L. RON HUBBARD AND THE U.S. NAVY, 1941-50
4.2 The Intelligence Connection?
In 1984, L. Ron Hubbard's service record came under close scrutiny during the trial of his former archivist, Gerry Armstrong. Witnesses were cross-examined on matters documented in the record, and Scientology itself placed Hubbard's former second-in-command, Thomas Moulton, on the witness stand. The results were disastrous for Scientology. The case was lost and the judge found that Hubbard had lied systematically about his past. The records themselves ended up either being read into the proceedings or were entered as exhibits in the case. Either way, many of the more damaging documents were now part of the public record.
The Alternative Explanation
Scientology's response was to latch on to a comment by Thomas Moulton, who evidently found it hard to believe some of the records shown to him by Armstrong's attorney. It was entirely possible, said Moulton while under cross-examination, that the records had been falsified to provide a cover story for Hubbard's intelligence activities:
Moulton: [This record] says January 16; however, this could be meaningless. It is not to be relied on. If something you said just now is true - said he was an intelligence officer, I believe - if that is so, this would be meaningless.
Michael Flynn, attorney: That could be false?
Moulton: Not false, but an intelligence officer, as far as I know, has all sorts of spurious letters stating where he is sent to, when he got there. I did not know he was an intelligence officer. But if he was, this would be meaningless.
(Source: Moulton testimony, Church of Scientology v. Armstrong, 21 May 1984)
Not long afterwards, in early 1985, Hubbard's naval record again came under scrutiny in a case brought against the Church of Scientology by Julie Christofferson Titchbourne of Portland, Oregon. In an attempt to defuse the records as an issue, Scientology's lawyers turned to an old contact, ex-US Air Force Colonel L. Fletcher Prouty (right). They asked him to provide "expert witness" assistance on Hubbard's military record, and in February 1985 he obligingly produced an affidavit
to provide proof of the fact that the records, data and related materials provided by the U.S. Navy (USN) and other government sources, all said to be the complete record and file on the military service, active and inactive, of Mr. L. Ronald Hubbard, formerly Lt. Commander, U.S. Navy Reserve, are incomplete ... [and] to attest to the fact that those materials and records provided give ample evidence that proves the existence of other records that have been concealed, withheld and overlooked.
(Source: Prouty affidavit, February 1, 1985)
The affidavit is couched in generalised terms and may possibly have been intended as the prelude to a lawsuit against the Navy, though no such suit has so far materialised. Col Prouty again intervened in November 1985 (presumably again prompted by Scientology) when he learned that the CBS 60 Minutes program was to show a film on Hubbard, including his disputed naval career. On this occasion he sent two letters to the show's producers. His services were called on again in October 1987 when he wrote to the publishers of Bare-Faced Messiah, an unofficial biography of L. Ron Hubbard, having somehow obtained a pre-publication manuscript copy of the book. Scientology has repeated Prouty's claims, republishing his 1987 letter on the Internet and alluding to his "findings" in a 1985 interview:
EARLE COOLEY: Are you aware of the fact that there are more than one set of military records on Mr. Hubbard?
VOICE-OVER: Church attorney Earle Cooley says that the official military records on L. Ron Hubbard are actually fakes.
COOLEY: On -- that his records, his military records, have been doctored? Are you aware of that?
MIKE WALLACE, CBS: By?
COOLEY: By God knows whom.
(Source: 60 Minutes - Scientology, CBS, December 22, 1985)
As for Col Prouty's credentials, he claims to have been an officer of the US Army and Air Force from 1941 through 1964, during which time he served both as a pilot and a Pentagon desk officer in a variety of operational, administrative and intelligence posts. He has never claimed to have been a member of US Naval Intelligence or the US Navy itself. 1 It is fair to say that he holds unconventional views on a variety of topics. He claims, for instance, that President Franklin D. Roosevelt was assassinated; that the 1978 Jonestown mass suicide was perpetrated by the CIA; that oil is not a fossil fuel but is a in fact a plentiful natural resource covertly monopolised by the oil companies, with the aid of the Israelis. He is perhaps best known for his claims about the 1965 Kennedy assassination and was the prototype for the "Mr. X" character in Oliver Stone's film JFK. He also spoken at conferences of the Institute for Historical Review, a far-Right Holocaust denial group.
