Secrecy surrounds UFO studies since 1940s — Part 3

UFO

UFO researchers have long suspected that a government coverup has prevented the public from knowing the full story about visitors from other planets. In 1973, the director of the FBI denied that his agency had ever investigated UFOs. In 1976, the agency released more than 1,100 pages of UFO information that it had collected over many years. What forced the disclosure? It was the Freedom of Information Act. Investigative reporter George Knapp examines reports and other secrets that have been pried out of the government in Part 3 of “UFOs: The Best Evidence.” Originally aired on Nov. 8, 1989, on KLAS TV in Las Vegas.


UFO skeptics often ask if there are aliens visiting Earth, why don’t they announce themselves by flying over the White House? The answer is UFOs did fly over the White House. Twice. It happened in July 1952.

As the New York Times reported, seven eerie glowing objects were spotted by pilots in the air and people on the ground.  Twelve different radar operators tracked the UFOs at speeds of up to 7,000 miles per hour.  A week later, the objects were back again.  When jets were scrambled the lights either disappeared or zoomed away.  The Air Force explained that what everyone had seen was a temperature inversion. To a man, the radar operators disagreed but the official explanation is the one that stuck.  

Government explanations of UFOs are often just plain wrong.

In 1960, thousands of people from Canada to Mexico watched the formation of UFOs maneuver in the skies. The Air Force said it was the constellation Orion even though at the time Orion could only be seen from the other side of the planet.  A UFO landing at White Sands Missile Base was said to be a sighting of the planet Venus, to which one UFO buff responded it was unforgettable the night Venus landed on the gypsum flats of New Mexico.

The standing joke in UFO circles is that for every 200 UFO sightings, the Air Force can explain away 201.

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The possibility that our government might withhold or distort information about UFOs might seem farfetched until you read the mountains of evidence compiled from the government’s own files, evidence that strongly suggests a coverup.

The U.S. military first started seeing UFOs in World War II. Pilots called them Foo Fighters. We thought they were a German secret weapon. The Germans thought they were ours and an explosion of civilian sightings in 1947 caught the military by surprise.  Secret investigations were begun. A joint study by the FBI and U.S. Army concluded the flying saucer situation is not all imaginary. Something is really flying around. That report was kept secret until 1976.

“Yes, there was a degree of secrecy. In certain cases there might be sightings on radar. And we didn’t want the Russians to know we had a radar here or a radar there,” said Phil Klass a UFO skeptic.

Phil Klass, a UFO skeptic. (KLAS-TV)

Klass is correct, but only to a point because most of the early UFO sightings were by witnesses not radar. In New Mexico, for instance, over a two-year period, dozens of people reported seeing green fireballs over sensitive military installations. But when radar and cameras were dispatched to those installations, the fireballs mysteriously shifted someplace else.  A 1949 study by scientists at Los Alamos lab stated the fireballs deserve serious consideration.

Some think the saucer craze of the ‘40s and ‘50s was a byproduct of Cold War tensions and fears. Both the U.S. and the USSR conducted secret studies to find out if the other side was behind the UFOs, and both concluded early on that the capabilities of the flying disks seem to be beyond human technology.

This secret report done in 1948 by the Air Force and Naval Intelligence is among the most fascinating UFO documents ever to surface because it wasn’t supposed to exist.  A confidential memo at the end of the report ordered that all copies should be destroyed.  But one copy survived and was finally pried out of the Pentagon in 1985. It’s a study of more than 200 of the earliest UFO sightings, including one that occurred in June 1947 near Lake Mead. An Air Force pilot saw a formation of six UFOs. The report notes the UFOs are some type of flying craft, not weather balloons or hallucinations, that sighting reports were made by experienced personnel, that the origin of flying saucers is not ascertainable.

The overall effort to study saucers was called Project Sign with headquarters at Wright Field in Ohio in 1949. Sign personnel wrote a Top-Secret report concluding UFOs or extraterrestrial craft.  When the report made it to the desk of Chief of Staff General Hoyt Vandenberg, he rejected it and ordered all copies burned.

This rejection from the top was in the view of many the death knell for objective study of UFOs.  A few weeks later, Project Sign produced another final report saying its findings were inconclusive.  That report was accepted and soon after Project Sign became Project Grudge. Project Grudge evaluated reports on the premise that UFOs could not exist. According to a later report by the Library of Congress, it was the job of Project Grudge to explain them all.  Despite this slant, 23% of Grudge cases remained a mystery. Grudge staffers decided these cases were psychologically motivated. The first official declaration that people who see UFOs are crazy.

“The government established an intensive program of ridicule against anyone who said they saw flying saucers and fear of ridicule was the foundation on which the coverup was placed. Nobody likes to be ridiculed,” said aviation pioneer John Lear.

The sightings continued nonetheless. In 1952, there were more sightings than the five previous years combined, including the Washington, D.C., incidents.

Yet another study was launched, Project Blue Book. Blue Book today is notorious in UFO circles as a whitewash. There is considerable evidence the project was far from objective. The man appointed the head Blue Book, Cpt. Edward Ruppelt says he was told in the very beginning that the powers that be are anti-flying saucer. To stay in favor, it behooves one to follow suit.  Ruppelt later resigned from the military and wrote a book about what he says was the Blue Book coverup and the reality of flying saucers. 

The continued increase in UFO sightings concerned the CIA and a new strategy was born: debunking.

A group of CIA-connected scientists was assembled in secret to evaluate UFOs.  The so-called Robertson panel spent all of 12 hours in a roundtable discussion about a handful of UFO cases, the panel concluded that UFOs are not a threat to national security, but that continued reporting of UFOs is a threat. The recommendation: the government should take immediate steps to strip UFOs of their aura of mystery through a program of public education. The final report even used the term debunking.  The debunking included spying on UFO witnesses and the infiltration of UFO organizations by the CIA and FBI.

