The scandal surrounding the Finders cult raises questions of ongoing significance about the rogue, untouchable nature of the CIA and its assets.
WASHINGTON — The Finders Scandal — events that took place several decades ago, which I have explored in the two previous parts of this series — might be perceived as very much in the rear-view mirror. It is of great contemporary relevance, however, because it raises questions of ongoing significance — particularly in an era where American-style kompromat is seen by many to have an undiminished, if not augmented, role in our politics — about the rogue, untouchable nature of the intelligence community and its assets. The connection between the CIA and the Finders cult is one of the most explosive and significant aspects of the whole Finders scandal because, if substantiated, it would constitute not simply an outlandish and perhaps criminal group purported to be abusing and trafficking children, but one sanctioned by the most powerful government on earth.
In previous entries in this series, I’ve presented a general overview of the Finders cult and the multiple stages in which the story has unfolded, and I’ve highlighted the claims made in the most repressed and damning documents associated with the case: U.S. Customs documents penned by Special Agent Ramon Martinez. If his reports are accurate, the CIA stepped in to cover up the criminal activity of the Finders in the initial 1987 investigation, with the agency implicitly claiming association with the cult by rendering the issue “an internal matter.” This would link the CIA with evidence of organized child trafficking, child abuse and allegations of ritual abuse and mind control.
As early as 1993, US News & World Report was accurate in describing the Finders case as one viewed “through a glass, very darkly.” As I wrote in the introduction to this series, the more one peers into the Finders case, the more one sees that what we have available to us in terms of hard evidence is at best fragmentary; however, what evidence we do have available is damning enough that it deserves to be reckoned with.
This segment will further explore the connections between the group and U.S. intelligence that have previously been touched upon. To do so, it’s necessary to reiterate that the involvement between the CIA and the Finders is at issue in multiple stages. First, there is the group’s murky history, especially that of Finders founder Marion Pettie. Intelligence connections are then indicated during the 1987 investigation of child abuse charges stemming from the incident in Tallahassee Florida, and such ties are subsequently documented while being ‘officially’ disputed by the the1993 Department of Justice inquiry. We will examine the history and larger context of the Finders in terms of CIA operations of the era, before discussing indications of CIA involvement in the 1987 case and the documents from the 1993 inquiry.
Founding of the Finders
The leader of the Finders cult was Marion G. Pettie, a former Air Force master sergeant who admitted that his son worked for CIA-front Air America. Pettie’s wife, Isabelle, is admitted in FBI vault documents to have worked for the CIA from 1951 to 1971 (although some documents state that her period of employment ended in 1961), and it is also admitted that she was given passports to North Korea, North Vietnam, the Soviet Union and elsewhere during the height of the Cold War. That she would travel to such strictly prohibited locations suggests she was more than a simple “staff stenographer,” as the documents attempt to portray her.
Specifically, an explosive investigative report written by Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Sgt. John Stitcher (though his name is redacted, the report is confirmed elsewhere to have been penned by him) on February 19, 1987, is labeled “Confidential” and “Do Not Disseminate,” and is titled “Re: Finders involvement with the Central Intelligence Agency.” It contains Sgt. Stitcher’s description of what an unnamed CIA special agent stated in terms of the agency’s involvement with the Finders, which reads in part:
S/A [redacted] was guarded but frank in his responses. He confirmed that [redacted] Isabelle, now deceased, was an employee of the agency from 1950 until 1971. When asked if our investigation was “treading on anyone’s toes out there,” [redacted] replied “Sort of”… He acknowledged that they have had someone working on the case since it first broke on the news media. He also stated that the agency is aware that during the period 1969-1971 [redacted] had traveled to Moscow, North Korea, and Vietnam… [three line redaction labeled “C”].
The significance of Sgt. Stitcher’s report cannot be overstated. Given the fact that the CIA coined the phrase “plausible deniability,” it is remarkable that the agency would admit that Isabelle Pettie worked for them for 21 years. The report relates that travel of at least one Finders member to restricted countries is admitted to have been undertaken with CIA awareness and facilitation. The agency is described as having a “vested interest” in the Finders and, although a large section is redacted under the classification Confidential, there is the suggestion that the CIA was involved in funding the Finders’ “operation.” The report continues:
… As a practical matter, what is not being said is as important as what S/A [redacted] has said. [Redacted] acknowledged that we are treading on their toes and that they have had someone working on the case since Feb 5 when it broke. They apparently have a vested interest in [redacted] and/or the group. They have not contacted any of the investigating agencies while they have been working on the case. They are also aware that [Redacted] traveled to prohibited countries during a period of hostilities that could only have been arranged by them. Finally, he stated that [two line redaction labeled “C”] This could explain a lot about the groups [sic] funding, which we have been unable to document to this point. [Entire redacted paragraph labeled “C”].
