The world became aware of flying saucer sightings in the summer of 1947 with the nationwide/worldwide publication of the report by Kenneth Arnold click here on June 24. In the subsequent weeks hundreds to thousands of sightings were reported in the local press throughout the USA and in other parts of the world. The Air Force quickly became involved because some of the AF pilots (and many commercial pilots) were also witnesses. The Air Force quickly and publicly denied having any secret projects that could account for UFO sightings. This denial was made privately to the director of the FBI at a time when the AF asked the FBI to investigate sightings (yes, there was an "X" file; see click here). The FBI found no evidence of communist subversive activities or communist sympathizers involved in saucer sightings and stopped actively investigating in the fall of 1947.
The Air Force carried on, however, compiling collections of sighting reports by AF pilots and other qualified observers. By the fall of 1947 the Air Force Air Materiel Command (AMC) at Wright Field (Wright Patterson Air Force Base) had concluded that flying saucers were "real and not visionary" (statement in a report by General Nathan Twining, head of AMC at the time) and required a special investigation group to determine what they were and where they came from. In early 1948 the investigation group, called PROJECT SIGN was set up. During the summer of 1948 the SIGN investigators analyzed the 1947 and 1948 sightings to determine if they could be evidence of technology created on earth. They rejected the ideas that the saucers were our own secret projects or new developments of the Soviets (Russia) and concluded that the only reasonable explanation for some of the sightings was that the witnesses saw flying craft from an interplanetary source... the "ET hypothesis" in modern parlance.
This explanation, proposed by the Air Force's own experts in understanding technological developments in aeronautics, was rejected by the top AF General, Hoyt Vandenberg, who essentially said "Sorry, wrong answer." That meant that the analysts had to find some other answer. Eventually, the projects that succeeded PROJECT SIGN (1948), namely, PROJECT GRUDGE (1949-1952) and PROJECT BLUE BOOK (1952-1969), assigned all flying saucer sightings to one of the following 3 general categories: misidentifications of known phenomena, hoaxes and delusions (mental states of the observer(s)). There were some cases officially left unexplained with the qualifier that these, too, could have been explained if there had been more information. However, a careful review of many sightings (some discussed below) indicates that more than enough information was available for explanation and that, instead, in many cases the available information pointed AWAY from any conventional explanation. (See, for example, the Rogue River case.)
By late 1947 the official position of the Air Force, that there was no unknown phenomenon causing flying saucer/UFO sightings, was well known and generally accepted by the scientific community and the major news media. Witnesses were often criticized or made the butt of jokes for reporting "impossible things." Nevertheless, sighting reports continued beyond 1947. Agencies responsible for security around nuclear power and atomic bomb installations were startled by sightings near secure areas starting in late 1948 and continuing through 1949 and 1950 ("green fireball" sightings and associated phenomena). In 1950 a special project (TWINKLE) managed to obtain film of unidentified, high speed, high altitude objects flying over White Sands.
This evidence was rejected and/or suppressed. In late 1949 the Air Force issued a "final report" (the GRUDGE Report) which claimed that all sightings to that time had been explained. This report was later criticized by the General in charge of Air Force Intelligence (AFI), General Cabell, who called it worthless as "tripe." Nevertheless, it became the official word of the Air Force and the American people were told that the AF had closed its saucer investigation. It had not, however, as GRUDGE continued into 1951. In the fall of 1951 General Cabell became aware of a publicized sighting (at Fort Monmouth, NJ) which interested him because it involved radar. He asked for a briefing on the investigation of that case. At the briefing he was told that, for all practical purposes, the saucer/UFO investigation project was dead. At the very least it was not following his earlier instructions to investigate all sightings. Cabell was angry. He realized that those under him had lied about the project. He ordered that the project be reorganized and revitilized under new. management.
This reorganization, which began in the fall of 1951 under the direction of Capt. Edward Ruppelt, was underway at the Air Technical Intelligence Center (ATIC) at Wright Patterson AFB when 1952 "hit." The name of the project was changed in March, 1952, to BLUE BOOK, a name that became famous as the years went by. Ruppelt was the director from late 1951 through 1953. It was the most unbiased, scientifically-oriented and publicly known UFO investigation by the Air Force. (It is likely that there were other investigations which were not, and are still not publicly known.) The Air Force officers and personnel who continued PROJECT BLUE BOOK after Ruppelt were not as unbiased as Ruppelt and the scientific quality of the project deteriorated in the following years. (BLUE BOOK was formally closed in 1969 after collecting and about 13,000 sightings of which about 700 were left as unexplained.) PROJECT BLUE BOOK was just getting underway and was ill equipped to handle the Year of the UFO. Nevertheless, the information collected during that time has lived on as a great mystery. We are left asking, what really happened and why did the Air Force cover it up?
