Pondering Patterns and Meanings: A Threat or Not?
Just 20 minutes before midnight on the Saturday evening of July 19, 1952, an air traffic controller named Edward Nugent observed seven “blips” on the radarscope in a location 15 miles south/southwest of the nation’s capital. He immediately notified the senior air traffic controller for the Civilian Aeronautics Administration, named Harry G. Barnes, as no regular flight path behavior was observed and besides no aircraft were known to be there.
Due to the odd behavior seen on the radarscope, Barnes explained what was going on to the press, here being quoted in the July 29th New York World-Telegram article “Washington Radar Observer Relates Watching Stunts by Flying Saucers”:
“We knew immediately that a very strange situation existed….Their movements were completely radical compared to those of ordinary aircraft. They followed no set course and were not in any formation, and we only seemed to be able to track them for about three miles at a time. The individual ‘blip’ would seem to disappear from the scope at intervals. Later I realized that if these objects had made any sudden burst of extremely high speed, that would account for them disappearing from the scope temporarily.”
[pg1250, volume 2 of 3rd edition of The UFO Encyclopedia, Jerome Clark]
These intense events were not a brief episode lasting from just before midnight on July 19 and to dawn on July 20, as the radar and visual detections continued sporadically for several more days.
Insofar as the military aspect of this particular case, jets could not be scrambled from Andrews AFB due to the repair work being done on the runway there at that time.
Craft had already been detected visually and by radar by ground military personnel, civilian and military control tower personnel, and commercial pilots flying DC-4s.
When military jets were scrambled from Newcastle AFB in Delaware, the craft were detected leaving the sector as the jets were on approach.
Three sighting reports (2 of them by 1 person) give us something of a picture of the craft involved.
First, Staff Sgt. Charles Davenport at 2 am from his location at the 1053rd Maintenance Squadron at Andrews AFB “spotted an orange-red light to the south of the base. ‘It would appear to stand still, then make an abrupt change of direction of direction and altitude.’ This happened ‘several times’. After Davenport notified the tower, individuals there saw the object for a few seconds as it was shooting out of sight.”
Then at 3:30 am, “Sgt. Davenport saw a UFO at treetop. Bluish-silver in color, it moved erratically, rolling from side to side as it sped by. He told Air Force investigators, “three times I saw a red object leave the silver object at a high rate of speed and move east out of sight.”
Another sighting at dawn (described in Donald Keyhoe’s 1953 book “Flying Saucers from Outer Space) was reported by a civilian radio engineer named E. W. Chambers who had just woken up and unawate of the night’s events. “He described them as five hige discs circling in a loose formation. They tilted upward and left on a steep ascent.”
[Reference: pgs 1250-51; volime 2 of The UFO Encyclopedia. 3rd edition. Jerome Clark]
The senior air traffic controller from the CAA related 10 days later, in the pages of the New York World-Telegram, “that the UFOs seemed to become most active around the planes we saw on the scope…They acted like a bunch of kids out playing..directed by some innate curiosity. At times they moved as a group or cluster, at other times as individuals over widely scattered areas…There is no other conclusion I can reach but that for six hours …there were at least 10 unidentifiable objects moving above Washington. They were not ordinary aircraft. I could tell that by their movement on the scope. I can safely deduce that they performed gyrations which no known aircraft could perform. By this I mean that our scope showed that they could make right angle turns and complete reversals of flight. Nor in my opinion could any natural phenomena such as shooting stars, electrical disturbances or clouds account for these spots on our radar.”
During the early phase of events in the general DC sector, radar detected the objects in airspace above the white house and capital building.
The following weekend (after a week of sporadic detections in this sector and significant civilian sightings in the broader region) things picked up again at 8:15 pm when the pilot and stewardess of a National Airlines flight observed several objects looking like the glow of a cigarette and moving unusually slow (100 mph) high above them.
Turned out to be a wild night with jets again scrambled from Newcastle AFB in Delaware. This amidst a scene like this hours before that:
“Fournet and the Navy officer, a Lt. Holcomb, did not arrive until after midnight, but by 9:30 both ARTC and Andrews AFB were tracking more targets than they could handle. Sometimes they moved slowly at less than 100 mph, and sometimes abruptly reversed direction and streaked across the sky at what calculations indicated was 7,000 mph. At 10:46 pm a CAA flight instructor reported seeing five glowing, orange-white lights over Washington at 2,200 feet. Six minutes later the targets all disappeared from the screens. Nonetheless, at 11 pm two F-94s were scrambled from Newcastle.”
“By the time they arrived. 30 minutes later, UFOs were back and on the ARTC scopes Lt. William Patterson, the pilot of one of the interceptors was vectored after fast-moving targets 10 miles away. He saw four white ‘glows’ and chased after them. To his horror they shot toward him and clustered around his plane. He radioed in to the tower to ask what he ought to do. According to Chop [civilian Air Force guy for public relations present in tower], the answer was ‘stunned silence…after a tense moment, the UFOs pulled away and left the scene’. ”
The aforementioned Lt Holcomb was monitoring the meterological data and he noted a slight temperature inversion but his assessment was that it didnt come close to accounting for the “good and solid” returns registering on the scopes.
During this period, a wide variety of civilian witnesses (and non civilians off base) reported stunning ufo sightings within a 200 mile radius (with many sightings also reported nationwide). Here is associated take home reading for this lecture noting specific cases:
Page 1254, volume 2, Jerry Clark, The UFO Encyclopedia, subsection “Other UFOs” in articke “Washington National Radar/Visual Case”.
