For more than a year, 53-year-old Darrell Casaday has been trying to get the government to take him seriously.
The former air-purification-equipment salesman has written 40 letters and made twice as many calls to the FBI, contacted more than two dozen federal departments and agencies, and faxed any politician who'd give up his or her number.
He claims to have knowledge of "high-tech, ultra-modern terrorism."
Yet no one will investigate.
At times, the widowed Casaday, a parolee who lives at a Salvation Army shelter, becomes argumentative with officials he manages to reach. He is keenly aware when someone is trying to blow him off.
His message is not a Y2K prophecy of doom, but a cry for help. "My life is at stake," he says matter-of-factly. After a particularly long day of talking to people who don't believe him, he becomes depressed and morose, and vows to give up. Inevitably, he regains his composure and begins thinking about whom he can call next.
Casaday is trying to convince the government that some group or foreign government is sending satellite transmissions directly to his brain. He complains that these satellite transmissions produce voices in his head and physical reactions in his body. "They're like a low, clear voice, like someone on the phone," he says. "But it's like a radio I can't shut off. They are controlling my life and making me sick."
This, he reasons, constitutes an act of terrorism against him.
"I know it sounds crazy," admits Casaday, whose hunched posture and noticeably sagging facial skin make him look more than a decade older than he is. "But it's the honest truth."
Casaday says the satellite transmissions have told him that he is a messenger, chosen to convince the government that this technology exists; if he fails, he will become sick and die. As a result, he has begged the FBI to give him a polygraph test or truth serum, or put him under hypnosis, or employ some high-tech scanning device capable of detecting satellite transmissions. He wants the agency to try anything, anything at all, to prove that he is not lying -- and perhaps, more importantly, not crazy.
While waiting for the government to help, Casaday has contacted private investigators and dozens of law firms that handle personal injury claims. One firm, located in the Rockefeller Building, agreed to hear him out.
The meeting didn't go well.
The firm wanted $5,000 up front and the name of the person behind the harmful satellite transmissions.
"They wanted to know who they could sue," he says. "I told them I don't know. I'm just trying to save my life."
To that end, he has been making phone calls, writing letters, making more phone calls, all day, every day. Casaday has learned that, when he reaches a government official, it is best not to readily volunteer that he is receiving satellite transmissions. "People will hang up on me," he says. Rather, he plays to their sense of security, claiming he has information "regarding cruel and inhumane testing on humans, which I have personally experienced."
"He's smart," says Lance Mason, an aide to Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones, whose office recently fielded several calls from Casaday. "He prefaces everything by saying, "I know this is going to sound unusual.'"
Casaday's talk of satellite terrorism initially interested the FBI, U.S. Secret Service, and National Security Agency, whose jobs include keeping tabs on people who talk of terrorist plots. He also contacted the Department of Justice, Federal Communications Commission, Department of Defense, Department of Commerce, NASA, and numerous divisions within these departments and agencies. His persistence has opened doors to government agencies he didn't know existed. Many times he's gotten a new lead when an angry secretary or exasperated bureaucrat, tired of trying to reason with him, passed him to other offices dealing with technology and terrorism.
Although nobody has taken his allegations seriously, Casaday remains convinced that he is picking up satellite transmissions and, more than ever, that his physical well-being is tied to his ability to get his claims investigated. His health has depreciated considerably since he first began hearing voices, perhaps testimony to the power of suggestion -- or to something more.
As he continues his crusade, he's becoming a more familiar name within our government.
On February 4, 1999, an FBI agent finally agreed to listen to Casaday.
Casaday had been calling the local FBI offices repeatedly for days, demanding to speak with Van Harp, the special agent in charge of the bureau's Cleveland office. In a letter mailed earlier to Harp, Casaday claimed to have knowledge of a terrorist act. He felt his information was so important that he needed to go right to the top.
But each time Casaday called, he was rebuffed. "Sir, you can't talk to him. You have to talk to a field agent first," a receptionist would say.
But on this day the receptionist found a field agent to take his call, and she patched him through.
Casaday explained that he is a victim of a terrorist act. He implored the agent to let him come to FBI headquarters, located in the Federal Building downtown, to discuss the matter in more detail.
The agent agreed, his interest piqued by Casaday's allegation.
"I was scared to death going up there," Casaday says. "What if they snatched me up and put me in a nut house?"
When Casaday arrived at the FBI's 30th-floor offices, he was uncomfortable talking in the reception area and requested to speak privately. The agent obliged, taking him to a small interview room.
