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.”
The Issue of Hidden Government UFO Programs
Lecture # 13
The previous lectures in the U.S. Government and UFOs course series (see #s 5,6,7,and 8 on home page) basically covered the public UFO program of the United States government, known consecutively as Project “Sign”, “Grudge”, and “Blue Book”. What is still hidden from view is the history of covert governmental addressing of the UFO issue, though there are perhaps (as of late 2019) some beginning glimpses of long-standing “Unacknowledged Special Access Programs” focused on that. The issue of the government’s covert involvement with the UFO mystery has been seriously clouded now from the disinformation efforts that mushroomed in the 1980s and which today still impact the perceptions of so many people about what the government knows and does.
After Project Blue Book ended in 1969, U.S. Air Force Brigadier General S.H. Bolender wrote a memo, dated October 20 1969 that noted this:
“Termination of Project Blue Book would leave no official federal
office to receive reports of UFOs. However, as already stated, reports
of UFOs which could affect national security would continue to be handled
through the standard Air Force procedures designed for this purpose.
Presumably, local police departments respond to reports which fall within
their responsibilities. Similarly, as to scientific research, the
Colorado researchers conclude that, although they do not see “any
fruitful lines of advance from the study of UFO reports, we believe that
any scientist with adequate training and credentials who does come up
with a clearly defined, specific proposal for study should be supported.”
We see no reason why the normal channels and criteria for the funding of
scientific research should not be adequate for UFO-related research.”
Suspicions that deeper UFO government programs existed were amplified in the 1980s, beginning with the publishing of The Roswell Incident by Charles Berlitz and William L. Moore. Bill Moore did the leg work and Berlitz wrote from Moore’s notes. Moore described to a public audience at a SF Expo in 1990 (where I was present) that he was very much displeased with the final Berlitz draft and by 1997 he publicly stated he didn’t think the Roswell event involved the crash and recovery of an alien craft. But, according to the very popular narrative that many today have strongly fused with, it was that event which spurred Harry S Truman to create a special policy group called Operation Majestic 12 or MJ-12.
It is interesting today to note that while the evidentiary basis for Roswell involving an “alien” craft crashing and being recovered (with dead entities) has weakened in the eyes of major investigators like Kevin Randle who previously supported the narrative, the possibility that alien craft and entities have been recovered in other cases has been legitimately revived by what may now be a cracking open of the door guarding government UFO secrets.
And instead of a UFO-related MJ-12 program, overseeing everything on this front, we may be now getting an emerging picture of UFO-related “Unacknowledged Special Access Programs” operating within the military and intelligence world via contracts with private corporations that are overseen by the Special Access Program Oversight Committee and its special support group. Interestingly, Jacques Vallee has noted that there is a “MJ-12” but that it is an operation focused on guarding against psych-ops and propaganda from other nation-states.
Of course, I have no clue…..on all of this. In fact, no one on the “outside” of possible “insider” circles involved in UFOS has a clue but many nevertheless imagine they do. Having said that, it is obviously possible to relate the history of how various notions of a government cover up have developed. And, we begin with the Roswell story.
At the beginning of 1978, ufologists Stanton Friedman and Bill Moore got together to examine and ponder Friedman’s notes from two interviews he had just conducted with people claiming first-hand knowledge of an unusual crash and retrieval event near Roswell in 1947. It seems one of these people, Major (retired) Jesse Marcel Sr, had been sharing stories of his past (some quite fanciful and false!) with ham radio buddies. The other person Friedman had interviewed was Lydia Sleppy, a radio station employee at an Albuquerque station. She reported that a teletype message on the Roswell event was blocked from going out by the federal government.
That is the beginning of the investigation into the story that in subsequent decades has achieved a permanent place in UFO folklore.
By 2016, when long-time ufologist Kevin D. Randle published his re-examination of the Roswell evidence in his book “Roswell in the 21st Century”, the witness-foundation for this story, especially related to the recovery of dead alien beings, had profoundly crumbled. In 2015, Barack Obama told Gentleman Quarterly that he gets asked about Roswell all the time, and then noted that the existing top secret information is not as exciting on that front as people imagine.
