News Update

James Brown said the CIA spied on him. The CIA won't say

Brown made this extraordinary claim about two years before his death. It barely registered in the public consciousness. But it mattered then and it matters now, if indeed it’s true, because the CIA is forbidden by its charter from domestic spying on Americans. And if the CIA spied on Brown in other countries, it would certainly qualify as newsworthy.
In March 2021, CNN sued the CIA under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain any files it has on Brown. The case is pending, with a judge’s ruling anticipated in 2022. In keeping with its longstanding practice, the CIA said in July it could neither confirm nor deny having records on Brown. In October, the agency said in a court filing that disclosing whether it has records on Brown could “cause serious damage to U.S. national security.”
My search for Brown’s secrets began in 2017, when a woman named Jacque Hollander called me and said Brown and his third wife, Adrienne, had been murdered. As strange as her claims were, I found evidence that raised disturbing questions about the two deaths. CNN published my investigative series in 2019.
One year later, the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office in Atlanta began looking into James Brown’s death. On November 8, in response to my request under the Georgia Open Records Act, the DA’s office sent me an internal memo that signaled prosecutors may end the inquiry with no further action. In the memo dated October 28, Deputy District Attorney Adriane Love wrote to District Attorney Fani Willis that “there is an insufficient basis for the initiation of a Grand Jury investigation into the death of Mr. Brown.” I don’t know what investigators did for the last 22 months, or whether Willis accepted Love’s recommendation to close the case. Her spokesman has not returned phone calls or emails.
Shortly after the CNN series was published, I found a surprising passage in Brown’s 2005 book “I Feel Good: A Memoir of a Life of Soul.” It’s well-known that in 1968, after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Brown helped prevent rioting in Boston and Washington. But after that, Brown said in the book, his career took an odd turn.
James Brown performed at Boston Garden on April 5, 1968, the day after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.James Brown performed at Boston Garden on April 5, 1968, the day after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
“There was a lot of suspicion, especially among the national police, the FBI, and the CIA about this so-called display of ‘Black Power’ on my part,” Brown wrote, with co-author Marc Eliot. “Their thinking went something along the lines of, if he could stop a riot…he could just as easily start one. From that moment I knew I was put under national security surveillance…I could sense them watching me, spying on me, staking out my home.”
I can’t find a single news story about this allegation, perhaps because Brown’s assertion in the same paragraph that “they were able to see me through TV” with “some kind of special reverse X-rays or something” made him sound as if he were imagining things. Eliot, Brown’s co-author, told me he put Brown’s claim in the book even though he doubted it was true. He declined to share his interview tapes with CNN.
But the more I examine Brown’s claim about surveillance, the more plausible it becomes. In interviews, State Department cables, Congressional testimony, and an examination of his interactions with the White House through eight presidencies, what emerges is a little-known picture of James Brown’s American experience. He was a Black man who loved his country and sometimes had reason to wonder whether it loved him back. After years of exploring his life and death, I find it possible to believe two things at once:
1. James Brown was paranoid.
2. That does not mean all his suspicions were wrong.

‘The most important Black man in America?’

Around the time he fell under “national security surveillance,” as his book would allege, Brown caught the eye of a sitting president. Documents from the Lyndon Johnson presidential library show that on April 24, 1968, a suggested guest list for an upcoming state dinner included Brown, who was described as a “Negro soul singer” who “went on TV in Washington to try and stop the looting.”
Brown did indeed attend dinner at the White House in May 1968, sitting at President Johnson’s table along with Senator Alan Bible and the entertainer Bob Hope. It was a fraught moment in American history, just after King’s assassination and just before that of Senator Robert Kennedy, with the government fighting the Viet Cong overseas and an army of dissidents at home. Prominent Americans could be assets to the government—as Brown was when he played for American troops in Vietnam that year—or perceived liabilities, if they raised their voices in protest.