Casaday cleared his throat and said, "I'm receiving satellite transmissions." He told the agent that he has been ordered by the transmissions to get the FBI -- or some top government agency -- to investigate his claims. He warned, "It was communicated to me that I would be so physically sick if [the FBI] didn't investigate this that medical specialists won't be able to diagnose the reason or cause for my sickness."
The FBI agent told Casaday that the agency would get back to him in a week.
If the FBI or another agency investigates his claims, Casaday believes, he might be left alone to get on with rebuilding his life. He had recently been released from state prison, where he served time for check fraud. It was there, he says, that he received his first satellite transmission. From prison, he wrote the Ohio Highway Patrol, several federal judges, and the FBI. As his parole date neared, Casaday stopped talking about the transmissions for fear the government might keep him in prison.
When he was released, he returned to his native Cleveland. In January of 1999, he moved to the Salvation Army's Harbor Light shelter on Prospect Avenue. Primarily for temporarily homeless people, it includes a detoxification unit and corrections halfway houses for men and women. Casaday lives on the eighth floor, where the Salvation Army makes small rooms available on a long-term basis to retirees, employees, and friends of the corps.
Casaday claims that, at the time, he was healthy mentally and physically, a little plump at 220 pounds, and jogging regularly. He had plans to again sell air-purification equipment, which he once sold door-to-door and over the phone. Also, he planned to attend Cleveland State University to complete a degree in human resources that he began at Wilmington College near Cincinnati.
Ultimately, Casaday hoped to work at the Salvation Army as a career counselor. He had worked part time with the Salvation Army in Columbus and was taking classes here to become a Salvation Army soldier, or lay member.
Following his February meeting with the FBI, Casaday waited anxiously for a response. After the week went by, he began calling and writing agent Harp again. He also worked on making contact with other government offices, including that of the U.S. Attorney General, where he spoke to someone who suggested that he ask the federal courts to force the FBI to investigate.
Off to U.S. District Court he went.
"I, Darrell W. Casaday, ask this honorable court to order the Federal Bureau of Investigation -- Cleveland, Ohio office, to investigate and assess the allegations and information I gave them and assess the allegations with a polygraph test," read Casaday's hand-written petition for writ of mandamus filed in March of 1999. "The allegations and information concerns [sic] me receiving illegal satellite communications transmissions . . . The satellite is transmitting sounds and sights or images into the senses of my brain, which is called "mind perception.'"
Without the aid of an attorney, Casaday filed the petition three times. It hit the desks of federal judges Lesley Wells, Patricia Gaughan, and Ann Aldrich. (He also wrote several U.S. magistrates and filed a lawsuit in Cuyahoga Common Pleas, which was transferred to federal court.) The petition was dismissed for a lack of merit.
Casaday was upset by the judgment's standard language, which said, "A finding of frivolousness is appropriate "when the facts alleged rise to the level of the irrational and wholly incredible.'" To Casaday, this was anything but frivolous. It was a "matter of life and death."
Judge Aldrich, whose staff had been receiving regular phone calls and letters from Casaday, attempted to offer him more than a dismissal notice. She wanted to appear sensitive to his struggle to understand what was happening to him. In a letter accompanying the judgment entry mailed to Casaday, Judge Aldrich assured him that the court did not think he was crazy.
"You have communicated with my office and written several letters over the past few months detailing the difficulties that you have been experiencing," she wrote. "You also indicated that you were concerned that the court would believe you to be either a liar or mentally ill. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I personally believe that it is quite possible for you to have picked up satellite images in your head. Many years ago -- in the 1950s -- when I served on the General Counsel's staff at the Federal Communications Commission, we had a similar case, in which a man actually received radio signals through the fillings in his teeth. I understand that you are going through a very difficult period, and I hope that you will find relief in some way -- perhaps through the guidance of the priest about whom you have written."
"The judge was sympathetic and did write to him," says Barb Sper, Aldrich's courtroom deputy, who spoke to Casaday on several occasions. "The judge likes to respond to any letters to chambers, even those that come from prisoners. In the case of Casaday, she thought the order was pretty sterile, so she was just trying to lend a sympathetic ear."
Casaday appreciated the response (he tells people that he "is friendly with the judge"), but found little comfort in the judge's anecdote about the man who heard radio signals through his fillings. It just didn't make sense and certainly was not the case with Casaday -- who wears dentures.
Incredible Swelling Legs
Not long after filing his petition in federal court, Casaday again wrote to the FBI's Harp, advising him that he was attempting to drag the FBI to court to "answer as to why you and your agency [refuse] to investigate this horrendous matter."