… Regardless of what type of operation they may have been engaged in, there will be no justification for the way the children have been treated, and the matter will be addressed in Family Division, Superior Court.
Elsewhere in the FBI Vault documents, it is specified that at least some of the passports referenced above were given to Isabelle Pettie. However, the passport holder’s name is redacted in Sgt. Stitcher’s crucial report, and multiple redactions are labeled Confidential rather than as a privacy exemption — despite the fact that Isabelle Pettie’s name is usually unredacted because she had died prior to the investigation.
This raises questions as to whether Isabelle was the only Finders member given passports to restricted countries that must have been known and facilitated by U.S. intelligence during the Cold War. We also know that the passports to restricted locations were the ones recovered during the searches of the Finders properties in Washington, D.C., as they are specifically described by Ramon Martinez, issued for travel to the same countries Stitcher recounts, and the time period of the passports matches. The passports are also listed (though not described) in the search warrants contained in the FBI Vault Documents. The fact that they were recovered at a D.C. Finders property would suggest that they were relevant to the more current Finders activities and membership at the time of the 1987 investigation. In addition, it highlights the accuracy of Martinez’s account, as it is yet another example of evidence he witnessed and accurately described that was documented elsewhere.
Returning to Finders cult leader Marion Pettie, we find that he was also known to have had access to international “military” transportation, despite being allegedly retired from military service long before 1987. In a Tallahassee Police Department (TPD) report dated February 10, 1987 (unredacted copies of which were provided to me by journalist and author Nick Bryant), Lt. Lee Hart of Culpeper Virginia is recorded as having stated that he had had contact with the Finders, and that “Pettie himself would probably go to Andrews Air Force Base and get a military plane flight to China.” That law enforcement would appraise Pettie as being able to simply show up at an Air Force base and obtain international transportation while the Finders were under a multi-state, multi-agency investigation speaks to Pettie’s direct and active involvement with military and intelligence interests, in addition to that of his wife and son.
An interview with Finders member and spokesperson Tobe Terrell, conducted by Derrick Broze of The Conscious Resistance, provides some corroboration of Pettie’s military connections and suggests the origins of his intelligence work. Terell told Broze that Pettie “… was in the Army Air Corps, which became the U.S. Air Force. He was highly regarded by the brass and they asked him if he would like to become an intelligence officer.” Despite this admission, during the rest of the interview, Terrell strenuously denied that the Finders were linked with the U.S. government or intelligence operations. Instead, Terrell claims, Petite retired after 20 years of working for the military and was “trained but never assigned” in intelligence work.
As stated earlier, we know Pettie had been a master sergeant in the Air Force, but was he still working for the military or intelligence while heading the Finders group, and is this why he could so easily obtain “military” transportation? Pettie himself admits that he began his stint in hippiedom while simultaneously working for the military. An interview with Pettie conducted by the Washington City Paper in 1996 states:
The group’s roots stretch back to a pre-WWII Washington, D.C., open house run by Pettie when he was an Army sergeant. There, he claims to have become a full-time student of human nature. “I rented two apartments about 55 years ago,” he testified at the court proceedings, “and opened them up for anybody that wanted to come in, and the idea in my head was that they were going to teach me something about power, money, or sex.”
This admission is remarkable in that it shows that Pettie’s interactions with the “alternative lifestyle” community began very early in his military service, prior to the Second World War and the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency. We can deduce, then, that his decades of association with the dawning New Age sphere may have been associated with his military work.
The description of his “open” apartments closely parallels the activities of recognized figures associated with the infamous MK-ULTRA project, in which the CIA experimented with efforts to achieve mind control, sometimes on unwitting subjects. In an excerpt from his book “Chaos, Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties,” journalist Tom O’Neill writes of Dr. Louis Jolyon West’s use of a hippie open house in association with MK-ULTRA studies funded by the CIA:
In the Haight, West arranged for the use of a crumbling Victorian house on Frederick Street, where he set up what he described as a “laboratory disguised as a hippie crash pad.” The “pad” opened in June 1967, at the dawn of the summer of love… Passersby were welcome to do as they pleased and stay as long as they liked, as long as they didn’t mind grad students taking notes on their behavior. According to records in West’s files, his “crash pad” was funded by the Foundations Fund for Research in Psychiatry, Inc.… papers in West’s desk that revealed that the Foundations Fund was a front for the CIA.