At the time, as Congressional investigations would later find, the CIA was working hand-in-hand with the FBI to sabotage two groups that were considered threats to national security: leftist antiwar protesters and Black militant factions. (The CIA declined to comment for this story and did not answer any questions on a detailed list I sent.) One stated goal of these operations, according to a 1968 FBI document later uncovered by the Church Committee, was to “prevent the rise of a ‘messiah’ who could ‘unify and electrify’ the movement” of Black nationalism.
President George W. Bush hosted Brown at the White House in 2001. Brown also kept up a friendly correspondence with Bush's father, the first President Bush.President George W. Bush hosted Brown at the White House in 2001. Brown also kept up a friendly correspondence with Bush's father, the first President Bush.
After the murder of King in 1968, James Brown was one such candidate. That August he released the single “Say It Loud—I’m Black and I’m Proud.” In early 1969, Brown appeared on the cover of LOOK magazine, alongside this question: “Is he the most important black man in America?”
Brown understood how power worked. Bad things could happen to prominent Black men in the ’60s and ’70s who displeased the government. King endured a vicious campaign of FBI harassment. So did the civil-rights leader Stokely Carmichael, who left for Africa in 1968 after his mother received a threatening phone call from someone associated with the FBI. (I sent a list of questions to the FBI’s national press office for this story, but I received no answers. A spokesperson told me to “check the existing FOIA vault and send any additional requests to FOIA.”) In 1969, the young Black Panther Fred Hampton was shot to death in his bed by Chicago police. The police said they were serving a warrant for illegal weapons, but Hampton’s death has been called a “cold-blooded assassination.”
Brown was a pragmatist, not a partisan. And so, despite a prior endorsement of the liberal Hubert Humphrey’s bid for the presidency in 1968, Brown kept up a friendship with President Richard Nixon, a conservative Republican. But this apparently didn’t keep the government out of his affairs.
“It has been brought to my attention that investigators, from which department they have yet to state, have been searching and checking my equipment looking for drugs (supposedly) used or associated with some of my former employees,” Brown wrote in a letter received by the Nixon White House in 1972. “I consider this disrespect not only to my attorneys but myself as well.” Brown’s letter was forwarded to the Justice Department. It’s not clear what happened after that.
During this time, according to RJ Smith’s book “The One: The Life and Music of James Brown,” US Marshal James F. Palmer frequently accompanied Brown on his travels. Palmer visited the White House with Brown. No one from Brown’s entourage seemed to know why Palmer traveled with Brown, or who was paying him. Palmer died in 2019. But his daughter Crystal Palmer told me in an interview that Palmer and Brown were friends. She said that when Brown was in the hospital in 2006 before he died, Brown’s manager, Charles Bobbit, called the former federal agent to let him know.
In 1975, Senator Frank Church convened the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities. Examining nearly 800 witnesses and more than 100,000 pages of documents, the Church Committee uncovered “substantial wrongdoing” by the US intelligence community, including the CIA.
The Church Committee also scrutinized an arm of the IRS called the Special Service Staff, which, according to Senator Church, “had the task of investigating political activists” who would be “punished by the IRS for their political views.” Before the SSS was abolished in 1973, its thousands of targets included the ACLU, the National Urban League, the NAACP, and James Brown, Godfather of Soul.
Calling IRS Commissioner Donald Alexander to testify in a public hearing, Senator Church went down a list of names and asked Alexander to explain why these people—Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling, Senators Charles Goodell and Ernest Gruening, Congressman Charles Diggs, et cetera—had been singled out by the IRS for investigation. From the transcript:
Senator Church: Well, there are other names here that are equally puzzling—writer Jimmy Breslin, rock singer James Brown—
Alexander: That would come under the rock singer category.
(General laughter.)
Alexander: There was apparently quite a concern about that. I suppose some of our people did not like rock music. Now, I share that view. I don’t like rock music. But I don’t think it has anything to do with tax enforcement or tax administration.
