Photo Gallery | 2017 Pilar Recon | A Gypsy’s Kiss | The Hunt for Fenn’s Treasure | Shelley Carney & Toby Younis

The Intelligence Process – As Applied to the Search for Fenn’s Treasure

A Beautiful Mind

I spent five years in the United States Army from 1969 to 1974. Two of those years were spent in Viet Nam assigned to a firebase near the (then) town of Ca Mau, but I traveled all over the Mekong Delta in IV Corps. I volunteered for, and was assigned, to the U. S. Army Security Agency (ASA), a branch of the National Security Agency (NSA), and I held a Top Secret Crypto clearance. My primary Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) was 98C – Traffic Analyst. I say primary, because I went through far more training in other courses and schools before going overseas. The traffic I analyzed and acted upon had nothing to do with cars or trucks. I wrote that so you know I have a good sense of what I’m about to suggest to you.

Intelligence is a process. It includes targeting, collecting, collating, analyzing, formulating, reporting, planning and action.

The most often heard phrase in that community is “actionable intelligence.” That means “intelligence in which the confidence in its accuracy is so high, that you’re willing to put American lives at risk.”

As an analyst, that concept significantly affects the way you work.

It means that you put each one of the above steps in context. But, eventually, there comes a point in the process where you have to decide whether or not you have to present your findings, conclusions and recommendations to the people who make decisions.

I have lost sleep over those matters. In times when expediency counted, I spent hours worth of self-reflection and in discussions with other analysts on whether to present my work. Being wrong, or not presenting a well-thought-out case, is not something you want to do. At best, it costs credibility. At worst, it costs lives.

But, this is just a treasure hunt, isn’t it? No lives at risk. No big price to be paid for a mistake in analysis and judgement.

So, what’s my point?

As a result of our vlog, we have received “intelligence” on where we should consider conducting searches for the treasure. Nothing really firm, mind you – mostly strings of random ideas and attempts to weave them together into coherency. Certainly, in my opinion, not actionable.

That’s my point.

We look at every one of our solutions we devise from the perspective of “would it pass the actionable intelligence” test? Could I present this solution to a group of people who have my best interest at heart, and expect them to, not only agree with my assessment, but, then, to take action on it?

Next time you find yourself in the midst of a “Beautiful Mind” attempt at determining where and how to finds Fenn’s treasure, stop.

Ask yourself, “Is this good enough to present it to a group of people whose decisions based on my analysis will put lives at risk?”

I know. There are no American lives at risk. It’s just a treasure hunt.

But, here’s a fun way to look at it: let’s say the treasure is a small nuclear device, and your job is to find it, and disarm it before it blows up part of the Rocky Mountains. How good would your solution to the nine clues be then?

New Poll: How Does Fenn Know the Treasure Chest is Still There?

I often ask myself how Fenn can say the treasure chest has not been discovered with such confidence. I’ve come up with a number of theories, some of which seem plausable, while other do not.

Here’s your chance to weigh in on the matter. Chose one from the selection on the list.

You will be shown the poll results after you vote.

The poll will be up for one month.

Selected Quotes, Notes & Commentary from the True West Article

Selected quotes from the Johnny D. Boggs Article entitled “Modern Day Treasure Hunt; Unraveling the clues to finding Forrest Fenn’s hidden stash.” in the November 2013 Issue of “True West” magazine.


  1. Contains best (full page) photo of the treasure I’ve seen.

  2. Includes copy of the map from TFTW.

  3. Contains NO REFERENCE to the hiding of the treasure at an altitude above or below 10,000 or 10,200 feet. (The actual reference, courtesy of Elbow (on Dal’s Blog, and Dal Neitzel:) The new issue of True West magazine (December 2013) has a follow-up to last month’s article. The author met up with Forrest for lunch, and asked for another clue. Here’s what Forrest said: “Sure. The Treasure is hidden below 10,200 feet.”)