Two weeks later, on April 2, 1999, he hand-delivered a letter to the FBI. In it, he again complained that the satellite transmissions were making him sick and warned that he would become hospitalized, and that doctors would not be able to trace the causes of his illness.
That day, Gary Klein, a supervisory special agent, responded on behalf of Harp. In a brief letter to Casaday, Klein wrote, "Thank you for your letter. We recommend you re-contact us, if necessary, after the appointment with your doctor. However, we do not believe that the satellite transmissions have any connection with your state of health."
Casaday would not read the letter for several weeks.
Before he received it, Casaday collapsed outside the door of his apartment in an epileptic-like fit, according to the maintenance man who found him. Casaday was taken to St. Vincent Charity Hospital, where he remained in a coma for about a week. When he regained consciousness, he was discharged in stable condition to ManorCare Nursing home in Cleveland for rehabilitation.
At the time, doctors were not certain as to the cause of his illness, despite numerous tests. Casaday says the doctors considered several things, from heart trouble to diabetes to neuropathy, a form of nerve damage, all of which he denies having.
Before leaving St. Vincent, Casaday spoke with a psychiatrist twice. According to Casaday's discharge papers, the psychiatrist ruled "the patient did not have an underlying psychiatric disorder."
This, says Casaday, proves he is not mentally ill.
But he made one important omission. He did not tell the psychiatrist that he believed he was receiving satellite transmissions. He has since been forthright with his medical doctor, who tells him that satellites are not causing his illness, and that he should consider seeing a psychiatrist.
In the nursing home, Casaday was confined to a wheelchair and was slow to recover. Friends from the Salvation Army visited him, yet he never disclosed to anyone that he believed he was receiving satellite transmissions. As he felt better, while others sat in chairs watching television, he kept writing letters to the FBI and others, including the White House and Pentagon, noting his terrorist theories.
One day, the nursing home received a call from a U.S. Secret Service agent. The agent wanted to know more about Casaday and left his phone number for him. After Casaday returned the call, the agent called back to the nursing home and suggested that Casaday see a psychiatrist and be put on medication.
Casaday's recovery took six months, but he walked out of the nursing home. "The doctors were amazed I got better," he says. "I wasn't expected to walk or leave that place." Although he had grown thin and required the use of a cane, he says his recovery is nothing short of miraculous. Despite his belief in God, he says divine intervention was not at work. It was the people behind the satellites.
"I got a transmission that said, "Your legs will get better.' They said they'd give me one more chance to convince the government."
Even after his recovery, his physical condition remained poor; he now receives disability pay from the government.
After leaving the nursing home, Casaday returned to Harbor Light. His room is small -- about 12 feet by 12 feet -- with wood floors. Though it lacks a kitchen and is sparsely decorated -- only a picture of Jesus hangs on the wall -- he is comfortable here and enjoys his view of Playhouse Square. He has cable television, but no telephone. He uses the pay phone in the hallway just outside his door, and he has purchased a cellular phone to receive incoming calls.
Every couple of days he walks to a nearby store that sells pagers to purchase pre-paid phone cards for both the pay phone and cell phone. "I can make long-distance calls for about seven cents a minute," he says. That's important, because Casaday sometimes spends four or more hours a day making long-distance calls. When an official does call Casaday on his cell phone, though, he is reluctant to hang up and call back on the more cost-effective pay phone. "I know they won't be there if I try to call them back," he explains.
In recent months, Casaday has been feeling more pressure to get his claims investigated. And he has become even more obsessive, almost pathological about his mission. His temper has worsened, and he frequently hangs up on people who refuse to immediately investigate. To understand his sense of urgency, one needs to look at life from his perspective. Recently, for instance, he says he received a message that one of his legs was going to swell -- a reminder that time was running out.
"It has been communicated that one of my legs will be blown up," he said at the time, in mid-December. "I don't know which one yet."
To prove his point, Casaday walked to the Federal Building hoping to get an FBI agent to examine his legs, which were healthy-looking at the time. Turned away, he walked across the street to the Ameritech Building and began calling the agency from a pay phone. Unable to reach anyone, he settled for showing his legs to a reporter.
The next day, Casaday's right leg appeared swollen with fluid from the mid-thigh to his ankle, with excessive thickness around his knee. Shortly thereafter, he visited his doctor, who sent Casaday home and told him to elevate the leg.
To Casaday, this set of circumstances -- like his hospitalization -- is indisputable proof that he is receiving satellite transmissions.
"It is inhumanly possible for someone to predict what's wrong with them and then for that to happen to them," he repeats frequently, when asked to consider other possibilities. "How could I know my leg would swell? I told the FBI I would be sick, and I was."