The IRS pursued James Brown for decades over unpaid taxes. To my knowledge, details of the SSS investigation of Brown have never been made public. The IRS denied my FOIA request on the matter, citing privacy exemptions, so it’s not clear who initiated the SSS probe of Brown.
In the Church Committee hearing, Senator Walter Mondale complained that the misuse of the IRS “was just part of a broader, more basic project by which various agencies—the FBI, the CIA, and even the White House—decided that the criminal laws weren’t adequate to deal with the threat to this nation and that therefore they needed a new tactic.”
When I filed a FOIA request with the FBI for its records on Brown, all I received was a case file from 1989 that was opened after Brown’s wife Adrienne complained that Brown was the victim of police harassment. But James Sullivan, author of the 2008 book “The Hardest Working Man: How James Brown Saved the Soul of America,” wrote that Brown had apparently been subject to “extensive FBI surveillance.”
According to Sullivan, a series of FOIA appeals for the book “ultimately yielded a confirmation by the FBI that the bureau’s Atlanta, Birmingham, and Baltimore field offices may have conducted much earlier surveillance on the singer, and that file records on Brown were destroyed according to maintenance schedules in June 1989, and July 2001.”
Investigators apparently searching for drugs. A US Marshal in his entourage. Unwanted attention from the political arm of the IRS. And FBI records that were allegedly destroyed. James Brown had tangible reasons to believe he was surrounded by the United States government.

‘Ready to serve my country’

Whether from patriotism or fear, or possibly both, James Brown played the role of proud American. His longtime assistant Roosevelt Johnson told me that Brown often spoke of his wish to be buried in a flag-draped casket. In letters to presidents, he called himself a statesman and a countryman. Even as he complained in his 1972 letter to the White House about investigators looking for drugs, he used the language of a soldier reporting for duty.
“Ready to serve my country at anytime,” he wrote, “whether it is home or abroad.”
On August 12, 1970, Brown was invited, along with members of the news media, to “a special background briefing on Foreign Policy” at a hotel in New Orleans. According to the invitation, the briefing would be conducted by President Nixon and Henry Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. The documents don’t say whether Brown accepted the invitation.
In 1972, Brown met with Nixon in the Oval Office and endorsed him for re-election, infuriating some of his fans. In an interview explaining why he endorsed Nixon, Brown said, “This is one of my first approaches to trying to do something abroad, other than sing and dance on a stage.” The interviewer did not ask what he meant by that—at least not in the clip available on YouTube—and Brown did not explain. Was Brown sent abroad on official business? If so, he would not have been the first musician used by the US government.
In 1960, for example, the State Department and the US Information Agency sponsored the great jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong on a tour of Africa. Armstrong and his wife, Lucille, arrived in Congo amid a political crisis.
As described in the 2021 book “White Malice: The CIA and the Covert Recolonization of Africa,” by Susan Williams, “The Armstrongs spent their last evening in the Congo with the CIA station chief, who hosted them under his cover at the embassy as political officer. They did not meet the legitimate prime minister of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, who was being kept captive in his official residence on Avenue Tilkens, not far away. Louis Armstrong … would have been appalled to know that the man from the embassy with whom he dined was actually a CIA official who was cold-bloodedly plotting the death of the democratically elected prime minister of the country.”
That’s right: The US government used an unwitting Black American entertainer to advertise its own culture in an African nation even as the CIA was plotting to poison that nation’s prime minister. Americans feared that the mineral-rich Congo would fall under Soviet control if Lumumba remained in power. Despite objections from several members of the Eisenhower administration, who said the president did not authorize the assassination, the Church Committee later stood by its conclusion that “the chain of events revealed by the documents and testimony is strong enough to permit a reasonable inference that the plot to assassinate Lumumba was authorized by President Eisenhower.”