On January 3, 1952, Brig. Gen. William M. Garland, Assistant for the Production of Intelligence, wrote a memorandum for General Samford with the title “(SECRET) Contemplated Action to Determine the Nature and Origin of the Phenomena Connected with the Reports of Unusual Flying Objects.” This memorandum begins as follows: “1. The continued reports of unusual flying objects requires positive action to determine the nature and origin of the phenomena. The action taken thus far has been designed to track down and evaluate reports from casual observers throughout the country. Thus far, this action has produced results of doubtful value and the inconsistencies inherent in the nature of the reports has given neither positive nor negative proof of the claims."
Here we find a general in Air Force Intelligence (AFI) admitting that there was no negative proof of the claims. Yet the Air Force had been saying publicly for several years that there was “negative proof”...that all sightings had been explained. Clearly the men “on the inside” were more honest with each other than with the American people about the fact they they had not been able to prove flying saucers were only mistakes or figments of the imagination. By this time it had become a standard procedure to appeal to the Soviet Menace in order to legitimize requests for action and the expenditure of funds. General Garland, too, justified the added effort he would propose by referring to the potential Soviet threat: “2. It is logical to relate the reported sightings to the known development of aircraft, jet propulsion, rockets and range extension capabilities in Germany and the U.S.S.R. In this connection, it is to be noted that certain developments by the Germans, particularly the Horton wing, jet propulsion, and refueling, combined with their extensive employment of V-1 and V-2 weapons during World War II, lend credence to the possibiltity that the flying objects may be of German and Russian origin. The developments mentioned above were contemplated and operational between 1941 and 1944 and subsequently fell into the hands of the Soviets at the end of the war. There is evidence that the Germans were working on these projects as far back as 1931 to 1938. Therefore, it may be assumed that the Germans had at least a 7 to 10 year lead over the United States in the development of rockets, jet engines and aircraft of the Horton-wing design. The Air Corps developed refueling experimentally as early as 1928, but did not develop operational capability until 1948.”
Notice how “cleverly” the general has described the possible threat from Russian developments based on German war research and has concluded that the Russians might have a 7 to 10 year lead on the United States in producing advanced aircraft. Nowhere did he mention that the same argument had been rejected in previous years because (a) the ATIC and AFI investigators in 1947 and again in 1948 could not accept the idea that the Soviets were that far ahead of us and (b) even if they were that far ahead they would never fly their advanced aircraft over the United States (we wouldn’t do the reverse). Could it be that he didn’t know about the previous rejection of the “Soviet Hypothesis?” Could it be that he was not sufficiently intelligent to deduce for himself that the idea of the Soviets testing their advanced aircraft over the United States was ridiculous? Or could it be that he actually doubted the Soviet Hypothesis but used it anyway to justify spending money on saucer investigation? (We will shortly see how this same ploy was used by a top defense scientist to get money for a trip to Europe to study, among other things, flying saucer sightings!!)
Having established a “credible” threat General Garland continued: “3. In view of the above facts and the persistent reports of unusual flying objects over parts of the United States, particularly the east and west coast and in the vicinity of the atomic energy production and testing facilities it is apparent that positive action must be taken to determine the nature of the objects and, if possible, their origin. Since it is a known fact that the Soviets did not detonate an atomic bomb prior to 1949, it is believed possible that the Soviets may have developed the German aircraft designs at an accelerated rate in order to have a suitable carrier for the delivery of weapons of mass destruction. In other words, the Soviet may have a carrier without the weapons required while we have relatively superior weapons with relatively inferior carriers available. If the Soviets should get the carrier and the weapon, combined with adequate defensive aircraft, they might surpass us technoloically for a sufficient period of time to permit them to execute a decisive air campaign against the United States and her allies. The basic philosophy of the Soviets has been to surpass the western powers technologically and the Germans may have given them the opportunity.”