  4. Contains no new information of real value for searches who have already been on the chase…unless you consider “It’s not in Canada,” to be of real value.

(My commentary is italicized.)

  • To Fenn’s neighbor who complained to Fenn about people digging up her front yard, “Tell them that the treasure is not in your front yard.”

  • “It’s not in Nevada.” (from the Boggs Interview last December).

  • “Everything’s a treasure to me,” says Fenn…

  • “I keep things I love,” says Fenn…

  • “When it (the estimated value of the treasure) gets to $10 million,” Fenn says, “I’m going to go back and get it.”

  • “My family’s taken care of; I’ve had so much fun collecting this junk (?), and I always loved the outdoors,” he says. “I wanted to get some people off the couch and out in the woods. The greatest thrill to me is to be walking in the woods and come across something absolutely wonderful – like two porcupines playing with each other in Yellowstone.”

  • (Very complementary segments on Dal Neitzel and Marc Howard)

  • “Neitzel has been out seven times looking for Fenn’s treasure…in New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.”

  • Here’s another clue from Fenn himself: “Don’t look for the treasure where a 79-year-old man’s not going to carry a 42-pound box.” (First time I’ve seen “80” excluded from this clue, and the sentence is clumsy. Almost a double negative.)

  • Quote from Marc Howard: “Forrest survived being shot down twice in Vietnam. I think he’s an American hero. And doesn’t say random things. Anything he says, anything he writes is a clue.”

  • “Forrest is unique,” Neitzel says. “He is a fellow who really and truly thinks differently than our average human being. We are so lucky that his incredibly fertile mind was not wasted on a career in something like science, medicine or teaching. Instead, he decided to create, collect, write and share.”

  • “I never said I buried it,” Fenn says, “but that doesn’t mean it isn’t buried. I want a mystery about it. It’s not easy to find, but it isn’t impossible.”

(End of main article.)

Pull Quote:

Fenn told True West that while readers won’t find “clues to the location of the treasure” in his new book (TFTW), they will find “some hints that will help treasure hunters.” (I’m missing the subtle distinction between “clues” and “hints.”)

Sidebar (listing all the known, non-poetic clues): A True West Exclusive Clue: The treasure is not in Canada.

Also: The treasure is not in a bordering country.

Selected Quotes, Notes & Commentary from the Moby Dickens Video

Selected quotes, notes and commentary on Forrest Fenn’s Video at the Moby Dickens Book Shop in Taos, New Mexico on November 2, 2013 by Toby Younis

I counted the audience from the back of the room at 40-45. Approximately ten raised their hands when Forrest asked how many knew about the treasure he’s hidden. He talked for almost an hour including a period of questions and answers. He recited the poem aloud, read from the preface of “Too Far to Walk,” and recited a couple of poems extemporaneously in response to various questions. I thought he was very at ease.

DSCN7279Selected quotes: (my commentary in italics):

“So I bought this little treasure chest. 10 inches by 10 inches and 6 inches high.” (Probably just a mistake. Everything else describes it as 10x10x5 inches, rather than 6.)

(He pronounces “placer” in “placer nuggets” with a long “a” rather than the correct short “a” sound. (plah rhymes with blah).

“I wanted it to be visual enough, so that when a person found the treasure chest, and opened it for the first time they would just lean back and start laughing.”

“When I hid it and was walking back to my car, I started laughing out loud and I said ‘Forrest Fenn…did you really do that?’” (Noted: “…my car…” rather than “…the car…”)

“Yeah…this is perfect. Why can’t I influence somebody a thousand years from now?” (Referring to his hiding the treasure.)

“Nobody is going to happen on that treasure chest. You’re gonna have to figure out the clues in the poem and go to it.”

“There are several people that have deciphered the first two clues. I don’t think they knew it, because they walked right on past the treasure chest. And I’m not gonna tell those people who they are because one of them particularly would faint, I know. She’d tear the countryside up trying to figure out where they’d been…” (This sounds strangely like a variation of the response he gave to Stephanie at Collected Works when she asked if she or Dal had been closer to the treasure chest.)