For not especially clear reasons, 2 Scientology's Freedom magazine has given Col Prouty a platform for the last two decades. Between 1985 and 1987, Freedom published a 19-part series by Col Prouty to which (according to the magazine) "provided a unique and highly informative view of the events which led up to the Vietnam War." More recently, Freedom has covered his claims about the Jonestown affair. As well as being an "expert witness" retained by Scientology's lawyers, Prouty has described himself as "an editorial adviser to publications of the Church of Scientology".
Col Prouty's basic claim is that Hubbard's records have been falsified (or, in his picturesque term, "sheepdipped") to provide cover for his work as an agent of US Naval Intelligence. Prouty claims to have produced such files himself during his own military service and to have thereby gained familiarity with the procedure 3. This assertion rests on Prouty's belief that Hubbard's records, which he had reviewed, "are so uncharacteristic that they may be termed contrived". Prouty offers no documentary evidence that such a practice even existed, though in fairness such evidence is not very likely to have been released by the US military.
It should be noted, before one goes any further, that the source of the records seen by Col Prouty would certainly have been the Church of Scientology. As Hubbard was still alive at the time, the Church was the only non-governmental entity to have been permitted to have an official copy of the records. This immediately raises a major issue of authenticity. As we have already seen in 3.10 - Hubbard's Medals, the copy of Hubbard's notice of separation which is distributed by Scientology is almost certainly a forgery. Col Prouty has on at least one occasion referred to it as proof of the falsity of Hubbard's official record, without apparently having checked that document's own veracity. It is also unclear how much of the record was shown to Prouty. Since the Church of Scientology is provably a tainted source of information on Hubbard's war history, the documentary basis of Col Prouty's assertions must be treated with caution.
Col. Prouty highlights several key issues in his affidavit and subsequent letters which are worth discussing in detail. I have identified the source for each claim as follows: "Affidavit" (affidavit of February 1, 1985); "CBS #1" (1st letter to CBS, dated November 4, 1985); "CBS #2" (2nd letter to CBS, dated November 21, 1985); "Miller" (letter to Michael Joseph Ltd, October 4, 1987).
1. (Affidavit and CBS #2) "We note that Mr. Hubbard is to be a Lt. (j.g.), I-V(S). Records reveal that officers assigned to the Navy Counter-intelligence service (B-branch) are identified by this symbol, "I-V(S)"."
This is incorrect; in fact, the designation "I-V(S)" stood for "Intelligence Volunteer (Specialist)" and is defined in the Register of Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Naval Reserve (July 31, 1944) as denoting "Commissioned Intelligence officers qualified for specialist duties."
2. (Affidavit) "Lt. (j.g.) Hubbard received his commission from the Acting Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, on July 2, 1941, and was assigned to Special Services (Intelligence duties) by Chester W. Nimitz, then Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, (BuNav)."
(CBS #2, Miller) "[Hubbard's commission] was signed by James Forrestal who later became our first Secretary of Defense ... [the] directive of July 5, 1941 [appointing Hubbard an I-V(S)] was signed by none other than C.W. Nimitz, then Captain USN and later a Five Star Admiral -- tops in the fleet."
The documents are actually signed on behalf of Forrestal and Nimitz; the signatures of junior officials appear on the two papers. This would have been entirely normal practice, now as then. Prouty mentions the two endorsements which Hubbard received from friendly Congressmen, one of which was sent to Forrestal and the other to the President himself, and implies that the letters provoked the favourable intervention of "the highest office in the Navy". But Prouty fails to spot (or perhaps was not shown the documents proving) that Hubbard was actually rejected at first. In April 1941, Hubbard was failed on the grounds of inadequate eyesight and, had he passed this test, would then have been rejected for not meeting the required educational standard (the peacetime qualification was a college diploma). The declaration in May 1941 of an Unlimited National Emergency led to Hubbard's failings being waived.
3. (Affidavit) "Here it should be noted that nearly all official correspondence to and from Lt. Hubbard bears the symbol "NAV-1651" (or other 1600 serial). This "1600" series identifies correspondence in the Intelligence series."
(CBS #2) "This early directive, signed NIMITZ, of July 5, 1941, carries another important code that your records ignore. In the upper left hand corner there is a correspondence code "NAV-1651-EZ". You should know that all "16--" series correspondence pertains to intelligence matters. Of course, it is sometimes omitted to protect security interests, and when it is used it means "Intelligence". Your sources say nothing about that although this same, official "16--" designator appears on countless LRH documents through the years of his military service."