According to Stephen Kinzer’s 2019 book “Poisoner in Chief: Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control,” the CIA chemist Sidney Gottlieb prepared an assassination kit to be used on Lumumba. (Gottlieb died in 1999; his 1975 testimony to a closed session of the Church Committee under the alias “Joseph Scheider” was sealed for 50 years.)
The assassination kit featured the botulinum toxin, a hypodermic needle and a “pre-poisoned tube of toothpaste.” This plot failed, but another succeeded. The US has never admitted involvement in an operation during which Lumumba was shot and killed and his remains were either burned or dissolved in acid.
About 13 years later, James Brown visited the same country. Now the president was Joseph-Desire Mobutu, better known as Mobutu Sese Seko, who had a history of collaboration with the CIA. It was 1974. Henry Kissinger had become US secretary of state. And as Brown traveled in Africa, the State Department showed interest.
Kissinger turned 98 this year and co-authored a book that was released in November; he has not responded to my interview requests. According to CNN analyst Aaron David Miller, who served 25 years in the State Department, the secretary of state’s name could appear on cables that the secretary had not drafted or even read. Kissinger’s last name is on at least three State Department cables that mention Brown, including one regarding Brown’s upcoming performances in Gabon and Zaire, now known once again as the Democratic Republic of the Congo:
PRESIDENT BONGO HAS WANTED THE BROWN REVUE (OF 34 PEOPLE) TO PERFORM IN LIBREVILLE FOR SOME TIME. BROWN MET WITH AMBASSADOR MAVOUNGOU YESTERDAY AT WHICH TIME VISAS AND OTHER MATTERS WERE ARRANGED…DATE OF PERFORMANCE VERY NICELY PRECEDES SEPTEMBER 24 CHAMPIONSHIP FIGHT IN KINSHASA WHERE BROWN IS SCHEDULED TO PERFORM WITH OTHER CELEBRITIES.
Back at home, Brown’s tax problems worsened. In 1976, he wrote to President Gerald Ford to ask for help:
“If the United States says I owe them tax money when I must have saved my country billions stopping the riots, then I’m guilty. But I’m guilty of not knowing. Remember, fraud starts with intent. Intent starts with knowledge. For God’s sake, since I have neither, I am innocent. Mr. President, don’t let me have to borrow money from another country to free me in my own.”
There is no indication that Ford responded to the letter. Instead Brown heard back from an IRS official, who did not offer him any tax relief.
Brown did, in fact, seek help in other countries. And US officials knew it was happening. State Department cables describe a trip to Gabon in 1977 that involved Brown and his manager, Charles Bobbit. In a 2007 interview, Bobbit said he and Brown went to Gabon to ask President Omar Bongo for money. Bobbit, who died in 2017, was vague in the interview about what, if anything, Brown received from Bongo. But he lost his right-hand man: Bobbit left Brown and went to work for Gabon’s president.
Still desperate to resolve his tax problems, Brown appealed to President Jimmy Carter. That didn’t work. On August 21, 1978, according to a State Department cable, Brown met with Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda and asked Kaunda to intervene on his behalf with President Carter. A State Department official wrote to the US Embassy in Zambia, “WE ARE AWARE THAT BROWN WAS ON TOUR IN GABON SOMETIME DURING PERIOD 1974-1977 AND MAY HAVE BEEN SPONSORED BY PRESIDENT OF THAT COUNTRY. EMBASSY SHOULD SUGGEST TO MULAISHO (Dominic Mulaisho, Kaunda’s advisor on economic affairs) THAT HE CHECK WITH THE GABONESE ON BROWN’S ACTIVITIES.”
In 1985, near the end of the Cold War, Brown released the patriotic anthem “Living In America.” “You may not be lookin’ for the promised land,” he sang, “But you might find it anyway.” This song was featured in the nationalistic filmRocky IV,” the story of an irrepressible American boxer who travels to the Soviet Union and fights so bravely against his hulking Russian opponent that he wins the hearts and minds of a previously hostile crowd. Drenched in sweat and draped in the American flag, Rocky gives a rousing speech about the human spirit.
