'Lost Symbol': Dan Brown's New Book Has Nothing on Real-Life Conspiracies

National Archives, FBI's files rival "Lost Symbol."

September 13, 2009, 6:08 PM

Sept. 19, 2009— -- Dan Brown's latest novel, "The Lost Symbol," is flying off the shelves -- but some of the greatest conspiracy stories can be found for free online.

Read the one about a troubled music icon's relationship with his skin doctor?

It sounds like more on the death of Michael Jackson, but in this case it's about Elvis Presley, who died 42 years ago at the age of 42.

There are books written on the FBI's Elvis files, but you can read them yourself, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Amid newspaper clippings and hard-to-read scanned copies of what seem to be mimeographed reports are some really interesting passages. In Part 3, for example, Elvis made a criminal complaint of blackmail against a South African dermatologist who was giving him skin treatments for an undetermined problem while Presley was stationed in Germany after being drafted into the Army. The blackmailer, it turned out, was not really a medical doctor.

There is also an account, in the first batch of papers, on Presley's tour of the FBI building in 1970. Presley did not meet with then-FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who had been advised against meeting with Elvis because of the King's strange personal appearance and the fact that he was then embroiled in a paternity suit, ultimately discredited, in Los Angeles.

On the tour of FBI headquarters, Presley told FBI personnel that "in his opinion on one has ever done as much for his country as has Mr. Hoover," and that he, Presley, considered the director the "greatest living American."

Presley also met with President Nixon -- a meeting for which there is photographic evidence -- and after his tour of the FBI, Presley "privately advised" that he has volunteered his services to the president in connection with the narcotics problem. Nixon responded by furnishing Presley with an agent's badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.

More Than 1,600 Pages of UFO Reports in FBI Files

Presley, described by FBI agents in the memo as having "a bizarre personal appearance," had the badge Nixon gave him in his pocket for the tour of the FBI.

He went on to tell the agents that he felt "the Beatles laid the groundwork for many of the problems we are having with young people in their filthy unkempt appearances and suggestive music while entertaining in this country during the early and middle 1960's."

The documents also include descriptions of assassination threats made against Presley when he served in the Army in Germany in the late 1950s.

There are thousands of pages in the FBI's FOIA reading room on gangsters such as Bugsy Siegel, who was implicated in many murders, but whose death remains unsolved. Large sections of the Siegel documents remain redacted, making them difficult to read.

There are also files on people who interacted with gangsters, including Frank Sinatra. There are 2,403 pages of FBI documents, on everything from an FBI investigation into investments he made with Carlo Gambino to a tip that he bribed a doctor to declare him medically unfit to serve in World War II.

There are far fewer files on the UFO scare in Roswell, N.M., in 1947. In fact, there's one page total. It's a short, mysterious report on a hexagonal disc that the FBI office in Dallas believed to be a high altitude weather balloon.

The memo makes mention of tests that were to be done in Cincinnati and mentioned that journalists were seeking more information. But the single page, dated July 8, 1947, concluded: "NO FURTHER INVESTIGATION BEING CONDUCTED."

There are many more than 1,600 pages on UFO sightings in the FBI's section of the Unusual Phenomena Listing of FOIA documents.

Americans are not the only ones with UFO sightings. Over at the CIA's online FOIA Reading Room, there is an account of local reports from outside Vilnius, near the Lithuanian border, of two police officers seeing "a spherical object hanging and 'pulsing,' alternately shrinking and expanding."

The CIA's 'Family Jewels'

Additional police were summoned, and they tape-recorded the electrical "crackle" the flying saucer made and "noted that the tall grass around the place over which the sphere had 'hung' was flattened to a radius of 10 meters."

The Lithuania sighting report is among the 25 most downloaded documents at the CIA's FOIA reading room.

For a more guided tour of CIA documents on UFOs, click on the Agency's report "CIA's role in the study of UFOs, 1947-1990."

There is a more inclusive study of government documents on UFO sightings at the National Archives reading room.

Also among the top 25 downloaded documents at the CIA's FOIA reading room is an August 1980 daily intelligence assessment that examines not only the deteriorating military situation for Russia after its invasion of Afghanistan, but also attempts by the Iraq government in 1980 to buy uranium from Niger.

There is a 700-page report on the Bay of Pigs.

Perhaps most interesting on the CIA Web site is a declassified version of its "Family Jewels" report, detailing 25 years of agency misdeeds, released through FOIA 15 years after it was first requested. The so-called Family Jewels is supposed to be an exhaustive report on all the secrets the CIA kept. The National Security Archive, an independent information repository run through George Washington University, decodes the Family Jewels memo.

But don't look to FOIA-released documents for complete clarity. Many of them retain heavy redactions. In the "Family Jewels" report, the National Security Archive points out that some documents were less heavily redacted in earlier releases.

Secret FBI and CIA Documents Not So Enlightening

Nearly every government agency has a FOIA reading room. The Department of Justice has an index of them here.

And we haven't even gotten to the war in Vietnam, the war in Iraq, or other document-rich government activities.

On the home page of the National Archives is the claim that all the documents there could circle the earth 57 times if placed end to end. That is a lot of digging.

Most of the documents have nothing to do with celebrities, UFOs or CIA misdeeds. They are each one piece of a narrative thread that, without context, despite how interesting they might be, are less than enlightening.

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