Jon Atack, author of A Piece of Blue Sky, has checked this particular claim and reports:
The most significant error in Prouty's work was his assertion that the code '16' on Hubbard's orders signified that he was a member of US Navy Intelligence. In fact, the files themselves show that the code number indicates simply 'Naval Reserve', and of course Hubbard was commissioned as a member of the Naval Reserve. Prouty offers no source for his drastic presumption.
4. (Affidavit) "Was this "publicity work" [which Hubbard's file says he did] a cover story for the "sheep dip" records and designed to conceal his true duties in New York . . . if he was there at all?"
Almost certainly not, as there is other evidence that Hubbard was indeed initially assigned to publicity work. On April 24, 1941 the Navy Department wrote to the Office of Naval Intelligence to inform them that "Mr. L. Ron Hubbard is applying at Navy Yard, Washington, for a commission in the Naval Reserve, I-V(S), for assignment to duty in the Public Relations Office." On July 21, about three weeks after getting his commission, he wrote to Congressman Warren G. Magnuson to thank him for his assistance. Magnuson replied: "Glad to hear your commission went through. Know you will be right at home in your work with Navy Press Relations."
A week later, Hubbard wrote again to tell the Senator that "as Press Relations was getting along well enough" he had offered to write two articles every week for national magazines, with the aim of selling the "American bluejacket" to the public. He had, he said, been given a "free helm" and "because this program will net about three times as much as Navy pay I think it no more than right that I return anything above pay and expenses to Navy Relief."
The authenticity of these letters has not been challenged and the Magnuson letters were archived outside of the control of any US Government agency. Of course, it is possible that Hubbard could have been ordered to lie to the Senator; but Magnuson was already a member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee and a party to classified military information, while it beggars belief that Hubbard could have been involved in top-secret duties only three weeks after having become a junior, non-active reserve intelligence officer. Other documents from the same period show that Hubbard was in fact doing a correspondence course, presumably to induct him into the Naval Reserve.
5. (Affidavit) "It will be noted here that this simple Nimitz memo, September 11, 1941 (Attachment T, U & V), went to no less than eight files. Why? Where are all those other records? And, this was only his call to active duty. What about the growth of all those files until his discharge from active duty in 1946?"
A key theme of Prouty's theory is that Hubbard's personnel file reveals the existence of other, parallel, files which have not been produced by the US Navy. Copies of US Navy files are said to reveal slight but significant differences between them and the originals from Hubbard's private papers. This, Prouty claims, shows that Hubbard's publicly-released file is in fact the cover for a secret "master file" giving all the real details of Hubbard's service record, intelligence work and all.
Unfortunately this takes no account of the entirely normal practice, in any bureaucratic organisation, of copying documents to multiple recipients. In the course of my own duties I have seen addressee lists considerably longer than the text of the original message. An event such as L. Ron Hubbard's commissioning into the US Navy would have required a range of branches to be notified - his pay section, his personnel management section, the section with which he was to perform his duties, and so on. Those multiple copies may still exist somewhere in the archives of the US Navy and Navy Department. But the easiest copy to find and the most likely to be preserved would, of course, be that in Hubbard's personnel record. This alone would explain why only that copy has come to light.
As for the slight discrepencies noted by Prouty, these may result from a number of factors - errors in duplication (misaligned carbon paper, for instance, or "noise" generated in photocopying), differing annotations on different copies filed in different places, and so on. Almost all of the differences are trivial and would make no practical difference if one version was used rather than another. There is nothing that would seem to support his contention that the documents have been falsified.
6. (Affidavit) "There is another category of record that confirms the maintenance and existence of other records. This is the written evidence of other records by the inclusion of references in the revealed records. Sometimes this evidence is contained in the source document itself by a direct reference. In ... the majority [of instances] it will be found in the omission of records that ought to be there in support of action and activity, but are missing."
There is no doubt that gaps do exist in Hubbard's service records. By comparing the records released through FOIA requests by different people, it is noticeable that some people have received papers which are not in others' FOIA returns, although the vast majority of papers are identical between returns. But there is no reason to ascribe sinister motives to this, or to the gaps in the records. Some of Hubbard's personnel records remain restricted to this day, because of FOIA privacy concerns (the Church of Scientology appears to be the only body to have obtained the complete set). Which papers have been held back appears to have depended on the officer processing a particular request, leading to a lack of consistency. Indeed, one internal Navy memorandum on Hubbard's file bemoans the inconsistent filing of replies to previous FOIA requests.
