For more than a century, intelligence agencies have used unidentified flying objects as a cover for their secret experiments and weapons. During the First World War, unintended sightings of Top-Secret airships could be attributed to visitors from outer space. In the 1950s, civilian observations of sensitive nuclear and space tests could be attributed to Soviet infiltration or extra-terrestrial incursions.
By the 1960s, intelligence agencies had infiltrated the New Age movement and its organisations. Ulterior motives included using the knowledge of UFO groups, like the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), to obtain information about sightings from civilians. For instance, if the Soviets had penetrated US airspace with weapons unknown to US intelligence, their officers posing as MUFON members could glean information on the shape and capabilities of the craft from civilians who thought they were observing alien spaceships.
Power dominates by dividing to conquer. On one side stand the pro-UFO crowd who believe that some, if not all, UFOs are alien ships. On the other are the anti-UFO-ers who think that every sighting is due to optical illusions, hoaxes, or mental delusions. US intelligence penetrated both groups and used them strategically for different ends, depending on the given circumstances.
Government-sponsored UFO deniers included those mandated by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and others to debunk all UFO encounters in order to prevent mass-panic. Another fear was that if the Soviet Union attacked, the US response could be impaired because observers might think that they are witnessing alien craft.
Donald Menzel was an astrophysicist and Navy Lieutenant Commander who, during the Second World War, was in charge of training cryptographers.1 The Psychological Strategy Board (PSB) was established in 1951 under US President Truman. Its aim was to train diplomats in the language of pro-US propaganda. But the Board had other mandates. They hired Mendel to promote UFO and alien scepticism through a series of books. Another PSB associate was the movie mogul Darryl Zanuck, producer of The Day the Earth Stood Still, written by former US Signal Corps filmmaker Edmund H. North. It was hoped that ufologists could be dismissed as over-imaginative sci-fi fans.2
An almost unreadably poor copy of a document to the PSB, written by CIA Director Walter B. Smith in the early-1950s, states that there should be a “[d]etermination of what if any utilization should be made of these phenomena [i.e., UFOs] by US psychological warfare planners and what, if any, defenses should be planned in anticipation of Soviet attempts to utilize them.” The report also wanted to know if UFOs could be controlled by the US and what level of knowledge the Russians had about the phenomena.3
In 1953, the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence collaborated with the weapons physicist H.P. Robertson to lessen public interest in UFOs, in their words “to minimize risk of panic,” particularly if the Soviets staged a “UFO” invasion as a cover for a first-strike.4 In addition to quelling public concerns, the Air Force wanted to reduce the thousands of civilian UFO sightings reported to the organisation in volumes that “overload[ed] channels of communication.” A concern was the “[s]ubjectivity of [the] public to mass hysteria and greater vulnerability to possible enemy psychological warfare.” The CIA’s Robertson Panel concluded: “The ‘debunking’ aim would result in reduction in public interest in ‘flying saucers’ which today evokes a strong psychological reaction. This education could be accomplished by mass media such [as] television, motion pictures, and popular articles.”5
One of the intelligence agencies’ more elaborate hoaxes was Majestic 12 (MJ-12). The document was supposedly written by the third Director of Central Intelligence, Admiral Roscoe H. Hillenkoetter, and relates to a Top-Secret group of experts put together by President Truman relating to the Roswell crash and alleged recovery of alien bodies. The US Air Force later informed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that the document was a fabrication. However, parts of the document may refer to real events not authorised for disclosure, which gave the FBI some cause for concern: “[Department of Defense] representations made to [redacted]… tended to buttress a portion of the document.”6 Hillenkoetter later served on the board of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena: a civilian research organisation that, perhaps intentionally, collapsed into disarray.
In 1966, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research contracted academics at Colorado University to investigate UFOs. The research was led by Dr. Edward U. Condon, Professor of Physics and Fellow of the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics. But many leading scientists wanted to protect their reputations and secretly plotted to make the report biased against UFOs. Project coordinator Robert J. Low wrote a memo: “The trick would be… to describe the project so that, to the public, it would appear a totally objective study.”7 Staff were interrogated by project leaders over the memo leak and the prime suspect, UFO believer James E. McDonald,8 died some years later in an apparent suicide. Referring to the subject of UFOs, Condon said: “My attitude right now is that there’s nothing to it… but I’m not supposed to reach a conclusion for another year.”9
Some operatives in Air Force, Navy, and civilian intelligence had the opposite agenda: to promote UFOs, aliens, and abductions as cover for their classified weapons research.