“I don’t feel like I’ve given it (the treasure) away. Who ever finds it, is gonna earn it.”

“I’ve been asked that question… (How do you know the treasure hasn’t already been found?) I don’t really want to answer the question because that would be an answer that I don’t want to reveal. But, I can tell ya’ that no one has found the treasure.”

“So, it was 15 years from the time that I got cancer until the time that I hid the treasure chest. 15 years.” (The math doesn’t quite work out. If he got cancer in 1988 + 15 years = 2003. That would have made him 73, rather than 79 or 80 as he has said in the past. On the other hand, it coincides with the 15 years he had previously claimed it took him to write the poem. )

“The poem in my book is something that changed over and over again. When you read the poem it looks like just simple words the…but I guarantee you, I worked on that thing…I felt like an architect, drawing that poem. The original version of the poem said ‘Take the treasure chest but leave my bones and go in peace,’ or something like that. But then I got well and ruined the story.’”

“The treasure chest, I’ve said, is in a very special place to me and if I get another disease, on my last dying gasp I’m gonna throw myself on top of that treasure chest and I’m gonna dare you to come find me.”

Noted: He recites the poem from TTOTC. I made sure to take a copy with me. When he recites the poem, he doesn’t read it. It’s memorized, except for the last stanza, which he has to read from the copy I brought with me to the event.

Noted: He recites a poem taken from “Alice in Wonderland.” Interestingly, it has the same rhyme and metre in which the treasure poem is written.

“I think kids have an advantage (finding the treasure). Don’t ask me to explain that.”

“I believe that there’s a higher hand someplace. I don’t know what it is but…

“I believe in karma and some of those things. I’m not a religious person, but I’m probably the most spiritual person around.”

“…that’s why I told people I hid the treasure chest when I was 79 or 80 years old because I don’t want the exact date to be known because I’m afraid somebody will go check the rental car records and how many miles did Mr. Fenn put on the truck or the car…so I don’t answer those kinda questions…but shoot that person that sent in that email…” (The “…79 or 80…” contradicts what he said above, that it was 15 years between the time he got cancer and hid the treasure.)

“There are nine clues in the poem, but if you read the book (TTOTC), there are a couple…there are a couple of good hints and there are a couple of aberrations that live out on the edge.”

“I have not had anybody tell me the answer to that clue (the unintended one in TFTW). If you read my preface it doesn’t take a genius to figure out, I think, what they’re talking about but…there are clues in my new book that can help a person.” (This leads me to believe the 10 miles for TFTW is the unintended clue.)

“No. It isn’t.” (Responding to the question whether or not it was possible to find the treasure without leaving your computer and Google Earth.) There’s not a picture of the treasure on Google Earth…because Google Earth doesn’t go down far enough.

“Well there’s a major clue in the book (TFTW) but I don’t think it will help you find the treasure chest. I’ll tell you what the clues is. In the back of my book, there’s a map…and I’ve said the treasure chest is hidden in the Rocky Mountains. Here’s a treasure chest (he meant “treasure map”) of the Rocky Mountains. If you knew where the treasure chest is hidden, you could find it on this map. But the map stops at Canada. The Rockies keep going up there. But I said that it’s in the Rocky Mountains, which would include Canada. When this book was printed I didn’t realize that Benchmark Maps made this map stopped at the Canadian border so that’s a clue, but I don’t think…it’s not gonna help you much.”

“There are no clues in this book, (TFTW) but there are some hints.”

“What I tell people to do…if you’re really serious about looking for the treasure…get ‘The Thrill of the Chase’ and read it and then go back and read the poem over and over and over again. And then go back and read the book again, but slowly looking at every little abstract thing that might catch up in your brain, that might be a hint to help you with the clues. Any part of some is better than no part of any.”