Inconsistent filing undoubtedly accounts for some of the gaps in Hubbard's personnel file, but the basic reason almost certainly is that the sort of information cited by Prouty - details of Hubbard's introductory correspondence course or his publicity work, for instance - would not have been on his file in the first place. By default, such a file would have covered where he worked, his medical health and his performance reports. It would not have covered the fine detail of what he actually did - that would have been filed in the records of the section to which he was posted.
7. (Affidavit) "Why hasn't the subject officer spoken up on his own behalf, produced his own records and, at least, filled in the obvious gaps? ... The true intelligence professional will remain silent. I know."
This suggestion is somewhat dented by the fact that on at least two occasions during the war, Hubbard did "speak up". His second-in-command, Thomas Moulton, testified in 1984 that Hubbard had told him in 1943 about secret behind-the-lines work which he performed on Japanese-occupied Java in early 1942. Scientology has since endorsed this account. If this story had been true - and there is no absolutely evidence that it was - then Hubbard would have been committing a grave breach of security. Moulton was a fellow US Naval Reserve officer, a Deck Volunteer (Specialist), and had at that stage no connection with intelligence duties. Consequently he would not have been cleared to know about secret operations. If Senator Warren G. Magnuson of the Senate Armed Forces Committee was not, Lieutenant Thomas S. Moulton USNR most certainly was not.
Later in the war, in December 1944, Hubbard told a group of science-fiction writers serving in the US Armed Forces that he was "just back from the Aleutians" and hinted at "desperate action aboard a Navy destroyer, adventures he couldn't say much about because of military security." 4 Presumably this would have been another of his secret exploits, as it appears nowhere in his personnel file. If so, he would again have been committing a grave breach of national security - others present were not even members of the US Navy.
Hubbard, it is true, is not directly recorded as having discussed his naval career in great detail. However, the source for the Church of Scientology's many accounts of Hubbard's career can only have been Hubbard himself - it was not until 1979 that they got their hands on the original files.
Finally, one has to wonder about Prouty's own claimed discretion, given that he has spent much of the last 20 years "exposing" supposed conspiracies perpetrated by his own former employers in the US Government!
8. (CBS #2) "The fact that L. Ron Hubbard ran corvettes in Australia is obvious by knowledge of his duties there, whether he did or not actually sail aboard them."
Unfortunately this falls foul of a quite fundamental point: the US Navy did not deploy corvettes to Australia or, indeed, anywhere in the Pacific. It had obtained 38 corvettes from Britain and Canada but all were deployed in the North Atlantic, where they were most needed to counter the German U-Boat threat. The Japanese submarine fleet was a far lesser threat and confined its operations mostly to the western Pacific. Additionally, corvettes - designed for the North Atlantic - were completely unsuited to tropical conditions and were unbearably hot in southern climates. So there is quite simply no way that Hubbard could have had anything to do with American corvettes while in Australia - those vessels were on the other side of the planet.
Leaving aside the rhetoric, how did Congressman Magnuson know this, even assuming that he wrote the letter himself? 5 Were Hubbard's qualifications really better than any other man in the United States? What was Magnuson's basis for saying this? Did he check with the issuing authorities? In short, of course, an unprovable claim is a worthless claim. Prouty makes the elementary mistake of taking it at face value without querying its veracity.
- "The official U.S. Navy record establishes that Hubbard had sustained wounds in action [and was awarded a Purple Heart with Palm] before Dec 1945."
- "Something most important that Miller chose to overlook was the fact that Hubbard has been awarded (see document cited above) a "Unit Citation". This award is most important and special. Unit Citations are made only by the President of the United States ..."
- "From that same Section 34, see above, there is the citation "Br. & Dtch. Vict. Medals." This citation is found on very few U.S. military records and signifies notable service with the British and the Dutch during WW II. From what we know of Hubbard's Naval Intelligence Service in the Pacific it is beyond question that these awards were earned in and around Indonesia (Dutch at the time) and in Australia and the seas around it (British Zone)."