In the preceding paragraph the general pressed two “hot buttons.” One was the reference to sightings of UFOs/saucers/strange phenomena over the atomic installations (green fireballs and the "disc variation" seen starting in December 1948 and continuing through 1949 and 1950 with occasional reports in 1951). These installations were considered the keystone to our development of defensive atomic weapons (nowadays called “weapons of mass destruction”). Although the Air Force publicly played down the importance of these sightings, it is clear that, privately, the top officials were worried, or at least paying attention. The other hot button was the fact that the Soviets, now with a known nuclear capability, might have a delivery system superior to the bombers of the United States and her allies. The general concluded: “4. In view of the facts oulined above it is considered mandatory that the Air Force take positive action at once to definitely determine the nature and, if possible, the origin of the reported unusual flying objects. The following action is now contemplated: a) require ATIC to provide at least three teams to be matched up with an equal number of teams from ADC (Air Defense Command) for the purpose of taking radar scope photographs and visual photographs of the phenomena b) select sites for these teams based on concentrations of already reported sightings over the United States (these areas are, generally, the Seattle area, the Albuquerque area and the New York-Philadelphia area) and c) take the initial steps in this project during early January, 1952.”
It is obvious that the general wanted action, ostensibly to protect the United States from the possible Soviet advancements in aeronautical research. However, information contained in a memorandum written by Capt. Ruppelt and contained within his private papers, suggests that Garland may have had an ulterior motive, a hidden reason for wanting a better UFO investigation! According to Ruppelt, “Gen. Garland was my boss at ATIC from the fall of 1952 until I left. He was a moderately confirmed believer. (my emphasis) He had seen a UFO while he was stationed in Sacremento, California. He was Gen. Samford’s assistant in the Pentagon before he came to ATIC...” Only a "moderately" confirmed believer? He had seen one ? (Keep in mind the official story: they don't exist, so seeing one is impossible!...so if you see one, DON'T LOOK!. One may conclude that his observation, at the very least, convinced him that something unexplained was "out there" and flying around. He may have privately rejected the Soviet explanation but used it anyway as a justification for research because he wanted the research done but didn't want to mention the "interplanetary hypothesis" that had been rejected in 1948 by General Vandenberg. This possibility gains further support from what he did only a month or so after this document was written: he suggested the interplanetary hypothesis to writers of a LIFE Magazine article (to be described)! Ruppelt began the process of carrying out Garland’s recommendations, but it was slow going. By the time things were starting to move in the late spring PROJECT BLUE BOOK (PBB)was swamped with sightings.
The investigation teams proposed by the general were never formed but a plan for instrumentally recording sighting information was carried out. According to a PBB staff Study (written in July), in June the Air Defense Command (ADC) issued a requirement that radar scope cameras be available to radar operators. During the spring and summer of 1952 the Collection Division of ATIC developed a stereo camera with a diffraction grating for color analysis of photographed objects. ATIC ordered 100 of these special cameras to be delivered in September. PBB planned to give these cameras to military and civilian control tower operators and to the Ground Observer Corps. Too bad these cameras arrived too late for the big flap!
The case for interplanetary saucers was made in an article written by H. B. Darrach, Jr. and Robert Ginna. The title: “Have We Visitors from Space?” Next to the title was the attention-grabbing answer to this question: “The Air Force is now ready to concede that many saucer and fireball sightings still defy explanation; here Life offers some scientific evidence that there is a real case for interplanetary flying saucers.” The article, based on a year long investigation by Ginna, included information directly from the Air Force file. Ginna had visited ATIC on March 3 and, with the complete cooperation of Captain Ruppelt and the Project Blue Book staff, he had reviewed sighting reports and analyses, some of which were declassified at his request.
The authors also interviewed high level Air Force officials at the Pentagon. They were told that the Air Force was carrying on a “constant intelligence investigation” and would attempt to get radar and photographic data and that “attempts will be made to recover such unidentified objects.” They were also told that the Air Force was, for the first time, since December, 1949, inviting “all citizens to report their sightings to the nearest Air Force installation.” The authors discussed the analysis of 10 previously unpublished sightings and concluded that Russian weapons, atmospheric phenomena, Skyhook balloons, secret weapons, hallucinations and psychological aberrations could not explain these cases. According to the authors, “These disclosures, sharply amending past Air Force policy, climaxed a review by LIFE with Air Force officials of all facts known....” and “The Air Force is now ready to concede that many saucer and fireball sightings still defy explanation.” Furthermore, they quoted Dr. Walther Reidel, a German rocket scientist, as saying that, in his opinion, these objects “have an out-of-this world basis.” To top it off, the authors quoted an intelligence officer (Ruppelt?) as saying that “The higher you go in the Air Force the more seriously they take the flying saucers.” A reader of the article might well have gotten the idea that top Air Force officers were thinking “interplanetary.” (This is, in fact, what Air Force Intelligence told the FBI several months and many hundreds of sightings later!) The article ended with a series of questions which pointed toward the interplanetary answer: “What power urges them at such terrible speeds through the sky? Who, or what, is aboard? Where do they come from? Why are they here? What are the intentions of the beings who control them?......Somewhere in the dark skies there may be those who know!”