Barney and Betty Hill were an interracial couple, which was unusual in 1960s’ America. Both were members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and chaired the local branch of the Commission on Civil Rights. They claimed that in September 1961, they were abducted by aliens. Under hypnosis, Barney claimed that sperm and other samples had been taken from him by ETs. Also under hypnosis, Betty said that she had been shown a star map that experts reckoned could be the Zeta Reticuli system.
At the same time, the FBI under the direction of the extreme right-winger, J. Edgar Hoover, was waging a secret domestic war against anything progressive. Known as the Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO), those targeted included anti-war groups, the Black Panthers, labour movements, the New Left, students, and women’s rights groups. The Civil Rights movement was one of the main organisations targeted. Shortly after the Hills began talking publicly about their experiences, local media began championing their Civil Rights credentials. It seems unlikely that Barney was a COINTELPRO operative, but the Program could have been promoting their story as a way of associating Civil Rights with things that most people consider to be crazy.10
Hoover had personally intervened in the UFO topic. In July 1947, a disc built by a human to hoax his friend “crashed” in Louisiana (La.). At the time, the FBI was starting to liaise with the Army on UFO-related events. Hoover wrote by hand: “we must insist upon full access to discs recovered. For instance in the La. case the Army grabbed it and would not let us have it for cursory examination.”11 If it was a hoaxed disc, why would the FBI be interested? If it was a real ET ship, why would Hoover or anyone leave a paper trail?
If the US really had a crashed UFO and could back-engineer alien technology to create super-weapons, they would not have released a document pertaining to three child-sized beings recovered at the crash site. Yet, the Guy Hottel memo is one of the most notorious in ufology. Hottel was an FBI special agent and acting head of the Washington Field Office. Three years after the Roswell incident in July 1947, Hottel reported that an Air Force investigator told him of three discs and bodies that had been recovered.12 At the time, the FBI was pushing the Majestic 12 agenda.
Just as the AATIP programme today appears to be a psychological operation to make Congress think that Russia and China have advanced aircraft, the British Ministry of Defence advised in secret files in the 1950s: “Monitor all [UFO] reports in case in the future the hitherto unknown/not understood underlying phenomena is being exploited by another nation” (sic). The documents note that “[a]n actual – or potential enemy – could develop a flying device with the characteristics that these phenomena seem to have.”13
Stories circulated in the late-‘90s that post-Soviet Russia may be in possession of alien technology. Presumably, the agenda was the same: to scare budget-allocators into giving US military developers more cash. Media report that in 1969, a UFO crashed in Sverdlovsk Oblast, in southern Russia. The claim is backed up by obviously staged video footage broadcast in 1998. Footage was purportedly taken by the KGB (or related) of soldiers sent to recover the alien vehicle. More detailed images of the alleged spaceship appear in the form of still photographs. Another staged film of an alleged Russian ET autopsy (no coroners are wearing hazmat suits or even minimal PPE) was supposedly smuggled onto the black market and featured in a US, post-Cold War documentary.14
DARE TO BELIEVE
In the current context of the US military trying to frighten the public into believing that Russia and China are a threat, UFOs remain a hot topic. The CIA continues to want you to believe that UFO sightings and reports are entirely down to them. The Agency tweeted in 2014: “Remember reports of unusual activity in the skies in the ‘50s? That was us.”15
After fighting in Korea in the 1950s, C.B. Jones (Scott Jones) moved into Naval Intelligence before working with the intelligence firm, CACI Management, which worked with the Defense Intelligence Agency. Like Luis Elizondo today, Scott specialised in complex data analysis. In the 1980s, he worked as Special Assistant to Senator Claiborne Pell to study “consciousness research” being conducted in China and Russia. Jones also involved himself in various New Age-linked movements.16 One paper in the CIA archives claims that Jones was a kind of handler for abductee researcher and naturopath, Dr. Rima Laibow, whom the report says had an “exceptional ‘network’ expanding into Europe and the Soviet Union.” The paper suggests that Jones could be an informant tasked with keeping intelligence agencies up-to-date with developments in UFO activities and perhaps to spy on the Soviets under cover of conducting UFO research.17
