball was 156 pages long and appears to be related to the Joe McCarthy Communist Witch Hunt of the 1950's.

Paul Harvey, the famous radio commentator who always told his listeners "The Rest of the Story" also has a file on the site. In his case, the FBI notes the documents relate to correspondence between the newsman and the bureau as well as a background investigation in the 1980s and an investigation stemming from his investigation of a story that led him into a restricted area in the 1950s violating the Atomic Energy Act.

George Burns' file discusses a jewelry smuggling case that he and Jack Benny got themselves tangled in during the late 1930s. While I didn't read the whole file, it did relate that they both paid some large fines as a result of the incident.

Another section that was of interest to me is Unexplained Phenomena. In this section are files about Project Blue Book which was taken over by the FBI when the Air Force ended its oversight of the project in the 1960s. There is an interesting quotation in the document where President George Bush upon being asked about UFOs tells the redacted person that "You don't know the half of it."

Also of interest is a file on Roswell and the incident that began modern UFOlogy. The crash on the ranch of a supposed UFO containing the bodies of extraterrestrials. Of course these files refute those claims by discussing the "weather balloon" that supposedly crashed that day in New Mexico. I find the document to be curious in that while it refers to the object as a weather balloon, it also mentions the disc attached to it which the report calls a radar reflector. The report notes that Wright Field does not confirm this which leads me to wonder if the disc and supposed balloon were in custody why would the base not acknowledge this when everyone could see what it is. Perhaps the reason is because Wright Field knew it wasn't what the report was describing.

There is also a lengthy document of at least 16 sections dealing with UFOs. While I didn't thoroughly read it yet, a quick scan of the first part shows various news articles that appeared in newspapers relating to sightings of discs and UFOs by pilots and civilians. Another document in this category relates to the cattle mutilations that took place in the 1970s. While I didn't read all of this document either, it did bring to mind the infamous "Mothman" of the 1960s. This winged creature was spotted for a year around Point Pleasant, West Virginia culminating in the collapse of Silver Bridge in December 1967. This tragedy killed 46 people and occurred after the last sighting in that period of this Mothman creature.

Under the Counter-Terrorism category is the 9/11 Commission report including a timeline of events that day. Also are files on Usama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Black September, Gitmo and the American Anthrax attacks. In the Miscellaneous category are files on Mary Jo Kopechne, the Challenger disaster, Gene Siskel, Amelia Earhart and Walt Disney.

One of the most interesting categories to peruse is the "Gangster Era" in which all the infamous gangsters are there as well as Eliot Ness who was the Fed that was Al Capone's nemesis. It's like a who's who of classic gangsters including John Dillinger, Ma Barker, Machine Gun Kelly, Bugsy Siegel, Pretty Boy Floyd and Dutch Schultz.

There are hours of reading in store in the "Vault" found at and a wealth of knowledge about modern history I gathered from the files I saw there. At the very least it provides snapshots into various decades of the twentieth century and a feel for what was important to the agency and the country throughout the last 80 or so years.

Til next time…

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