The LIFE magazine statement that the Air Force was taking saucers seriously was diametrically opposed to many previous, public AF statements but, of course, the LIFE did not say that the AF had endorsed the interplanetary hypothesis. Even in private at ATIC there was no endorsement of the interplanetary hypothesis. In a Secret monthly Status Report on the activities of Project Blue Book, dated April 30, 1952, Capt. Ruppelt wrote "It should be noted here that the conclusions reached by LIFE are not those of the Air Force. No proof exists that these objects are from outer space.” Actually Ruppelt should have been more specific in saying that the ATIC/PBB staff did not endorse the LIFE conclusion because, as he admitted in his 1956 book, "The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects," other, high level Air Force officers did endorse that conclusion. According to Ruppelt, some “high ranking officers in the Pentagon - so high that their personal opinion was almost policy” did believe the saucers were extraterrestrial and expressed that opinion to Mr. Ginna. At least one of these high ranking officers was none other than General Garland! (Recall that Ruppelt, in his personal papers, noted that Garland had seen a UFO while he was stationed in Sacremento, CA.)
Ruppelt also wrote the following: “(Garland) was the inspiration behind the LIFE article by Ginna. He gave Ginna his ideas and prompted LIFE to stick their necks out.” According to PBB records, the LIFE article was mentioned in more than 350 newspapers across the United States and ATIC received 110 letters concerning the article. LIFE itself received more than 700 letters. The letters discussed old sightings and theories about sightings. Blue Book braced for an onslaught of new sightings that didn’t come....at least not for several weeks. On the day after the magazine hit the stands Blue Book received 9 sightings, but then only a couple on the next day. (There was an increase in the sighting rate in Canada in April and there were also reports from Europe and quite a few from the Korean war zone.) In the following days other publications disputed the LIFE article. In the April 12 issue, The New York Times criticized Darrach and Ginna for being “uncritical.” The New York Times author claimed that the PROJECT GRUDGE report of two years proved that all sightings could be explained. Of course he did not know that General Cabell had described the Grudge report as worthless.
Ruppelt’s claim that at least some high level officers actually believed saucers were interplanetary is confirmed in an indirect way in a memorandum written on April 29, 1952. This document was written to justify a trip to Europe by Dr. Stephen Possony and Lt. Col. Sterling, both members of a special study group that had been organized to study “advanced delivery systems,” i.e., advanced aircraft. Possony, an Air Intelligence Specialist with high level connections in the Pentagon, and Sterling, Chief of the Special Study Group, requested a 5 week trip to visit various military headquarters in Europe. They began their memorandum by stating that the Air Force can remain effective only by anticipating future developments of enemy weapon systems. However, they wrote, “there is no tenable and convincing estimate of future Russian delivery systems” and, furthermore, “current estimates do not reflect the possibility that the Russians may have overtaken the U.S. in advanced guided missile research and development.”
The memorandum then describes the activities of the Special Study Group in this regard and includes a statement which shows that saucer sightings were definitely not ignored: "The Special Study Group has undertaken a comprehensive study of Russian capabilities in the field of advanced delivery systems. This study is expected to determine the nature of such systems, their strategic implications and probable time tables as to development and operational availability. As an important side product, it is hoped that some much needed light can be shed on the vexing ‘flying saucer’ problem.” Obviously this memorandum justifies the trip by appealing to the “Soviet menace” in a manner similar to the previously discussed memorandum written by General Garland about 4 months earlier. This memorandum is unique, however, because it contains an argument against the ET hypothesis in order to make the Soviet Hypothesis seem reasonable. In essence it says that saucers could not originate from nearby planets or be from far outer space because astronomers would see them coming, perhaps saucers came from the Soviet Union. However, this document also points out the difficulty with the Soviet Hypothesis: “Nothing in this argument is designed to brush over the improbability that the Russians have such a considerable lead over the U.S. In order to fly saucers over the U.S. the Soviets would have to be at least 20 years ahead of us.