This echoes Marion Pettie’s early use of two apartments, and a later Finders property known as Ragged Mountain Ranch. The Washington Post reported that “anyone could get an organic meal without charge, without questions” at the rural location. In addition, a TPD report — dated February 9, 1987 — documents the statements of one of the children recovered in Florida to the effect that a man they knew as “Mr. Lucky” lived at a rural Finders property. The document adds that “[i]nformation from the FBI identifies Lucky as Ronald Alleman, an ex-Green Beret,” with Green Beret being a reference to U.S. Army Special Forces. The child providing information regarding Alleman states that he had “lots of medicine.” He was also mentioned by another Finders child in reference to basements at a D.C. Finders location. That yet another member of the Finders would have a military background is of interest in terms of questioning the narrative that the group was simply an alternative lifestyle commune.
We’ve discussed the intelligence ties of Marion Pettie and his wife Isabelle, but it should be reiterated that Pettie claimed that his son worked for Air America, an airline recognized as a CIA front that was involved in the Iran-Contra scandal. As reported by journalist Whitney Webb, Air America would go on to be renamed Southern Air Transport and would be associated with notorious child-sex-trafficker Jeffrey Epstein and his close associate Leslie Wexner. As Webb has pointed out, Epstein would also claim to have worked for the CIA, and he would reportedly receive a sweetheart prosecution deal because he “belonged to intelligence.”
I have previously mentioned that the topic of “mind control,” which many associate with the CIA’s MK-ULTRA project, comes up numerous times throughout the Finders investigation. The topic will be looked at in more detail in a future discussion of the Finders in relation to child abuse; however, it’s worth mentioning here regarding CIA-Finders ties that former Nebraska State Senator John Decamp, author of “The Franklin Coverup,” claimed that the Finders were associated with the CIA and that they were abusing children by means of indoctrination. He reportedly said on December 27, 1993, in response to a question regarding the explosive US News And World Report article:
I was getting information anonymously. I found out later that it came from CIA people who were concerned about what had happened. The CIA has denied any involvement in it, even today. But there is enough documentation to show that children, at a fairly tender age, were being used for sexual purposes, to compromise people, and for the “mind control” nonsense. Why? I don’t know, and I don’t claim to know.
What’s going on in Culpeper, Virginia?
In addition to the parallel between the activities of Marion Pettie and the “hippy crash pad” of Dr. Louis Jolyon West, we see that the Finders attempted to “take over the city government” of Culpeper, Virginia — a location where one of the most infamous figures of the MK-ULTRA program would choose to retire as, of all things, an “eco-hippy.” An April 13, 1987 MPD Intelligence Division report, contained in the FBI Vault and labeled “secret,” reads in part:
Special Agent [Redacted] of the Virginia State Police stated that this group appeared to be a survivalist organization with attempts to take over the city government in Culpeper[,] Virginia.
I FOIA’d the Virginia State Police for records pertaining to the Finders. Their response was to claim that the relevant documents do not exist. The fact that the Finders were reported to have attempted to hijack a city’s local government is, to say the least, not the kind of activity one would associate with a harmless but eccentric hippie commune.
Culpeper would also become the home of the CIA’s Sidney Gottlieb, whom The New York Times described in 2019 as “the brains behind the eventual C.I.A. program it helped spawn, MK-ULTRA, the notorious research endeavor that employed mind-altering drugs, including LSD.” The same article goes on to describe Gottlieb as “a chemist with a deep-seated interest in mysticism, … the first person the United States government ever hired to find ways to control human minds.”
Gottlieb retired not simply in the same location where the Finders allegedly attempted to take over city government, but also under the same cultural impetus: he spent the last years of his life as an “eco-hippy,” according to the Daily Beast and the Times, the latter writing: “Eric, Nils and Alice… tracked down Sidney Gottlieb in his ecologically correct home in Culpeper, Va., where the retired spymaster was raising goats, eating yogurt and preaching the values of peace and environmentalism.”
While there are no currently available links to directly connect Marion Pettie and Gottlieb or the activities of Dr. Jolyon West, the parallel of the guise of a hippy crash pad and Gottlieb’s retirement as an eco-hippy in the same location the Finders attempted to take over represents part of a larger context for understanding the Finders and the bizarre manner in which the CIA was operating during the same time frame.