About a week after his leg swelled, an FBI agent reached Casaday at his cell phone, presumably to respond to Casaday's recent calls.
When contacted by Scene, the agent said he could not answer questions about the FBI's handling of Casaday and directed inquiries to FBI spokesman Robert Hawk.
"No matter who contacts the agency, we deal with them with courtesy and professionalism," says Hawk. "We take all their information and we evaluate it to see what there is. Generally speaking, we do get a high number of people who appear unstable who call. But we treat them [with] courtesy and take their information, because you never know where the truth lies."
No X-Files Fan
When Casaday isn't contacting the FBI, he continues to network through government departments and agencies. On a recent day, for instance, he talked to a half-dozen public offices. Here's how his day unfolded:
In the morning, he started by calling the Department of Defense's public affairs office in Washington, which transferred him to a lieutenant colonel. "He was real mean and nasty," Casaday says. The lieutenant colonel had told Casaday to call his doctor, not the government.
Casaday called back to the defense department's public affairs office, which this time transferred him to the Defense Intelligence Agency, which provides military intelligence to the armed forces and to policy makers.
No one was available.
Casaday then turned his sights on the Federal Communications Commission, which licenses satellite companies among its other duties. Its public affairs department sent him to the commission's "enforcement division." A receptionist took Casaday's number and "promised to have someone call back."
Nobody did, so Casaday again called public affairs, insisting on more names and numbers, including those of the FCC's five commissioners. He called the office of each, demanding to speak with the commissioners personally. He argued with Commissioner Gloria Tristani's secretary, who at first refused to take his message.
With the names and numbers given to him, Casaday called the U.S. State Department and U.S. Department of Commerce, which recommended that he speak to the department's Office of National Telecommunications & Information Administration, and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.
"Every single person just refers me to someone else," he says. "Nobody wants to talk to me."
Casaday takes breaks each day. Typically, he goes out to the market at Reserve Square for ice cream, because he often skips the meals available to him through the Salvation Army. He goes to the bank, buys his phone cards, and watches TV. He is hard to miss on the streets. He wears a well-conditioned tan trench coat over his six-foot, three-inch frame, rust-colored glasses over his eyes, and a solid-black baseball cap atop his thinning hair.
Television is his major source of information. He likes CBS Evening News with Dan Rather, which, Casaday notes, has featured a couple of stories recently about the advances in satellite technology.
He hates to miss the soap opera As the World Turns. "My wife got me watching it," he is quick to explain. (His wife, Barbara, nine years his senior, died in 1978.)
But despite the obvious connection between his story and numerous episodes of The X-Files, he is not a fan of the show. "I've seen it a couple of times. But it's Hollywood, you know, unrealistic."
Channel surfing recently, he became angered by a recent episode of the daytime talk show Leeza, which featured a psychic who claims she can communicate with slain child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey, whose murder remains unsolved.
"How can that be? That's crazy," Casaday scoffed. "My claim can be proved. Why don't people listen to me?"
It is hard to know what influences him. He does not have a computer or use the Internet, which is rife with conspiracy theories about government satellites. Because he's told so few people outside the government, it appears that nobody is filling his head with ideas. Yet, he remains convinced that technology allows us to send messages from a satellite directly into the human brain.
"It's absolutely incomprehensible," says Robert Bauer, about Casaday's theory. "[Satellite] signals are modulated . . . and your mind doesn't have a demodulator for that frequency band."
Bauer should know. He's project manager of NASA's Advanced Communications Technology Satellite project, which is studying ways to improve satellite transmissions from higher frequencies.
Casaday, who's called NASA before, says the agency just doesn't know about this new technology.
Casaday recently started contacting politicians, an idea he claims an FBI agent in Washington suggested. Just two days before the year 2000, he called Senator Michael DeWine's office, requesting to speak to the senator. He explained to an aide that he had information about domestic terrorism. A man from Washington called Casaday within 15 minutes, claiming he was an investigator for a senate committee. The man who called Casaday was from the Capitol Hill police. A spokesperson in DeWine's office says it is the office's practice to forward any calls relating to "domestic terrorism" to the police.
A few days later, Casaday said he was giving up. He had just received a call from the FBI, who told Casaday that they could not help him, and that if he's sick, he should go to the hospital.
"Nobody is doing anything," he fumed. "They just say they'll look into it, and they don't. I guess they just want me to die. Then that's what I'll do. I'll just die."
The next day, the offices of Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, and Senator George Voinovich received calls from a man claiming to have information about unhealthy satellite transmissions.
The caller was Darrell Casaday.