They would have attained such superiority by keeping a large scale development in complete isolation, even during the last war.” In other words, the memorandum provides reasons to reject both hypotheses. The following statement from the memorandum is the most interesting, since it reflects the thinking “at the top” of the Air Force: “In connection with flying saucers the Group is attempting to develop a proper framework for fruiful analysis. The Air Force cannot assume (my emphasis) that flying saucers are of non-terrestrial origin, and hence they could be Soviet.” Let’s stop and look at that last sentence again. Rewrite it a bit: The (high level) Air Force (officers) cannot (simply) assume that flying saucers are of non-terrestrial (i.e., of extraterrestrial) origin and hence (ignore them because there still is a slight possibility that) they could be Soviet (aircraft).
The fact that Possony and Sterling included this statement in their memorandum means that the “impossible” may have been true: some top Air Force officers, or at least one officer (Garland) assumed that saucers were interplanetary and therefore disregarded the Soviet secret weapon hypothesis. (I suppose this could explain why the top Air Force officials seemed to treat the saucer sightings casually: they knew the saucers were ET vehicles about which they could do nothing, so it was “best” to try to get the public to ignore them.) In order to justify his trip to Europe for saucer investigations, Possony first argued against the ET hypothesis and then he made it seem plausible that the Soviets had in some unimaginable way achieved a 20 year lead on the U.S. in the development of “advanced delivery systems.” This “reverse” argument worked. He got his trip, probably because the most important person he had to convince was none other than General Garland! (Note: Ruppelt characterized Possony as a “believer” who had a direct “channel” to Gen. Samford and who traveled around the USA and Europe studying advanced weapon systems and collecting UFO reports.)
By the end of the April the sighting report rate on a daily basis had picked up and Ruppelt and the Blue Book staff attributed this to the LIFE article and the resulting press interest. What Ruppelt didn’t know was just the beginning of the onslaught that would make this the year of the UFO. It is instructive to list the number of objects reported per month to see how this sighting flap developed. (Note: this is the number of objects reported by witnesses. Some of these objects were subsequently identified, so they are not all True UFOs.) According to the Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, which is the final report of the Air Force sponsored UFO study at the University of Colorado in 1967-1968 (Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, E.U. Condon, Director, Bantam Books, NY; January , 1969; page 514), the monthly numbers starting with September, 1951, and going through June, 1952 are: September-16, October-24, Nov.-16, Dec.-12, Jan.-15, Feb.-17, Mar.-23, Apr.-82, May-79, June-148.
The sudden upsurge in April, May and June is obvious. The increased rate began in Canada in April and then slowly moved southward into the USA during June. There were also sightings in Korea (mostly by military fighting the Korean War) and in Europe. What was happening? Were people going crazy? Did a magazine article and the associate publicity cause ordinary people to report any unfamiliar objects they might see in the sky? That’s what ATIC and Capt. Ruppelt thought, or at least that’s what they said they thought, but it was clearly not the whole story. Many sightings clearly were not a result of the LIFE article. For example, on May 12 UFOs were seen at the Savannah River atomic bomb fuel processing plant. According to an FBI teletype message,
The events began at about 11:40 PM on Saturday, July 19 when the Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center (WARTCC) radar at National Airport detected targets which moved toward Andrews AFB (AAFB). Then at 5 minutes past midnight a phone call was received at AAFB control tower advising that there was an orange lighted object to the south. A control tower operator, while talking to the person on the phone, looked south and saw the “orange ball of fire, trailing a tail...it was very bright and definite and unlike anything I had ever seen before....It made a kind of circular movement.... (then) took off at an unbelievable speed. It disappeared in a split second.” The person on the phone saw the same thing. A few seconds later the tower operator “saw another one, same description. As the one before, it made an arc-like pattern and then disappeared.”