In the “Crashes and Retrievals of UFOs in the Twentieth Century” entry prepared by historian Jerome Clark for the 3rd edition (2017) of The UFO Encyclopedia (pages 319-350) a detailed survey of reported cases is presented. An example of a more credible case than Roswell, with clear evidence and oddness, was the confirmed crash of a craft that had zig zagged across the USA and ending its journey near Las Vegas on April 18, 1962. (see pages 333-335)
As an aside, and also as a preview of the discussion later in this lecture of the 2019 leak of a scientist’s notes of a conversation with an Admiral who once served as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, a new element in the lore was introduced by apparent revelations of a private corporation, under defense contract and part of an unacknowledged special access program, working to reverse engineer (for years, without success) a largely intact craft discovered as a result of an “archaelogical” discovery. There is in fact an amazing (and to me “credible”) story related in Chapter 2 of Dr. Ardy Sixkiller Clarke’s first book, Encounters with Star People: Untold Stories of American Indians, that I immediately figured could be one possible lead to identifying the origin for this specific, alleged craft. I figured out the location by her clues to a crash event in 1945 and likely recovery by the Army Corp of Engineers in 1947: the Garrison Dam project in North Dakota.
In any event, the Roswell story in particular became the basis for the development of a narrative about a deeply covert government involvement in addressing the ufo mystery.
Must reading on this aspect of the story is the 1990 book by a former NY Times and Village Voice reporter (with a Pulitzer for his book on Operation Paperclip): Out There: The Government’s Secret Quest for Extraterrestrials, by Howard Blum. Here is a colorful summary courtesy of kirkusreviews.com :
A melodramatic account by former New York Times journalist Blum of his lid-ripping investigation into the secret federal search for UFOs–and their occupants. “”The book’s style and structure,”” Blum admits, “”were influenced by the narrative pace of popular science fiction””–and his dramatic hero is none other than star reporter Blum himself, who first sniffed the government’s ongoing UFO quest while researching his best-seller on the Walker spy ring, I Pledge Allegiance (1987). Intrigued, Blum shook his web of media and government contacts and found leads that soon brought him to this book’s big revelation: the existence–despite myriad official denials–of the UFO Working Group, a tiny, top-secret, federal interagency investigative body headed by one Col. Harold E. Phillips of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Founded in 1987, according to Blum, after a flurry of suppressed UFO sightings, including the tracing on radar of a UFO by the US Space Command Space Surveillance Center, the UFO Working Group, calling on CIA, FBI, and other resources, has come up with–nothing solid. It has, however, dug into many of the major events of UFOlogy, allowing Blum to pad his book with numerous secondary accounts: of the history of federal research into UFOs, and of its various SETI programs; of extensive UFO sightings in Elmwood, Wisc,; of the infamous MJ-12 documents, which purport to document the government’s retrieval in 1947 of a crashed disc and alien bodies in Roswell, N.M. While much of this ground has been combed over by others, Blum presents it in relentlessly cliff-hanging fashion, and vividly portrays a hive of probes and cover-ups and a mystery so profound that, as one FBI agent told him, “”Even the government doesn’t know what it knows”” about it. Entertaining enough to already have sold to NBC for a miniseries; and, despite the self-promotion and the reblocking of old-hat material, a significant journalistic coup.”
For an extensive in-depth survey of the development during the 1980s and beyond of key notions regarding government coverup issues that are held widely within the so-called “ufo community”, read the “Dark Side” entry by Jerome Clark on pages 357 thru 374 in Volume 1 of the 3rd edition (2017) The UFO Encyclopedia:
“Among the strangest and most convoluted UFO stories of the last two decades is one that concerns allegations from various sources, some of them said to be individuals connected with military and intelligence agencies, that the U.S. government not only has communicated with but has an ongoing relationship with what are officially known as ‘extraterrestrial biological entities’, or EBEs. These unsubstantiated claims have given rise to nightmarish conspiracy theories which some call Dark Side theories”. (page 357, Vol !)
This complex story involves the attempts to steer ufologists in certain directions through whispered disinformation and bogus documents, but first there was an interesting reach out (several years before ufologists would be played with) to two LA business men, with strong Republican Party connections. The Air Force Office of Special Investigation head at Norton Air Force Base and an audio-visual specialist there invited Robert Emmenegger and Allan Sandler over to the base to suggest the making of a documentary film on advanced research projects.