Brown appeared alongside Carl Weathers in the 1985 film "Rocky IV."Brown appeared alongside Carl Weathers in the 1985 film "Rocky IV."
“So what I’m trying to say is, that if I can change, then you can change,” he says. “EVERYBODY CAN CHANGE!”
The real Soviet Union was not so impressed. At a news conference in Moscow in January 1986, according to The New York Times, a Russian government minister said “Rocky IV” and another Sylvester Stallone film, “Rambo: First Blood Part II,” were anti-Soviet propaganda. Deputy Minister of Culture Georgi Ivanov complained that American movies were “pushing onto the screens a new type of hero, a killer with ideological convictions.”
Stallone was not just the star of “Rocky IV”; he was its screenwriter and director. I wanted to know how he got the idea for the story, how James Brown came to be involved, and what he thought of the allegation that his film was anti-Soviet propaganda. When I emailed his publicist, Michelle Bega, to ask for an interview, Bega said Stallone was unavailable.
About two years after “Rocky IV” and Brown’s song “Living In America” were released, Brown wrote to President Ronald Reagan to ask for help with some of his legal troubles. He wrote, “I have served you diligently as my President and someone I believe and love. I went behind communist Countries and sung ‘Living In America’ proudly.”
Could the CIA have worked with someone as volatile as Brown? Former CIA officer Valerie Plame told me she found it “highly unlikely” the CIA would have paid Brown any attention. Former CIA officer Jim Marcinkowski also said he had his doubts.
In September, I called the retired Navy Admiral Bobby R. Inman, former director of the National Security Agency and deputy director of central intelligence. He said he was not aware of a connection between James Brown and the CIA. But he did not rule out the possibility.
“Well, you look at an organization that has existed since the ’40s,” he said. “With a mission to try to track what’s going on all over the world. In all variety. And their role in doing it is not electronically—their role is to do it by humans. And so they’re constantly going to be on the outlook for anyone who might be able to provide useful information. Whether it’s just an open exchange, whether it’s a targeted—where you actually task them to do something, where they become an asset.”
“And what about a guy,” I said,” who has access to foreign leaders all around the world, can travel to Europe, Africa, wherever else, behind the Iron Curtain—does this look like somebody who might be—”
The admiral cut in.
“By the description alone,” he said, “it’s somebody of interest.”

‘Serious damage to US national security’

In October, the CIA filed a motion for summary judgment in CNN’s lawsuit against the agency for any records it had on James Brown. The motion included a declaration from information review officer Vanna Blaine, who said the CIA searched for unclassified records on Brown and found none. But for records “that would reveal a classified or unacknowledged connection to the CIA,” the CIA would neither release them nor tell us whether they existed.
“In the case of a person who has been cooperating with the CIA, official confirmation of that cooperation could cause the targets to take retaliatory action against that person or against their family or friends,” Blaine wrote. “It also places in jeopardy every individual with whom the individual has had contact. Thus, the indiscretion of one source in a chain of intelligence sources can damage an entire spectrum of sources. As such, confirming or denying the existence of records on a particular individual, like James Joseph Brown, reasonably could be expected to cause serious damage to U.S. national security…”
This last sentence sounds remarkably similar to what Jacque Hollander says a former Army intelligence analyst told her when she accused James Brown of a crime in the mid-90s. It’s a complicated story, so bear with me as I try to explain.
Jacque Hollander (then Jacque Daughtry) wrote a song called "Atlanta Will Be Rockin'," which Brown sang at halftime of an Atlanta Falcons game in 1987.Jacque Hollander (then Jacque Daughtry) wrote a song called "Atlanta Will Be Rockin'," which Brown sang at halftime of an Atlanta Falcons game in 1987.