- "It is important to note that Hubbard had been awarded the "Marine Medal". This medal is awarded rarely to Navy line officers, least of all to those serving with Intelligence. To back up this unusual award you will note that this Naval Intelligence officer also held "Rifle, Pistol Expert" marksmanship ratings. Both of these awards signify ground action that is not typical of the sea duty expected of Navy officers."
The issue of Hubbard's medals has already been discussed in detail (see 3.10 - Hubbard's Medals). The document which Prouty cites is almost certainly forged. The facts which he asserts are also dubious. There is no record, nor indeed any contemporary claim from Hubbard, which states that he sustained combat injuries. There is no record of Hubbard ever having been awarded a citation by anybody, let alone the President of the United States. It is somewhat surprising that an "expert witness" such as Col Fletcher Prouty should not have known that the "British and Dutch Victory Medals" do not actually exist. Nor is there any record of Hubbard having been awarded the Marine Medal. It certainly was not the case that the Rifle and Pistol Expert Marksman medals were awarded for "ground action" - they were actually awarded on attainment of rigidly prescribed marksmanship standards as defined in the US Navy Landing Party Manual. Hubbard underwent compulsory weapons familiarisation and claimed in a letter of October 1943 to be "qualified in nearly all small arms and infantry weapons". He did not claim to have engaged in ground combat.
There is another issue which Prouty failed to pick up: if Hubbard's wartime service was so secret that the rest of his file is falsified, how come this single document shows the medals that he was supposedly awarded for all his secret work? It is rather a give-away, one would think. Surely the records of the medals would have been classified along with everything else? If not, then why is there no record of the medals anywhere else in Hubbard's file?
The official record of the United States Naval Administration in World War II reveals a rather different story: the school at Princeton which Hubbard joined in September 1944 was not for "select Navy Intelligence personnel" but for officers from throughout the Navy. Hubbard's application was in reply to a general Navy request for applicants "for intensive training with eventual assignment to foreign duty as civil affairs officers in occupied areas." Nor, as Prouty should have spotted from Hubbard's file, was he a member of Naval Intelligence at the time, having been mainstreamed as an ordinary Deck Volunteer (Specialist) way back in May 1942.
In short, virtually every significant claim made by Prouty appears to be have a non-sinister resolution, to be based on false assumptions, or to be quite simply incorrect. He already does not have a reputation as a reliable source of information; as one Prouty skeptic comments, "unfortunately, he has a record of making statements that sound plausible but that don't hold up when compared to the historical record." 6 This certainly rings true concerning his comments on Hubbard's naval career. Considering that Prouty is a self-proclaimed expert witness, it is somewhat perplexing that he should have made fundamental errors of fact - such as the non-existent medals or the corvettes which never went to Australia - which he could have caught had he done only a little bit of research. Col Prouty lives in Alexandria, Virginia, a few miles from the US Navy Historical Center at Washington Navy Yard. Did he check his assertions with the Navy? If not, why not? Since he never served with the Navy, what knowledge does he have of its practices in World War 2?
All of these points suggest strongly that Col L. Fletcher Prouty is not a credible analyst of Hubbard's naval career. Unfortunately for the Church of Scientology, he happens to be the only quasi-independent "expert" supporter of their theory that Hubbard's record is fabricated. This is of considerable significance in analysing the final aspect of Hubbard's naval records - their veracity.
1 Because access to Col Prouty's service records is still restricted by the USAF due to privacy concerns, this cannot be verified.
2 Col Prouty's assertions of secret US Government conspiracies have probably chimed with Scientology's own belief that it and its founder have been the targets of a worldwide conspiracy masterminded by psychiatrists and corrupt government officials. In other cases, Scientology has often enlisted the support of what might be termed "fellow travellers" - independent individuals with an agenda complementary to that of Scientology. The anti-psychiatry campaigner Dr. Thomas Szasz is a case in point.
3 Like many of Col Prouty's assertions, this is unproven and quite possibly unprovable, given the necessarily secret nature of such alleged practices.
4 Jack Williamson, Wonder's Child: My Life in Science Fiction, 1984. Williamson himself was a US Army Sergeant at the time.
5 The letter of recommendation from Congressman Robert M. Ford was in fact written by Hubbard under Ford's letterhead, as Ford himself has acknowledged. The letter from Congressman Magnuson is written in a suspiciously similar style.
6 See "L. Fletcher Prouty -- All Purpose Kennedy Assassination Expert?", http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/prouty.htm.