Cryptographer Menzel, mentioned above, was an associate of Philip Klass,18 a senior editor at Aviation Weekly. Like his de facto predecessor Menzel, the debunker Klass authored books with titles such as UFOs Explained. In 1964, FBI head Hoover wrote to CIA Director John A. McCone about Klass’s publications of Top-Secret materials. This suggests that Klass was a significant behind-the-scenes actor. Other FBI documents relating to Klass are heavily redacted, suggesting that he or his associates were linked to the intelligence agencies. One such document states that Klass “only notifies this Bureau…,” but the rest is redacted. The name of one Klass associate in Orange, California, is also redacted. Crucially, one Newark FBI office memo states that Klass came to the attention of the FBI “on several occasions.” The details are again redacted. Other documents cite confidential sources and conclude: “In view of Klass’ intemperate criticism and often irrational statements he made to support them, it was recommended that the Bureau be most circumspect in any future contacts with him.”19
One of Klass’s missions was to discredit the renowned government scientist, J. Allen Hynek, who was hired to investigate/debunk UFO sightings but ended up becoming a believer. The FBI documents express consternation that Klass was on a crusade to ruin the reputation of eminent researchers.20 Other Klass targets were the lumberjacks of Snowflake, Arizona, whom in the mid-1970s witnessed a UFO that appeared to abduct their friend, Travis Walton. The case remains one of the best alleged abduction encounters in ufology in terms of the evidence and longevity. Klass claimed that the men had invented the story in order to cite force majeure and exit a logging contract. Klass dragged the then-mentally fragile Walton’s reputation through the mud and even bribed Walton’s working-class friend and eyewitness, Steve Pierce, with $10k to pretend that they had made it all up. To his credit, Pierce stuck to what the crew believed was the truth. Astonishingly, Snowflake’s Deputy Sheriff, Chuck Ellison, says that Klass introduced himself to Ellison as “a government UFO investigator.”21
Not every UFO is an invention of the intelligence services or a Top-Secret aircraft. However, we should always be aware that intelligence officers consider themselves to be masters of illusion. With staged video (deepfakes today), radar spoofing, and the twisting of eyewitness statements, they believe that they can transform perceptions of one thing into something entirely different: always with the goal of achieving ends that are unknown to the wider public. Meanwhile, the truth about unidentified flying objects remains purposefully obscured.
1. Craig Bauer and John Ulrich (2006) “The Cryptologic Contributions of Dr. Donald Menzel,” Cryptologia, 30:4: 306-39.
4. Quoted in Leslie Kean (2010) UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go On the Record, Harmony Books, 105-06
8. Kate Dorsch (2019) Reliable Witnesses, Crackpot Science: Ufo Investigations In Cold War America, 1947-1977, Doctoral thesis, University of Pennsylvania, repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=5017&context=edissertations
9. Quoted in John G. Fuller, “Flying Saucer Fiasco,” Look Magazine, 14 May 1968
10. Fosters, “Tale of alien abduction undermines civil rights movement,” 9 April 2009, www.fosters.com/article/20090409/BLOGS07/904099934
11. Quoted in Kevin D. Randle, Alien Mysteries (2013), Visible Ink Press, 212
13. These and other documents are quoted extensively on the website of Ufologist, Dr. David Clarke: drdavidclarke.co.uk
14. Dan Goldman (1998) The Secret KGB UFO Files
15. CIA, 2 July 2014, twitter.com/CIA/status/484429844777037824
18. Links were found in archival sources cited in Stanton T. Friedman and Kathleen Marden (2016) Fact, Fiction, and Flying Saucers, New Page Books.
19. Numerous declassified files are available: ia801605.us.archive.org/19/items/PhilipJ.Klass/Klass%2C%20Philip%20J.pdf
21. Interviewed in Jennifer Stein (2015) Travis: The True Story of Travis Walton, Onwinges Productions.
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