Lecture #8: 1953-1969, US Government Tries to Put UFOs Out of Sight

The preceding lecture for this course is here:


At the beginning of 1953, after the review of badly (and dishonestly) selected UFO cases by a CIA contracted panel of scientists, the Air Force program essentially became a debunking operation designed to lower the percentage of unexplained sightings. This agenda and goal was formalized in September 1959 when it was added to national security and gathering intel for tech development as reasons that Air Force Regulation 202 identified for the UFO program: “Air Force activities must reduce the percentage of unidentifieds to the minimum.”

This regulation was further amended to restrict the release of information on UFOs. Before, base commanders could respond to press and public inquiries, but now, they were allowed to only when an explanation for the sighting had been achieved. Otherwise, only the Office of Information services would be allowed to answer inquiries.

Prior to this updating of the regs, those tasked with addressing reported ufos had been busily moving previous cases judged as “unidentified” into the “possible” and “probable” categories (with mundane explanations for the reported ufos).

When it came to investigating new cases, UFO historian Jerome Clark (in Vol 2, The UFO Encyclopedia, pg 919) describes the operational milieu:

“In April 1956 Capt. George T. Gregory, a debunking hardliner, took over Blue Book and led it in an even firmer anti-UFO direction than had the apathetic Hardin.” [Capt. Charles Hardin, the previous Blue Book leader, had spent most of his time—according to Dr. Hynek in his 1972 book—preparing to be a stock broker after his AF retirement.] “In July of the next year, after the 4602nd was disbanded, the 1006th AISS took over what now passed for UFO investigations, then saw its funding reduced. (The 1127th Field Activities Group assumed investigative responsibilities in 1959 but seldom acted on them)……”

A well documented and high profile UFO event involving multiple witnesses experiencing a close encounter of the 2nd kind happened in Levelland, Texas over a few hours during the late night of November 2 1957 and through the last encounter by the Sheriff and a deputy at 1:30 am November 3 1957. The closely sighted craft affected the power in the cars of all the witnesses (which makes the case a close encounter of the second kind). The craft was described as egg-shaped, 125 to 200 feet in diameter, and luminous.

Kevin Randle, one of the longest-standing and respected investigators/historians in ufology (all during a parallel long and distinguished military career), has very recently (summer of 2019) revisited Blue Book’s response to this event:

Kevin Randle article

The beginning excerpt of that article:

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Another Part of the Levelland Investigation

I have been reviewing the Levelland landing with its electromagnetic effects. I have said that an Air Force NCO conducted a one-day investigation and that was it. I have reported that the Air Force made a number of points about the case including that while Donald Keyhoe of NICAP claimed nine witnesses, there were only three. Interestingly, the claim of three witnesses is contradicted in the Blue Book file that contains interviews with a half dozen witnesses and information about others. In fact, in an undated and unsigned summary of the case, the Blue Book file says, “A mysterious object, whose shape was described variously as ranging from round to oval, and predominantly bluish-white in color was observed by six persons [emphasis added] near the town of Levelland, Texas.”

In all, I have found witnesses, on the record in 1957, at thirteen separate locations with multiple witnesses at several of those. And I haven’t even counted the law enforcement officers who had sightings. This, as noted in an earlier post, included the sheriff and the fire marshal.

As confirmed by several sources, we all know that Staff Sergeant Norman Barth made an investigation that lasted part of one day. He interviewed a few of the witnesses. He was hung up on the weather at the time of the sightings, believing that weather had an influence. Ultimately, he and the Air Force, would latch onto ball lightning as the culprit though ball lightning is not a viable explanation.

In fact, a report signed by Captain George T. Gregory, who was the chief of Blue Book at the time, made the case for ball lightning, apparently unaware that ball lightning is a short-lived phenomenon, and the it is rarely, if ever larger than a foot or two in diameter. In the Air Force report on this, also found in the Blue Book files, they say ball lightning is only about eight inches in diameter.

By the end of the next year (1958), Blue Book had a new head, then Major, later Lt. Colonel Robert J. Friend. Friend attempted to have Air Force scientists employed at the Air Research and Development Command (ARDC) take the UFO study responsibility from the hands of them at Blue Book and their ATIC superiors. ARDC declined, despite the Blue Book argument that “UFO reports were a scientific, not military or intelligence, problem. The staff complained that UFO study had become an expensive and unproductive burden.” [Jerome Clark, vol 2 The UFO Encyclopedia, pg 922]

Feeling continued heat on the public relations front, Blue Book first tried in 1960 without success to move the responsibility to the Seceetary of the Air Force Office of Information. They were also turned down by NASA, the National Science Foundation, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Brookings Institution.

As noted in the lecture on Project Grudge, Capt. Ruppelt had contracted in 1951 with the scientists at the Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio. This study of data from reported ufo observations was made a part of a classified Battelle project codenamed Project Stork. The job of Stork was to assess Soviet tech advances.

Altogether they looked at 3,201 reports, most from Air Force files of cases dating from the last several months of 1952. They had weeded out 800 cases earlier due to a lack of data to atart with.

The tasked engineers felt that the UFO study distracted from their important focus on developing Soviet technology. They never felt that UFOs were Russian. Three engineers working on this study who were interviewed in the 1990s confessed to spending very little time on the UFO study, considering it a waste of time.