CIA Involvement in 1987 investigation
Reports from the MPD during the 1987 investigation also conclude that there was a connection between the CIA and the Finders. I’ve cited the blockbuster MPD report penned by Sgt. Stitcher, which outlined CIA interest in the Finders case and documented the decades of CIA employment of Isabelle Pettie. A report filed by the MPD — dated April 13, 1987 — summarizes MPD findings on the Finders group. As intimated by Martinez’s memo, the report was labeled “Secret.” The document, which I also cited in Part Two of this series, includes an odd psychological take on the threat posed by the group, in addition to the conclusion that the group was used by the CIA:
It is the writers [sic] belief that the Finders organization is and has been utilized by the Central Intelligence Agency as a disinformation service spreading non essential, non critical information to various organizations throughout the United States and overseas. This group to [sic] the most part is made up of over-educated non-achievers who lack the inborn initiative to succeed on their own. Therefore they fell in with a charismatic leader who gave them direction and self importance. To [sic] the most part this organization individually is harmless, However, [sic] when directed and monitored by a controlling factor they are capable of destructive and illegal activities. [emphasis added]
Questions raised by the report include what the author meant by monitoring and direction from a “controlling factor” making the cult “capable of destructive and illegal activities.” Unfortunately, the typo-riddled MPD assessment lacks citation of evidence for any of its claims, and does not explain on what basis its speculation has been made. This is in stark contrast with the reports penned by Agent Martinez, which described specific pieces of evidence he witnessed and were virtually free of attempts at psychological analysis or speculation as to the group’s motivation or goals. Nonetheless, that we have the MPD admitting in its own assessment that the Finders were “utilized by the CIA” is remarkable and worth documenting, as it further substantiates that the CIA was involved with the group and would have been motivated to end investigations into the group’s activities.
I previously discussed the allegations made by Customs Special Agent Martinez to the effect that the Finders investigation revealed evidence of obvious criminality on the part of the Finders — including child trafficking, intent to kidnap, trade, and purchase children, among other crimes — but that the investigation was shut down by the CIA. Martinez reportedly learned of this development from Sgt. Stitcher, the previously cited MPD detective who wrote reports indicative of CIA involvement with the Finders. As I previously wrote, Stitcher passed away from septic shock prior to the 1993 DOJ inquiry into allegations of a CIA coverup of the original investigation, leaving him unable to corroborate or expand on Martinez’s allegations.
In a copy of Martinez’s whistleblower complaint, provided to me by independent researchers of We’ve Read The Documents, we see additional confirmation that Sgt. Stitcher was in fact the individual who informed Martinez that the Finders investigation had been rendered a CIA internal matter. Martinez wrote of his attempts to review evidence collected at Finders properties in Washington, D.C. during the initial 1987 investigation:
… [I] attempted to access the evidence collected for a period of approximately two months. I was unsuccessful in gaining that access and was informed by Sergeant Stitcher (now deceased) that the Finders was a CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) front gone bad, and that the evidence was unavailable. [emphasis added]
That Sgt. Stitcher could have corroborated CIA interference in the 1987 investigation were he alive at the time of the 1993 inquiry is clear, thanks to an additional summary of the preliminary DOJ inquiry — dated November 1, 1993 — contained in the first section of the FBI’s Finders Vault publications, which states in part:
[Redacted] also advised that he had been told that documentation had been located in the WMPD files to indicate that SGT. John Stycher [sic] (deceased), who had been his sergeant during the Finders search, had been contacted by a [redacted] had told him to step away from the Finders case. [emphasis added]
1993 DOJ inquiry
We also have the allegations made in 1993 by journalist Paul Rodriguez of The Washington Times, which I’ve previously discussed, to the effect that additional Customs Service documents record the CIA’s admission to “owning the Finders organization as a front for a domestic computer training operation.” The article also details the statement made by Sgt. Stitcher in his previously mentioned February 19, 1987 MPD report:
A Metropolitan Police document dated Feb. 19, 1987, quotes a CIA agent as confirming that his agency was sending its personnel to “a Finders Corp., Future Enterprises,” for training in computer operations.
We further see that in the third section of the FBI Vault documents, an FBI Washington Metropolitan Field Office (WMFO) summary classified “Secret” — dated April 29, 1994 — indicates that the MPD’s Intelligence Division and the CIA had such a close working relationship that they would simply call each other to check in on ongoing investigations:
In the 1987 time frame, the MPD Intelligence Division had a working relationship with the CIA where they could make direct telephonic inquiries concerning ongoing investigations… during the course of the Finders investigation, someone in MPD Intelligence Division related that he was told that one of the FINDERS group members [two line redaction classified Secret] indicated that “… this information did not influence the outcome of the investigation at all”…
The same synopsis specifically includes the CIA’s records relating to the Finders as provided to WMFO during the 1993 DOJ inquiry: two entire paragraphs of these results are redacted under the classification “S,” meaning Secret.