During the next 25 minutes, 5 AAFB personnel saw two more lights, reddish-orange in color, moving erratically on a generally southeastward track through the eastern sky. They were seen from 5 to 30 seconds on 3 occasions. At 1:20 and again at 1:25 fast moving lights with an orange hue and a tail were seen by AAFB tower personnel. At 2:35 WARTCC received a call from an airline pilot who said he had seen 3 objects near Herndon, Virginia, west of Washington, and reported that “they were like nothing he had ever seen.” A week later, on July 25 at 9:15 PM, WARTCC again detected from 4 to 8 anomalous targets “described by radar operators as ‘good sharp targets.” According to the AFOSI report, at 1:20 PM, 2 F-94’s were scrambled from Delaware and one of the jets “reportedly made visual contact with one of the objects and at first appeared to be gaining on it, but the object and the F-94 were observed on the radar scope and appeared to be traveling at the same approximate speed. However, when it attempted to overtake the object, the object disappeared both from the pursuant aircraft and the radar scope. The pilot of the F-94 remarked of the ‘incredible speed of the object.’” The next night was a repeat. At 8:15 PM, July 26, the pilot and stewardess of a National Airlines plane flying at 1,700 feet and 200 mph saw a lighted object, which appeared similar to the glow of a lighted cigarette (dull red) which passed “directly over the airliner.” They estimated the object speed to be 100 mph. At 8:54 PM AAFB radar began detecting 10 to 12 unidentified radar targets in the Washington area. An hour and a half later, at 10:23 WARTCC, detected 4 targets at various locations in the suburbs of Washington. According to a document not released until 1985, a Civil Aeronautics Administration official flying at an altitude of 2,200 feet at 10:46 PM saw “5 objects giving off a light glow ranging from orange to white.” The same document says, “Some commercial pilots reported visuals ranging from ‘cigarette glow’ (red yellow) to ‘a light’ (as recorded from their conversations with ARTC controllers).” At 10:38 PM the USAF Command post was notified of unidentified targets and at 11:00 PM two F-94’s were scrambled. The document says that “one pilot mentioned seeing 4 lights at one time and a second time as seeing a single light ahead but unable to close whereupon the light ‘went out.’”
During the sightings on July 26 two members of the Project Blue Book staff, one of whom was a radar expert, were in the Washington area. They were notified quickly of the radar sightings and arrived at AAFB shortly after midnight. When they arrived they could see “7 good, solid targets.” The radar expert checked with the airport radar and determined that there was a slight temperature inversion. A temperature inversion (when the temperature increases rather than decreases with increasing altitude) can cause "anomalous propagation," i.e. can cause a radar beam to bend downward and detect objects on the ground. The expert believed that the inversion was too weak to cause targets such as these so a second intercept flight was requested. By the time it arrived the strong targets had departed. That ended the Washington, D.C. sightings but the Air Force response was only beginning. As far as the general public was concerned the first hint of something unusual happening came in the increase in local and national press reports of saucers.
Press coverage of the flying saucer phenomenon had been sporadic but continuous over the years, with even the major news media carrying discussions pro and con (mostly con) about whether flying saucers/UFOs were really unexplainable or if they were just mundane phenomena (or hoax reports). But in the late spring and early summer the number of reports of recent sightings increased. For example, an Associated Press story datelined Dayton, Ohio, on July 17 reads, "An Air Force spokesman said today sixty reports of flying saucers have been received during the last two weeks. He could give no reason for the increase." The July 18 edition of the Washington (DC) Daily News had the headline "THE SAUCERS KEEP COMING" and contained a sighting report of 5 orange discs seen by the chief engineer of the radio station WRC. It also contained an admission by the Air Force that saucers had been tracked on radar at between 1,500 and 2,000 mph and that " jet fighters equipped with the very latest radar have been sent aloft to 'make contact' with the phantom objects, but all efforts to catch up with them have failed...". The Chicago Daily News carried a statement by a Lt. Col. in the Civil Air Patrol who said he "believes the objects are not natural objects and that he saw one a week ago..." The Washington Daily News, on July 19, carried a quote by the Civil Defense Director at Dayton, OH, an Air Force Lt. Col., who said "There is something flying around our skies and I wish we knew what it is." Then on July 19 the national press reported the Air Force admission that people were really seeing something unusual, that the numbers of reports had doubled over what had occurred years ago and that the Air Force couldn’t track all the saucers.
Some details of the Saturday and Sunday, July 19-20, sightings in Washington, D.C. were leaked to the press and were reported the following Tuesday. Captain Ruppelt, who was in Dayton, Ohio, at the time, was not told about these sightings. When he arrived in Washington, D.C., on routine business on Monday, July 21, he still did not know about them. He read about them in the Tuesday morning paper and immediately began phoning people to find out what had happened because he was responsible for supplying the technical backup for whatever the Air Force would tell the press. Unfortunately he had no answers, only questions. His predicament was not helped when a general told him that President Truman wanted to know what was going on. Apparently, some of the radar targets had been over the White House restricted area.
