Friday, April 12, 2013

THE MOUNT WEATHER MORALS CASE MYSTERY

Morals Excerpt copy

Last month while we were at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland researching the government emergency relocation site known as Mount Weather (aka the Special Facility, aka the Classified Facility aka the Classified Location aka High Point) we stumbled upon something very intriguing: A document concerning an individual involved in a potentially compromising “morals case” who worked in some capacity for the “Classified Facility.” But, apparently, what really sounded the alarm bells for the addressees on the March 20, 1964 letter is the fact that the unnamed mystery man—who had been involved in “highly classified matters”—also had knowledge of the top secret Congressional bunker (aka CASPER) at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

Mount Weather Morals Case

The purpose of the memorandum was to update the Director of the Office of Emergency Planning (the agency then tasked with operating Mount Weather), Edward A. McDermott (1920-1999), on a matter that had attracted the attention of the Deputy Secretary of Defense, Cyrus R. Vance (1917-2002). Vance and his chief of Intelligence wanted to brief their spokesman, Arthur Sylvester (1901-1979), on the “general circumstances” so that Sylvester would be aware of the gravity of the situation in the event that he had to handle any media inquiries. The memorandum was written by McDermott’s Deputy Director Colonel Justice M. Chambers (1908-1982).

Chambers

Robert Y. Phillips, Director of the Government Readiness Office, and William E. Elliott of the Mount Weather Security Office concurred that cluing in Sylvester “would do no harm,” but, according to the memo, directed Vance not to reveal any “facts concerning CASPER.”

There was no further correspondence regarding this sensitive issue in any of the civil defense boxes that we have examined. And we were unable to find any reference to it in the declassified Secretary of Defense records that we looked at. According to the military archivist who was assisting us, most of the records from this period remain classified. Therefore, we were unable to look into whether the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs (the aforementioned Mr. Sylvester) was ever contacted about the scandal-in-waiting. Sylvester, it should be noted, helped mislead the press during the Cuban missile crisis and later became the subject of controversy when he declared that “the government has the right to lie.” [1]

Arthur Sylvester

Of course, when one searches the news databases for morals cases that occurred during 1964, the overwhelming “hit” returned pertains to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s senior aide Walter Jenkins (1918-1985) who was arrested (along with another man) on a disorderly conduct charge that took place in a YMCA restroom in Washington, D.C. Jenkins may have known about Mount Weather and the Greenbrier bunker, but his arrest occurred months after the memorandum. [2]

Walter Jenkins copy

The only published reference to a morals case that was found to have transpired around the time of the letter is that of Eddie Haynes, a 31-year-old staff sergeant based at Fort Myer (Virginia). But Haynes’s “morals trial” was already in full swing (and well beyond the confines of damage control) by March 13, 1964, so it seems unlikely that he is our mystery man. [3]

Efforts to locate William E. Elliott and Robert Y. Phillips were unsuccessful, though we did find some evidence to suggest that Elliott would have been in his fifties at the time of the memo. An email sent to a relative of Justice M. Chambers inquiring about the Colonel’s Mount Weather duties via a cemetery website bounced.

Finally, the Clarke County District Court—the possible jurisdiction of the “morals” infraction—maintains criminal records dating back to the 1800s so CONELRAD may follow up on this lead in the future. We will, of course, update this post if we uncover anything substantial. In the meantime, the full background of this document will have to remain another unsolved mystery.

SOURCE OF DOCUMENT

National Archives and Records Administration
College Park, MD
Record Group 396
Declassified P-95 Records
Box 6
Folder: Special Facilities Branch

ACKNOWLEDGMENT

Thanks to Tim Goldsmith for additional research.


[1] “Arthur Sylvester, 78; Ex-Spokesman at Defense” (obituary), Washington Post, p. C4, December 30, 1979.

[2] “The Administration: The Jenkins Report,” Time, October 30, 1964.

[3] Don Morgan, “Judge Denies ‘Prejudice’ in Morals Case,” p. B5, March 13, 1964.

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