The Avro Disc.

The Air Force tried to insinuate that saucers were earthly inventions by leaking information about an unwieldy craft called the Avro Disc.  A government film described it as a “two-seater ready soon maybe the car of chopper the future. Help wanted: a crew of Little Green Men.”

The strategy included the silencing of military personnel through intimidation, Bill Cooper served in both the Air Force and the Navy and says he and three other sailors witnessed a UFO off the coast of Hawaii.

Bill Cooper, who served in the Air Force and Navy, witnessed a UFO with three others off the coast of Hawaii. He was instructed to say nothing. (KLAS-TV)

“When we arrived back in port, we were debriefed by Office of Naval Intelligence officer who, basically the gist of the debriefing, was you didn’t see anything and you’re not going to talk about anything and if you do, you’re going to be in deep trouble,” said Cooper.

A similar order was issued to hundreds of airmen at a base in Alaska who watch two UFOs play cat and mouse with Air Force jets. One witness who asked to remain anonymous recalls the order that was issued. “A gag order, in essence, that what you thought you saw and heard on the previous day … to this directive, you did not see, and you did not hear, and it did not happen,” said the witness. Even retired military personnel have felt the squeeze. “If you are of my vintage and you were retired from the military, someone said, ‘You open your mouth and that’s the end of your retirement pay,’ you think not only once, you think quite a few times,” said a different witness.

Walter Haut says veterans’ pensions were threatened unless they kept quiet. (KLAS-TV)

For three decades the military has publicly scoffed at UFOs but it’s been another matter behind the scenes.  A secret order issued to Air Force Base commander’s in 1960 stated UFOs should be treated as quote “serious business directly related to national security.”  Public pressure spurred Congress to hold hearings about UFOs.

In the mid-60s the Air Force decided enough is enough, it commissioned what was to be the ultimate UFO study conducted by Edward Condon of the University of Colorado.  Condon was a respected scientist but was hardly impartial about UFOs.  Before the study even began, he said in a speech that the government should get out of the UFO business, there’s nothing to it.  Condon later wrote the authors of UFO books should be horse whipped. There is even evidence that the study’s conclusions were written before the project even began. To the surprise of few, the committee declared that further study of UFOs would be a waste of time. The Air Force used this as its reason to finally end Project Blue Book.

“None of the evidence that I have examine would indicate any proof at all that we are being visited by extraterrestrials,” said Dr. Allen Hynek of Project Blue Book.

“We have not been hiding anything. The investigations have been made public,” added Harold Brown, Secretary of the Air Force.

Call up an Air Force Base today to report a UFO and you’ll be told the military no longer collects such information. It all ended with Blue Book. Government documents contradict these statements. A 1969 order by Air Force Gen. C. H. Bollendar reveals that UFO reports which could affect national security are not part of the Blue Book system and should continue to be handled through a standard Air Force procedure. UFO researchers have long suspected that Blue Book was merely for public consumption and that another secret UFO program existed to handle the most sensitive cases. The Bollendar memo may verify the suspicions.

There are other indications that the policy continues. Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, has been the site of numerous UFO incidents, including four separate incidents in August 1980.  Security Police reported UFO landings in and around nuclear weapons storage areas. Base radar equipment was knocked out during the landings. A secret Air Force report about the incident states the Air Force is no longer publicly active in UFO research, but still has an interest in all UFO sightings over Air Force installations. The document also reveals several other government agencies actively investigate legitimate sightings through covert cover.   

Does this mean the CIA?

The CIA responds to UFO requests in this fashion: “There is no CIA program to actively collect information on UFOs, nor has there been one since the 1950s.”

This statement flies in the face of numerous reports squeezed out of the agency by Freedom of Information lawsuits. A series of internal memos dated 1976 make repeated references to UFO research, UFO studies, CIA UFO experts and agency personnel who are monitoring the UFO phenomenon.  The reluctance to admit an interest in UFO dates back at least to 1952.  An internal letter from CIA’s weapons chief states it is strongly urged no indication of CIA interest reach the press or public in light of their alarmist tendencies.

Officially, CIA and other government agencies say their lack of interest is because UFOs pose no threat to national security.  Yet UFOs have made alarming intrusions at our most sensitive military bases.

The Washington Post reported UFOs visited five separate nuclear missile launch sites near the Canadian border during a two-week period in 1975, one right after the other. And in at least one case the UFOs tampered with the launch codes of ICBM missiles.  Fighter planes were unable to catch the UFOs, which makes the government explanation these were mystery helicopters, seem specious. Mystery helicopters that can out race F-16s visiting nuclear missile bases?  If this isn’t national security, what is?  

Oddly, the government has used the national security excuse to withhold UFO data. Stan Friedman and others fought all the way to the Supreme Court to get UFO documents from the National Security Agency.  All they got was a summary of the documents.

Stan Friedman displays a government document turned over by the National Security Agency. The document was mostly blacked out. (KLAS-TV)

“Here it is legal, affidavit, NSA and so forth. The trouble is as you start to go through this document, you rather quickly find that a lot of it isn’t really there. And I won’t stop because you’ll see how many pages are really full of good information.  To make a long story short, approximately 75% of this document isn’t there,” said Friedman.

“It’s the one … it’s the biggest secret in the history of mankind and the government is not going to let this out,” said John Lear.


Next Story: UFO secrecy extends to NASA; cattle mutilations confuse authorities — Part 4

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