With statistical analysis and identifying categorization applied to well-documented cases by reliable witneses, and aided by a questionare with 30 characterizing factors addressed, the body of the eventual report noted that “unknown sightings
33.3% of all the object sightings for which the reliability of the sighting is considered ‘excellent’ “.

Yet, when the report on their work was released under the name Project Blue Book Report, number 14, on October 25, 1955, the summary conclusions did not seem to match the data content within. With widespread press coverage of his remarks, the Secretary of the Air Force Donald A. Quarles said that “on the basis of this study we believe that no objects such as those popularly described as flying saucers have overflown the United States. I feel certain that even the unknown 3 percent could have been explained as conventional phenomena or illusions if more complete observational data had been available.”

Since i have already noted the percentage of unknowns as reported in the report and that the staff had eliminated cases with insufficient data, it should stand out clearly the contradictory natures of the summary characterization and report content.

This pattern would be repeated in the 1969 Condon Report and enable the government at that time to cut its overt and official ties to the UFO subject.

And, I remember quite vividly this history of the last phase of an overt and official us government ufo program. By the time I had entered my first year of high school for the 1965-66 school year, I had a healthy library of Keyhoe and Lorenzen books.

A major wave of sighting reports began in August 1965. Air Force attempts to explain away what was being reported was increasingly being greeted with angry editorializing by newspapers throughout the nation:

UPI: [dispatch from Wichita KS] “Ordinary radar doesnt pick up planets and stars”.

Richmond [Virginia] News Ledger: “Attempts to dismiss the reported sightings under the rationale as exhibited by Project Blue Book won’t solve the mystery…and serve only to heighten the suspicion that there is something out there the Air Force doesn’t want us to know about”.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram: “They can stop kidding us now about there being no such things as ‘flying saucers”.

Charleston Evening Post: “If our courts shared the Air Force’s professed suspicion of creditable witnesses our jails would be empty.”

Christian Science Monitor, re wave of reports: “clearest case yet for a thorough look at the saucer mystery”.

Dr. Hynek had himself become very frustrated by the unprofessional Air Force addressing of UFO events, but his statements at a press conference in Detroit on March 25 1966 would cause outrage on a wide scale and soon led to a Congressional hearing.

A very large number of residents of Hillsdale and Dexter, Michigan witnessed on March 20 and 21 saw luminous football shaped objects. Since some were over a swampy area, Hynek theorized that the sightings could have been due “to the release of variable quantities of marsh gas”.

A Congressman from Michigan, named Gerald Ford, happened to be the Minority Leader and as one of those upset, he called upon the House Armed Services Committee to conduct a hearing. He noted: “The American public deserves a better explanation than that thus far given by the Air Force.”

Jerry Clark, vol 2 The UFO Encyclopedia, pg 924:

“The hearing was held on April 5, but only three persons were asked to testify:…Secretary of the Air Force Harold Brown, [Major] Quintanilla [last head of Blue Book], and Hynek. Brown stuck to Blue Books’ script…”

The Secretary denied an existing threat, that ET wasnt visiting, and he insisted they had been thorough and objective in their ufo study.

Hynek, though, argued the subject did deserve more serious attention than had been given to it and suggested an independent panel of civilian “social and physical scientists” address the mystery.

This is what ended up happening, but in a way that i could see was disturbing (from ongoing press accounts about the project’s director Edward Condon’s hostile attitude to the subject).

On October 6 1966 the University of Colorado agreed to do the study under the direction of physicist Edward U. Condon.

By the spring of 1968, Look magazine was calling the study a fiasco as did other journals, and Hynek himself was concerned.

The report was released in January 1969 with Condon concluding that any further attention and study would be pointless. He asserted this despite the content of the 1,485 paged report revealing 1/3 of their cases remained unidentified. In December 1969 the Air Force closed Blue Book and the Government finally had freed itself from having to address the ufo matter in an overt and official manner.

What has been going on, though, unseen since this time?

With a now blank canvas, various disinformation efforts (like the Richard Doty AFOSI-based activities from Kirtland AFB in New Mexico) began to fill this blank canvas in the 1980s.

So, next we take a look at the stories and beliefs, regarding the government and ufos, that took shape in the 1980s and which many hold onto today still.

For now, we have this 2018-related description that former CIA director John Brennan gave to Florida journalist Billy Cox that possibly portrays the situation:

“I think over the past several decades there have been a number of phenomena that have been observed by pilots, both commercial pilots, both military pilots, that are basically unexplained. Maybe it’s the result of some type of atmospheric conditions or something else. And so I think the Pentagon rightly is trying to understand whether or not any of these phenomena have implications as far as national security is concerned. Some people refer to it as UFO, an unidentified flying object, it’s something that is observed but there is no determination about what its origin or provenance is.

“During the course of my career, both in the CIA as well as the White House, I was aware that there were endeavors to try to discern what some of these phenomena are.” Me: What did you learn? “That most of them remain unexplained. But that shouldn’t mean that we don’t continue to pursue it. And try to apply the latest technologies and the latest science to understand what may be going on.

“We know that a number of our adversaries continue to try to look for gaps and vulnerabilities in our national defense so anything that might take place in the air, in the atmosphere, is something that I think is rightly an area for pursuit on the part of our intelligence community and Defense Department.”