By late in the afternoon Ruppelt had an “answer” for the press: the Air Force would have “no comment” on the sightings because investigation was ongoing. The next day the newspapers interpreted this as meaning that the Air Force “won’t talk.” During late July the press activity related to saucer sightings and Air Force investigations increased on a daily basis. Local papers throughout the country were loaded with the reports of local sightings and articles about UFOs. As just one example, the Indianapolis News carried the following front page headline on July 28: “Hundreds in state see ‘flying saucers.” The story reported that military personnel and police officers “kept a running check on saucers for more than 4 hours.” Capt. Ruppelt, in his book The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects (Doubleday, 1956) claimed that 148 major newspapers throughout the USA carried about 16,000 stories about UFOs during the six month period from April through September. Dr. Herbert Strentz, who did his Ph.D. dissertation on press reporting of the UFO phenomenon, analyzed the BLUE BOOK records in 1966 and claimed that the number of unduplicated stories was more like 30,000. (Strentz, "A Survey of Press Coverage of Unidentified Flying Objects, 1947-1966," Northwestern University, 1970) The reports of the Washington, D.C., sightings of July 25 and 26 - 27 only added to the furor. The July 28 edition of the Washington, DC, newspaper carried the story "Air Force Alerts Jets to Chase Flying Saucers Anywhere in U.S." The article referred to the DC sightings and included a sighting from New York. Some newspapers carried a startling story, from the International News Service, which said that “...jet pilots have been placed on 24-hour ‘alert’ against ‘flying saucers’ with orders to ‘shoot them down’ if they refuse to land. It was learned that pilots have gone aloft on several occasions in an effort to shoot the mysterious objects to the ground but never came close enough to use their guns.” The Associated Press on July 29 carried a story with the title "Whatever They Are, Flying Saucers Put In Busiest Week On Record."
According to the article, "In the New York area, in Washington, DC, in New England and Ohio, reports came in of strange aerial objects that defied immediate explanation. The Air Force said that volume of such reports was the heaviest it has been in five years. Most of the sightings were made by relatively competent observers, by pilots, airport control tower men and civilian air defense spotters." The Air Force was sticking to its official position: "There is still no concrete evidence to prove or disprove the so called 'flying saucers.'" The same article carried brief mentions of sightings in the West Virginia area, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, and France. It was nearly a panic situation. What on earth - or off the earth - the was causing all the sightings? The press and the public wanted answers..not soon, but now! The Air Force was about to give them some. Several days earlier, on July 24, Lt. Col. W. K. Smith in the Policy and Management Group of the Directorate of Intelligence had written a memorandum summarizing the situation from the point of view of Air Force intelligence. This memorandum was written at the request of Major General Samford and was sent to General White, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Air Force Operations. According to this memorandum there had been “between 1000 and 1050 (reports) since 1947” and it attributed the recent influx of reports to the April LIFE magazine article and the subsequent press coverage. The memorandum stated that “there is no significance attached to the location of these sightings. other than that they are random in nature.”
According to Col. Smith’s notes, used in preparation of the memorandum, there were 180 unexplained sightings, only 53 of which “came from what are considered reliable sources.” In other words, the fraction of unexplained sightings was nearly 20% and the “hard core” unexplained was about 5% of the total. (These percentages are comparable to what was determined over a year later to be the percentages of unknowns in the 3201 sighting reports studied by the Battelle Memorial Institute under contract to the Air Force. The Battelle study was, in fact, proceeding during the time of the 1952 flap, but its results were not published until 1955 [Special Report #14]. The 3201 reports were selected for analysis and statistical study from over 4000 reports made between 1947 and December 31, 1952.) It is Important to note, in comparison to what was told to the FBI (discussed below) that Air Force Intelligence and ATIC (Ruppelt, BLUE BOOK) stuck to the policy that there was no proof... no proof....no proof. This in spite of literally hundreds of sightings that defied easy explanation.