The story involving Emenegger and Sandler doesn’t necessarily entail a disinformation operation but it clearly is a big example of Lucy pulling the football from the approaching kicker, Charlie Brown. This meeting was in 1973, during the Watergate era, and the Lucys in this case (military officials) saw the unfolding Watergate scandal take worsening turns, thus obviously making a “bad time” for what they had been promised for the documentary project they all had chosen to focus on: UFOs. Emenegger did finish this project in 1974 with the release of the documentary UFOs Past Present and Future and concurrently of a paperback with the same title. But, the documentary was without the promised film of an alien craft allegedly landing at Holloman AFB in May, 1971 (though reportedly several seconds of the craft’s approach made it into the film).
In 1988, during a live FOX TV broadcast hosted by Mike Ferrell called UFO Coverup Live, the audio visual official (Paul Shartle) who was one of the two officers promising this film to the two would describe what he had seen when viewing the alleged 16-mm film. He described three disc-shaped craft that approached with one landing and the other two taking off after their escort. Three beings emerged and were greeted by the base commander and other officers and several days of meetings (mostly undescribed) too place. The aliens were described as average human sized, with gray complexion, a pronounced nose, thin mouths, pupils of the eyes like slits (cat-like).
Jerry Clark takes us on an extended tour in the UFO Encyclopedia of all the tales whereby “insider” information is imparted to ufo investigators, or in the case of his first example, a respected Canadian witness to a close encounter of the third kind. The witness to a 1975 encounter would report that he was visited by a Canadian and two American military officers who related that they knew about his incident, that the aliens he saw had landed due to their craft malfunctioning. They informed the witness (a young carpenter named Robert Suffern) that both the U.S. and Canadian governments knew all about the aliens (since 1943) and were working with them.
In 1978, the National Enquirer received an alleged Air Force incident report but which clearly was uncovered as a tall tale involving real persons at the base who supposedly engaged aliens, firing on them, in a secure area of Ellsworth AFB in North Dakota. Bob Pratt and others at this tabloid discovered many discrepancies and inaccuracies upon an in depth investigation.
In 1981, AFOSI agent Richard Doty, based at Kirkland AFB then, had some sort of role in a ridiculous letter sent anonymously to the Lorenzen’s at APRO which related a similiarily made-up tale that supposedly occurred at Kirtland AFB where a Civil Air Patrol Cadet visiting the base named Craig Wentzel saw a landed craft and an alien. Weitzel was tracked down a few years later by an investigator; Weitzel did NOT experience a landed UFO and sighting of an emerging alien. Instead, he DID report to Doty at AFOSI seeing a craft at 10 to 15,000 feet, which moved about for a few minutes and then accelerated away rapidly.
This AFOSI agent Richard C. Doty, still an active player in the fields of ufology even today (long past retirement), would go on to entangle authors and investigators Bill Moore, Linda Moulton Howe and others in tall tales and notions that last today as popular articles of belief among a large segment of the so-called “ufo community”.
The picture conveyed during this feverish era of disinformation activities in the 1980s would naturally fuse with alt left and alt right political philosophies that focused on the evils of hidden cabals running everything and keeping us in the dark.
What we have been learning since December 16 2017 seems to undermine this simple picture, and perhaps explains what was going on with the insiders offering their “helpful” whispers to investigators in prior years. We have learned, through Harry Reid and others, that significant resistance to even addressing the UFO mystery exists inside the military and intelligence communities where the influence of religious beliefs has affected key officials. It appears that many inside these quarters regard UFOs as signs of a demonic presence, something that shouldn’t be encouraged further in “intruding” into our domain with attention directed towards it.
Given the additional remarks recently by Harry Reid, and the clues offered in the Eric Davis notes of his conversation years ago with Admiral Thomas Wilson, it appears there are a small number of “waived” (from oversight) and “unacknowledged” Special Access Programs that address crash/retrievals and research of new technology and the biological impact (and “markers”) of people experiencing close encounters of the third and fourth kind.
These programs apparently (as asserted by Admiral Wilson) are not something that any elected officials are briefed on. They are carried out by private corporations with a very small number of people in the military and intelligence community on the “need to know” list. Harry Reid in interviews with George Knapp of Las Vegas has indicated that there are programs with further information and knowledge, and leaves it at that.
Everyday, on social media, ufologists exhibit traveling down that dead-end road (of focusing on a government coverup) that Donald Keyhoe had many excitedly travel on in subsequent decades. All the while, it was the other highway (focusing on close encounter cases), the one the Lorenzens traveled, that has given us the answers. They are there in the vast body of close encounter cases!!
Tim McMillan, Tyler Rogoway 45 page article in The Drive, June 2019, on Special Access Programs