Hollander was the songwriter who called me in 2017 to say that Brown had been murdered. I have spoken with her countless times in the last four years and have found her to be a reliable source. She worked with Brown in the 1980s and befriended his wife, Adrienne. In 1988, she says, James Brown drove her into the woods of South Carolina and raped her at gunpoint. (Brown was never charged; his attorney later called the allegation a “shakedown in its most stupid form.”) At first, Hollander was too afraid to tell the authorities. But in 1994, as she began planning to take a polygraph test and tell her story to a prosecutor, an odd sequence of events ensued. These events convinced her that Brown had protection from the US government.
First, she says, a man named Lloyd Burchette called her out of the blue and gradually won her trust. Burchette died in 2016. In various news stories from the 1980s and ’90s, he called himself a former Army intelligence analyst. Burchette seemed to be gathering intelligence from Hollander, she said, and he told her, regarding her allegation against Brown, “You’re never going to get this out…The government is going to stop this.” According to Hollander, Burchette told her he’d worked as a government assassin and said her case was a “matter of national security.”
In a phone interview in November, Burchette’s widow, Connie, told me that nothing would surprise her about her husband of 50 years. “He had a lot of mysteries about him,” she said, but she’d never heard anything about her husband being a government assassin. Burchette was stationed in Japan with the Army Security Agency, she said, and later sold secure phone systems in Mexico and worked as a private investigator. Before he died of congestive heart failure, she said, he threw away some of his diaries.
“There were probably things he didn’t want me to know he was doing,” she said.
Hollander has shown me her handwritten notes describing her experiences from 1994 to 1996. They say that in December 1994, around the time Burchette stopped calling her, she met a Secret Service agent. She kept his Secret Service business card and showed it to me decades later. His name is Robert A. Fisak, and a 1997 entry on the website for his international security firm says that during “20 years in the Secret Service, Robert Fisak got used to having U.S. presidents know him by name.”
Hollander says that Fisak, like Burchette, gathered a lot of information from her. (I have tried to reach Fisak by phone, email, text message, and in person several times since 2018. I sent a list of questions to his post office box in November 2021. He has not responded.) Hollander says Fisak was a kindly man who seemed genuinely concerned about her safety and told her she should discard her evidence against Brown or someone close to Brown might have her killed.
In 1995, just after she passed the polygraph test and made an appointment to visit a prosecutor in South Carolina, Hollander says she was approached at her workplace by yet another mysterious man. He called himself Steve and claimed to be a former Navy SEAL. (Later she gave me a recording of his voice from her old answering machine, but I have not been able to find him or confirm his last name.) They began dating. He wanted to know everything about her polygraph test and her impending visit to South Carolina.
One day, she says, she visited his apartment in Atlanta unannounced and found the parking lot full of cars with government license plates. Knocking at the door, she heard a loud commotion inside, as if the apartment were full of people. He told her to go away and come back later. When she did, all the government cars were gone and Steve was alone in his apartment.
Early in 1996, Hollander says, Steve persuaded her to meet him in Dallas and bring the videotape of her polygraph test. She says he was joined by a man named Brian Donahue. She says Donahue slammed her against a wall, stole the tape from her suitcase and taunted her about Adrienne Brown, who had just died in California at age 45 while recovering from plastic surgery. Later, a police informant alleged that a medical doctor had confessed to her that he’d murdered Adrienne Brown.
CNN investigation raises questions about the deaths of James Brown and his third wife, AdrienneCNN investigation raises questions about the deaths of James Brown and his third wife, Adrienne
Hollander believes Adrienne Brown was killed because she knew too much about the secret activities surrounding her husband. Hollander says she thinks the men lured her to Dallas to keep her sequestered while the operation to kill Adrienne Brown was carried out in California. Just before she left Dallas, Hollander says, Steve told her he worked for the CIA.
“I let you live,” she says he told her.