Noted: He reads the end of the preface from TFTW beginning with “I put a small rubber dinghy in the Madison River…”

He quotes, extemporaneously, “Out of the night that covers me, dark is the pit from pole to pole. I thank whatever Gods may be for my unconquerable soul.” “And, I think that’s a good place to stop. Don’t you?” (This is the first stanza of the poem Invictus by William Earnest Henley, a British poet who died in 1903. The entire poem is 4 4-line stanzas, and can be found here. Again, interestingly, Henly’s poem uses the same four line per stanza rhyme and metre as Fenn’s treasure poem.)

Photo Album | Fenn at Moby Dickens Bookshop | Taos | 11.02.13

Collected Works Video: Selected Quotes, Notes & Commentary (to gain access go to

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captureThe following includes quotes transcribed directly from the video, “Forrest Fenn at Collected Works in Santa Fe,” along with my commentary and some notes that I made. My material in italics.

“If you read the preface to my book, you’ll understand why I titled it ‘Too Far to Walk.'” (Especially the last 3 paragraphs of the preface.)

“When I write, I can say anything I want to, because I don’t have any rules.”

“In each of my books, I’ve made up words.”

“There’s one clue in this book (TFTW) that’s not in ‘The Thrill of the Chase,’ and I didn’t know the clue was in this book until it was printed. (It’s not the map. He knew that map was going to be in the book. That leaves us with, 1. it’s in the book someplace else, or 2. it’s on the map and the clue made it through whatever editing was done on the map. I think it’s in the book, in the last few paragraphs of the preface. I’ll explain why in another post entitled “The Unintended Clue in TFTW.”)

“If I don’t have an answer to a question, I just make up one. Because a person asks a question, needs an answer.” (In his books. I’ve seen him refuse to answer a question in public.)

“I’ve said before the treasure chest is heavy. And it…I made two trips to hide it where I wanted it to be. But I’ve told people: don’t look for the treasure chest in a place where a 79 or 80 year old guy can’t take it.”

“People tell me their climbing on top of the mountain. When these guys are making a mistake I don’t want to interrupt them.”

“The treasure is hidden below 20,000 feet.” (Yet another in a long list of unhelpful clues. All the Rockies are under 20,000 feet in height.)

“I haven’t given a clue (that) I think was going to help anybody substantially.” (This, to me, was the most informative statement of the night. It simply means we can ignore all the post-publication clues he’s spoken. As he is fond of saying, “It’s in the poem.”)

“Well, you know…let me put this in perspective. So many people have decided they’re going to take a picnic lunch out on Sunday and look for the treasure…or something to do over spring break. I’m lookin’ at a hundred years down the road…a thousand years, maybe ten thousand years down the road. It took me 15 years to write the poem. I’ve changed it so many times and I’ve said before that I didn’t write that poem…it was written by an architect…each word is deliberate.” (No an architect did not write the poem. Fenn wrote the poem in the same way he would architect a building. Noted: he is neither a trained writer or a trained architect. He’s a been a ‘seat of the pants’ kind of guy his entire life.)

“People tell me where they are…they’re very precise in their descriptions of where they are…where they’ve been and I can tell that some of them have been pretty close.”

“A metal detector will help you if you’re exactly in the right spot.”

“I’ll tell you that it’s not on a top of any mountain. That’s a big clue ’cause there’s lots of mountains out there…it may be close to the top…”

“If a person reads the poem over and over…and are able to decipher the first few clues in the poem, they can find the treasure chest. It may not be easy, but it certainly isn’t impo…I could go right straight to it.”

“I’ve said some things in my books… I’ve made some deliberate errors, just to see if anybody would find them and they don’t and they haven’t.”

“When I wrote that poem, I wasn’t playing any games. It’s straightforward.”

(How many clues has someone cracked?) They’ve cracked the first two, and went right past the treasure chest. Several people have done that.

Photo Album | Fenn at Collected Works Bookstore | Santa Fe | 10.13.13