Sgt Joe Friday riding shotgun in an episode of 'Dragnet'

Townsend Brown? Just the facts, Ma’am.

How much of the published Townsend Brown story holds up to scrutiny?

For those of us who were born BTV* Dragnet was our first exposure to televised crime drama. From time to time, the star of the show, Sergeant Joe Friday (Jack Webb)  had to calm an overly excited witness in order to get “Just the facts, Ma’am.”

Paul and I are currently having an off-blog discussion about  the possibility that he may have received some overexcited testimony from his ‘MIN in Black*’ sources.  While these contributions have greatly enriched the mythos around Townsend Brown, Secret Agent Man, Scientist Extraordinaire, and Cream of the Caroline Crop,  they may not all be exactly 100% accurate.

But, with or without those fillips, the facts of Townsend Brown’s life still make for a fascinating story:

  • Townsend was a remarkably curious child prodigy and a self possessed autodidact with class, privilege and money to back him up.  He was, by nature, a meticulous scientist and ferocious data monger.
  • His military record places him at the NRL at the” birth” of RADAR, and at the Philadelphia Naval Yard at the dawn of  USN atomic energy research.
  • Immediately upon leaving the Navy, he took up residence on Wonderland Drive, in Laurel Canyon, where the super secret Wonderland lab would be built for the “study of cosmic radiation” (i.e. atomic weapons test results).
  • The story of the his Barber’s Point (Chapter 64: Pearl Harbor) demonstration is validated with the  narrative, held in the Truman library, of Truman’s jeep tour of Oahu, with a stop in Barber’s Point, .
  • NICAP seems to have been created by Townsend for the purpose of collecting U2 reports.
  • Townsend’s Winterhaven proposal outlined the organizational structure that would eventually be put into place to design a Navy/CIA Satellite
  • Townsend’s time in Umatilla, to “see to a construction job” corresponded to the period when the USN was building its Vanguard rocket launch facilities, 60 miles away on Cape Canaveral.
  • His missing notebooks period correspond to the Corona/Keyhole development years.
  • During two of those years, he was living in Valley Forge, PA, where the most secret of the GE satellite construction plants was located.
  • Among his later papers is correspondence addressed to Dr. Townsend Brown, of the UNC physics department.
  • Townsend’s son-in-law George has attested to being given an extensive top to bottom tour of the Stanford Research Institute, during which Townsend had the run of the place, and was addressed as ‘Doctor’ by those he encountered.
  • George has told of visiting Townsend and Jo in their Atherton home, in the incorporated square mile of exclusive homes adjacent to Menlo Park and Palo Alto. While there he overheard a visitor deliver a high level discussion of economic warfare experiments.
  • George has also told of being called upon to row a supposedly retired Townsend out to a submarine in the harbor, during the Azorian sea trials off Catalina.

Of course, in between and among all of those events, from 1920 onward, all kinds of science-y things were happening. As Townsend liked to say, “Every discovery is a new beginning.”    Meanwhile, the struggle for the control of global signals intelligence, whether land based, sea based, space based, or psi-based, begun in WWII  continued, and, no doubt, continues to this day.

The OSS, the CIA, the NSA, the NRO, and the Five Eyes alliance were each products of those struggles. In the end, Townsend’s career trajectory was probably influenced, or perhaps hindered, more by the rise and fall of these ruling bureaucracies than by the discoveries he and his cohorts were making.


*Before TV (ye olden days)
** Men on the Internet in Black

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