Who is conducting this investigation, really?
That the 1993 DOJ inquiry served to stamp out questions raised about the connection between the Finders and the intelligence community is unsurprising, and not only because such connections would be highly embarrassing for multiple agencies of law enforcement and intelligence. It’s especially predictable given the fact that the DOJ passed off the actual investigation of the allegations of a CIA coverup to the FBI, which again passed the responsibility of investigating to the WMFO.
In the previously cited 1993 article from The Washington Times, Paul Rodriguez reported that the DOJ was looking into the Finders case, and that it had initiated a “special task force” to do so. Rodriguez’s article was later quoted by the Associated Press. This kind of framing by the DOJ belied the fact that the department itself was doing very little “investigating” and, judging by the FBI Vault documents, had reduced its role to rubber-stamping the conclusions of the WMFO that were passed along by the FBI’s upper brass.
This is dubious work, as the WMFO had collaborated with the MPD in the initial 1987 Finders investigation, as acknowledged in synopses dated 1994, compiled by the WMFO. Also, according to Martinez, the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division instructed the MPD “not to advise” the WMFO of “anything that had transpired.” In other words, the DOJ and FBI were relying on a field office already heavily involved in the initial investigation, and apparently intentionally kept in the dark, to investigate its own findings: if there had been interference, WMFO would have hardly been a neutral or fully informed third party appropriate to investigate it.
That the DOJ asked the FBI to investigate the issue is demonstrated by a WMFO synopsis contained in the Vault documents — dated April 29, 1994 — which states:
By memorandum dated 10/26/93, from Acting Assistant Attorney General John C. Keeney, Criminal Division, Department of Justice (DOJ), to Assistant Director Larry A. Potts, the DOJ requested that the FBI conduct a preliminary inquiry into allegations made by [redacted] concerning child sexual abuse by a group known as the “Finders,” and what role, if any, was played by the United States Intelligence Community. [emphasis added]
As to the WMFO being tasked with the bulk of the work in the 1993 investigation, an example of this is seen in a WMFO memo sent to the FBI Director — dated November 15, 1993 — which reads:
The WMFO case file on the “Finders” was reviewed and summarized for FBIHQ in referenced WMFO 11/6/93 teletype. The MPD case file was reviewed by WMFO on 11/4/93. Copies were made of significant documents and sent to FBIHQ via facsimile… on 11/9/93, a photocopy of the entire MPD file was obtained and hand carried to FBIHQ.
Here we see that the WMFO is not simply summarizing its own involvement in the 1987 case, but also reviewing the MPD case file for the FBI, determining what are or are not “significant documents,” and sending them to FBI Headquarters. Likewise, the vast majority of substantive summaries and synopses contained in the Vault documents are compiled by the WMFO. It is self-evident that the integrity of the results of such an investigation is highly questionable.
Conclusion: Where the evidence leads
We have established that Marion Pettie had an extensive military background that coincided with the earliest days of his setting up the hippie-style open apartments that would later develop into the Finders group. We’ve seen that Marion’s wife Isabelle spent over 20 years working for the CIA, and that Pettie claimed his son worked for the CIA front Air America, which was later tied to Jeffrey Epstein. We know that Finders members included an ex-Green Beret. The CIA was reported by MPD Sgt. John Stitcher to have run the Finders as a front gone bad, and Ramon Martinez recounts that the CIA interfered in the 1987 investigation of the Finders case. Before the 1993 DOJ inquiry could verify these allegations with Stitcher, he died. We’ve also established that a 1993 DOJ inquiry into the Finders criminal activities and the CIA’s role in covering up these activities should not be viewed as conclusive or even reliable in its determination that no evidence to back such claims was ever found.
To summarize the work of this piece and its predecessor: It is my conclusion that, based on the evidence available to us and analyzed so far, we can factually state that the Finders was connected with the CIA and that Agent Martinez’s Customs reports are credible. This in turn should serve as a trail marker for those exploring the complex and often obscured role the intelligence community has played and continues to play in American life.
Feature photo | Graphic by Antonio Cabrera
Elizabeth Vos is an independent journalist and MintPress News Contributor. Her work has appeared in many media outlets including Consortium News, where she co-hosts the CNLive! webcast.