The second man in Dallas, Brian Donahue, died in 2012 at age 60. His address history matches the address of the apartment that Hollander visited in Dallas in 1996, and his wife confirmed to me that Donahue was in Dallas at that time. In 2019 I filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the CIA for any documents it had on Donahue. The CIA responded with a letter that said, in part, “we did not locate any responsive records that would reveal a publicly acknowledged CIA affiliation with the subject. To the extent that your request also seeks records, if any exist, that would reveal an unacknowledged or classified affiliation with the subject of your request, we can neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence of such records.” CNN appealed that decision to the CIA’s Agency Release Panel, which denied the appeal in 2020.
According to Hollander, an FBI agent named Jerry Barnett was looking into the James Brown organization around the time she went to Dallas. Then Barnett told her he had to go to Virginia, because “the CIA stepped into one of my cases.” Barnett died in 2011; my FOIA request for his FBI documents is pending.
I explained this scenario to R. James Woolsey in a phone interview in October. He was director of central intelligence from 1993 to 1995. Woolsey said he knew of no connection between Brown and the CIA and said he never authorized any covert domestic operations. I asked if it was possible a domestic operation could have occurred without his knowledge. “No,” he said. I also emailed John Deutch, who was director of central intelligence from 1995 to 1996, to ask for an interview. He replied, “I do not speak to reporters about my time as DCI which ended over 20 years ago.”
But a former deputy director of central intelligence was willing to offer some informed conjecture.
“Well, let’s run through the possibilities,” Admiral Inman said. “First, if it is just Brown as an individual, he’s off-limits, as an American citizen. If it is Brown who is interacting with foreign—in foreign countries, traveling, has been briefed, is willing to be cooperative, reporting what he’s seen or heard, then there could be an interest in trying to suppress anything that was going to discredit him.”

The unanswered questions

Jacque Hollander is convinced that she stumbled into the clandestine world of the CIA when she entered James Brown’s life. In 2019, hoping to advance my reporting on Brown and the CIA, I helped her file a request for any documents the CIA kept on her. That summer and fall, she regularly called the agency’s FOIA hotline to check on her case and then called me afterward to say what she’d learned. At various times, she said she was told, “We’ve got our agents working on it right now,” and “We are going to give you everything in your file,” and “Our officers are in meetings over this,” and “Some of it can be cleared and some of it can’t.”
That December, the CIA sent a letter saying she would receive no documents.
“If a classified association between you and the CIA were to exist,” the letter said, “records revealing such a relationship would be properly classified and require continued safeguards against unauthorized disclosure.” She appealed that decision, without success.
Many of Brown’s high-level government connections have died, including Nixon in 1994, Reagan in 2004, and George H.W. Bush in 2018. Others seem reluctant to talk about him. Brown and President Bill Clinton kept up a correspondence during Clinton’s presidency, with Brown calling Clinton “night train” and telling him to “play your horn for me,” but Clinton’s press team has not responded to my interview requests.
Neither have representatives for President George W. Bush, who honored Brown at the White House in 2001. In 2019, I submitted a FOIA request to Bush’s presidential library for documents on Brown. My request is pending. The supervisory archivist told me they had “identified approximately 8515 pages, 3033 electronic files, and 980 images of potentially responsive records that must be processed in order to respond to your request.”
Jacque Hollander is not the only one who has spoken with me about Brown and the CIA. In a 2019 phone interview, Brown’s disputed fourth wife, Tomirae Brown, said there were secret cameras in their house and indications that their phones were tapped. She said two of Brown’s advisers told him that he was a “government man,” and that the CIA would protect him.
Shana Quinones, who worked for Brown in the ’90s, told me, “James used to always talk about the CIA.” Once, when he saw a helicopter, he told her, “There they are. They’re watching over me.”
Brown clearly believed that he and the US government had a special relationship.
“I’m the only artist in the world that ever had seven jets,” he said in an interview for the documentary filmA Tale of James Brown” around 2005, the year before he died. “I had seven airplanes. And the one I got now is out of L.A. because the government don’t want me to use my own plane no more.”
“They want to know where I’m at,” he said. “They want to make sure that I’m well-protected.”
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