Nevertheless, in an atmosphere of charged banner headlines and public anxiety, the Air Force spokesperson at a massively attended press conference on July 29 would ambigiously point to a temperature inversion as a cause for all the events, despite the actual conclusions of those seeing the readings in real time.
[pgs 1252-1253, The UFO Encyclopedia]
The governmental response to all of this, spurred by the concerns of President Truman, will be covered in depth in a lecture tied to the “US Government and UFOs” course. But, just for now, I will note what the government’s threat assessment issues and conclusions were, and what they developed as an action plan in January 1953 (all done under the auspices of the Office os Scientific Investigations at the CIA).
And, then I will share threat assessments from two civilian investigators well-versed in these types of cases: Coral Lorenzen’s 1966 examination of what she called the “patterns and meanings” and Robert Hastings’ 2017 reading of the situation.
UFO historian Jerome Clark summarizes in what direction the government threat assessment went after these events and they sure didnt seem to be concerned with UFOs themselves posing a threat to national security.
Instead [Clark, pgs 1254-55, The UFO Encyclooedia, vol 2]:
“The Washington sightings proved to be a pivotal event in UFO history. They sparked high-level fears that UFO reports–if not UFOs themselves–might constitute a threat to national security. On the 2 weekends when sightings weee at their most intense, intelligence channels were clogged with UFO-related communications. Air Force generals and CIA officials worried that an earthly enemy such as the Soviet Union could take advantage of such a logjam by launching an attack if it so chose.
Immwdiately following the Washington sightings, the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI) embarked on an inquiry into the UFO issue. On September 24 OSI’s assistant director, H. Marshall Chadwell, wrote in a memo to CIA director Walter B. Smith:
The flying saucer situation contains two elements of danger which, in a sotuation of international tension, have national security implications…The public concern with the phenomena…indicates that a fair proportion of our population is mentally conditioned to acceptance of the incredible. In this fact lies the potential for the touching-off of mass hysteria and panic.
Moreover, Chadwell wrote, ‘At any moment of attack (from the Soviet Union), we are now in a position where we cannot, on an instant basis, distinguish hardware from phantom, and as tension mounts we will run the increasing risk of false alerts and the even greater danger of falsely the real as phantom.’ Chadwell suggested that identification procedures should be improved, that psychological-warfare aspects be studied, and that a ‘national policy should be established as to what should be told the public regarding the phenomena’.
All of this resulted in a CIA-sponsored meeting in January 1953, under the direction of physicist H.R. Robertson, and a recommendation that henceforth, in the interest of national security should be debunked and thereby reduced.”
Unlike the above threat evaluation, ufologists have focused on the ufos themselves and their activities in attempting to evaluate whether they are a threat to us.
In 1966, Coral Lorenzen published an updated edition of her 1962 book, then titled The Great Flying Saucer Hoax and renamed quite sensationally (by her publishers) as FLYING SAUCERS: The Startling Evidence of the Invasion from Outer Space.
Her APRO investigator and scientific consultant from Brazil, Dr. Olavo Fontes, had an alarmist perspective contrary to what she said was her own bias. Nevertheless, she listened to his thoughts regarding the “pattern and its meanings” (title for chapter 13 in above book). Page 190:
“In 1958 Dr. Olavo Fontes in Brazil offered the theory of a pattern he had found in a sweeping but careful survey of UFO sightings over an eleven-year period. Fontes said that UFOs are hostile and that the visitations of eleven years fell into a pattern indicating military reconnaissance.”
Lorenzen, in this book, illustrates the reports that do suggest heightened numbers of UFO reports ensuing from worldwide nuclear and missle test sites and military bases during key moments like the development of nuclear weapons, missles, and the Soviet launch os Sputnik in 1957.
Coral Lorenzen didnt seem to adopt the degree of alarm felt by Fontes. Fontes died too young but subsequent research revealed half a century later (as reported by Kevin Randle at https://kevinrandle.blogspot.com ) that his alarmist perspective may have impacted his credibility, especially when it was found that one of his cases involving a Brazilian fort was found unlikely to have occurred. Mrs. Lorenzen concluded this book with her own thoughts, page 278:
“There are no definite indications of hostility on the part of our visitors; but equally important here there is no indication of friendliness either. Possibly we are only the subject of a routine survey—an Interstellar Geophysical Year, so to speak. To fail to educate the public concerning the facts at hand, however, is to court danger of a particularly insidious nature. The existence of a species of superior beings in the universe could cause the civilization of earth to topple. Even on earth societies have disintegrated when confronted by a superior society.”
In 2017, long-time investigator Robert Hastings, who has for decades gathered testimony from many military personnel, published his updated UFOs and Nukes: Extraordinary Encounters at Nuclear Weapons Sites. His book will be addressed in depth in a subsequent lecture in the Military/UFO encounters course.
His evaluation concerning the threat question seems to have a point made that I didnt see in the much older Lorenzen assessment of aliens doing updated monitorings of our advancing technology. There is messaging! The message being “get rid of your nukes”.
“When considering the nuclear incidents in particular, one might ask whether the US government is operating to protect the American public against some genuine threat from above, or merely attempting to keep us in the dark for as long as possible? If the actions of the Visitors are in fact expressions of their concern and/or disapproval of our possession of nukes, shouldn’t the public be made aware of this fact?”
With the latest revelations (up to July 2019, date for this lecture) the threat assessment focus is ongoing. Future lectures for this course will continue to address this question.