In a recent conversation with Hana Whitfield, former captain of the Apollo and the Avon River, as well as a senior executive who reported directly to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, I broached the subject of the most absurd job title I’d ever seen. In Scientology, the person who pushes the mail cart around emptying everyone’s OUT box and refilling the IN box with more mind-numbing paperwork, is called the “Particle Speed Flow Officer.” I figured this was just another comical example of Hubbard’s pomposity of trying to make everything vastly more important than it was. But Hana pointed out that she was actually the first “Particle Speed Flow Officer” in the history of Scientology, and she reveals here that there’s a sinister side to this.
There’s a valuable object lesson in the story: that there’s almost always a sinister side to Scientology, even in small-scale things that initially seem to have only comic relief value.
In the 1960’s Hubbard wrote a bunch of policies on the routing and handling of staff memos in Scientology organizations.
He frowned on verbal orders, wanting everything in writing. He ranted at staff “bringing a body,” meaning carrying their memo to where it had to go. He wanted staff at their desks working while communication clerks or runners or inspectors―the titles changed when new organizing boards were created―carried memos between staff. These clerks walked around the organization two to three times a day picking up memos from staff OUT baskets and delivering them to the IN baskets of the next person who had to see them.
The system worked if the clerks knew what they were doing and the basket system was set up right with three baskets. An IN basket, an OUT basket, and one called PENDING. Hubbard was very specific about their use. Staff receiving mail in their IN baskets had to peruse it immediately. If they could respond at once, they did, then put those memos into their OUT baskets. If they couldn’t respond, maybe needing time to collect information or compile a report, they put the memo into their PENDING baskets.
Memos were never to be put into desk drawers or hidden elsewhere. That way, when the Old Man prowled around at night, he could see which staff were complying, which were not, and which memos they were neglecting. All by looking at their baskets.
And yes, if you’re wondering, he actually did include that in a policy though not in those words.
I ran smack into this system and its frailties in the early days of the Sea Project. It was September 1966. I was on the Avon River in Las Palmas, fixing up the little ship with a bunch of other great Scientologists, all of us exulting at the peak experience we were having. Jill van Staden, my boss, in charge of communications, had set up Hubbard’s rudimentary three-basket system on the ship for Hubbard and the three or four ship’s officers who required them.
Hubbard had just appointed me as the Master at Arms, and one afternoon he called me into his office for a briefing. That day, he was relaxed and jovial. Leaning back in his chair, his hat sitting on the back of his head, he puffed on a Kool. The ashtray was full of butts. I was relieved … I knew I wasn’t going to get a chewing out for some monstrous no-no – a very welcome thought!
He greeted me affably, waved me to the chair, and began. He’d been thinking about announcing a new position in the Communications Department, a very important one that might be responsible for the next boom in Scientology.
Its title was Particle Speed Flow Officer.
Not given to joking around, and being more than a little fearful of the Old Man, I listened intently believing his speech would contain serious content and as seriously influence our goal of clearing the Planet.
The Particle Speed Flow Officer’s hat, Hubbard said, would consist of running around the ship―”Of course this includes all Scientology Organizations Worldwide” he added―ensuring all memos and dispatches and orders and queries were flowing swiftly through ship and organization communication lines. And because each required a date and staff member’s signature when it was handled, one could easily spot non compliant staff. The job included checking desk drawers, shelves, and chairs for hidden or secreted memos. Any found were to be reported to Ethics immediately.
Then LRH delivered the coup de grace. He wanted me to pilot the position on board over the next several weeks. As MAA, or Ethics Officer, he said, I was in the right place at the right time. I could run around the ship several times a day, checking baskets and desk drawers, send him a report each evening on what I found and ethics actions I took on offenders. After the pilot, we would export the system to Scientology organizations worldwide.
“This will make the stats boom!” He meant what he said.
I freaked … quietly. I was already inspecting and logging all tools the twenty to thirty Spanish work men brought on board daily for the Avon refit, and again when they left at night to prevent them stealing ours – a huge time-consuming job. And I was “inspecting” the work being done on board to make sure I knew whether it was being done correctly or not.
And now the Old Man wanted me running around being a Particle Speed Flow Officer to ensure that the five or six pieces of paper circulating through our little world each day were ‘speeding?’ I didn’t get it. Only a handful of ship’s officers wrote memos. They all went to LRH. He wrote a few back to officers. None of the crew wrote memos; they were busy doing hard ship work all day. Additionally, the memos that were written travelled only fifteen … maybe twenty feet … from the Chief Officer’s or Supercargo’s desk to Hubbard’s. And back. How could I “speed” those memos? Who or what would benefit? And did Hubbard want me rummaging through his desk drawers while he was in his office working? I didn’t dare …
I knew the value of quick compliance to orders. It was essential when we were out on the water. But on our little ship, with its limited communications system, LRH’s order to pilot a major communications position for large organizations was nuts … I also had difficulty accepting that Hubbard really wanted a bunch of “particle speed flow officers” dashing around at all hours of the day yanking open their senior executives’ desk drawers while they were working to rummage for “hidden” and “secreted” memos.
I asked respectfully if that was what Hubbard meant.
“Oh, yes!” he nodded, his eyes widening. “These Particle Speed Flow Officer will have the authority to put ethics in on EDs.” He gave a knowing smile. “That’s why they have the title of officer. It gives them more status – they’ll get the worldwide stats up, you’ll see!”
The following morning, after checking the Spaniards on board, I did my first Particle Speed Flow Officer run. I started in the Tween Deck Office with its five desks. I found three dispatches in officers’ in baskets, one dated a week ago. Two others had even earlier dates. I wrote down the officer’s names, and memo information. I had no idea what penalties they merited. I was steeling myself to go into LRH’s office when Jill van Staden called my name. It came from topside, the forward well deck. I ran up the companionway. She thrust a sheaf of papers into my hands to take to the shore office. I told her I was in the middle of a Particle Speed Flow Run for Ron. She shook her head impatiently and said, “There’s no time for that. Get this to Phoebe.” And she turned quickly and walked away.
That was the only “run” I ever made as a Particle Speed Flow Officer.
LRH never mentioned the position to me again.
I knew better than to remind him.
Thank you, Hana!
My takeaway: I’m increasingly willing to believe that almost everything in Scientology is a deliberate design to build a cadre of enslaved members loyal to Hubbard’s dictates, via complete suppression of critical thinking. The Sea Org, in particular, are trapped in an Orwellian nightmare of an organization where they live in constant fear of thoughtcrime being detected and punished. And the “Particle Speed Flow Officer” is a tool for ensuring that not only the low-level employees are constantly in fear of their next “ethics” handling, but even the senior manager on site is subject to scrutiny. Nobody is ever trusted to do anything right, not even senior management who (allegedly) have a track record for loyalty and potentially also for results.
This is why we need to continue to expose this organization. Even the comic relief has a dark side.