This policy was present not only in public statements such as mentioned above ("There still is no concrete evidence.....") but also in documents generated within AFI. However, as suggested in the previous discussion, and to be further elaborated below, the private opinions of at least some top AFI officials did not agree with this policy. At the bottom of the memorandum General Samford had written a note to General White which said that a briefing by ATIC officers had been scheduled for July 29 “at such time as you may desire.” As it turned out, General Samford was “lucky” that he had prepared a briefing because he did give one on that date.....but not to General White! During this time UFO reports were coming like snow in a blizzard. On July 28 ATIC received about 50 reports, of which 43 occurred on that day. The remainder were older reports that had been delayed for various reasons. Months later the Project Blue Book staff discovered that this day had the largest daily sighting rate ever recorded by the Air Force. During the following week the sighting rate dropped back to less than 10 per day, which was still very large. However, on July 28 Capt. Ruppelt, the Project Blue Book staff and AFI didn’t know the sighting rate was about to decrease; they didn’t know what to expect. It may well have seemed to them that a landing or a shootdown would soon occur. What would happen after that? A War of the Worlds?
July 29 began with more sightings, including one which provided further proof that radar could detect UFOs. A fighter-interceptor was flying on a routine training mission from Selfridge AFB in Michigan when ground control asked the fighter to check on an object picked up by the ground radar. This object was moving southward over Saginaw, Michigan, at a speed of about 625 mph, which was within the capability of jet fighter. Was it simply an intruding Canadian military jet? The pilot began a right turn and the copilot picked up a radar target at 60 degrees to the right. The plane kept turning until the target was straight ahead and the radar locked-on to the object. The lock-on lasted for about 30 seconds as the plane flew at high speed toward the object. The copilot determined that the object was four miles ahead and at the altitude of the plane, about 20,000 feet.
The copilot later said he saw “...the target ... putting off what seemed like a changing light in definite sequences of white, red and bluish-green. That is the only means of identification we had. From a bombardier, radar observer, navigator, I have never experienced any sighting like this before.” During this time ground control announced that it had both the jet and the unidentified target on the radar screen. Then suddenly the object broke the airplane’s radar lock. Before the jet could react the object reversed its course. Ground radar, which had been tracking both the jet and the unidentified target, was startled to see the unidentified make a 180 degree turn and head northward toward Canada. The F-94 gave chase but could not catch up as the unknown increased its speed in an erratic manner. The top speed of the unidentified was unknown because the radar only determined its location once during every 10 second sweep. However, typically it would travel about 4 miles during that time (4 miles/10 seconds = 1,440 mph). This was about twice the top speed of the jet. The jet followed the object for about 20 minutes but then radioed that it was running low on fuel and would have to break off the chase. The jet turned home, at which point the ground control saw that the speed of the unknown suddenly drop back to its original value. Months later Blue Book would leave this as an unexplained case. Two of the other sightings on the morning of July 29 occurred near Roswell, New Mexico and at Los Alamos.
The Los Alamos sighting resulted in a scramble from Kirtland, AFB. Also on this day Ralph Mayher, stationed in Miami as a Marine, shot a 16 mm movie film of an "ugly reddish" UFO (see image above in blask and white) that moved at a high speed. Meanwhile back in Washington the press was in an uproar because of the July 28 announcement that the Air Force had directed pilots to shoot if necessary. Did the Air Force really mean it? Were things out of control? Had any saucer been shot down? What would the Air Force do if one were shot down? Everyone wanted answers and General Vandenberg was about to provide some. Vandenberg ordered Samford to hold a press conference to outline the official Air Force position regarding Unidentified Flying Objects. During the morning of July 29 Gen. Samford’s press officer announced that a flying saucer conference would be held at the Pentagon late that afternoon. General Samford was about to give to the assembled press part of the briefing that had been prepared for General White. He was also about to accomplish in public what Vandenberg had accomplished in private four years earlier: General Samford would put a major damper on interest in UFO sightings by telling the press that no reported saucer was an interplanetary vehicle. And, intentionally or not, Samford was about to lie.
At 4 PM the longest post-WWII press conference to that date began. It lasted 80 minutes. Gen. Samford brought with him several military experts in radar, Capt. Ruppelt and a person who was mentioned in first chapter of this book, Major General Roger Ramey. Gen. Ramey had been the head of the Eighth Air Force when he invented and publicized the “weather balloon” explanation for the Roswell crash debris. Now he was in charge of Operations of the Air Defense Command. Gen. Samford told the assembled press that because American secret weapons did not cause the sightings the Air Force was obligated investigate them. He further said, “We have received and analyzed between 1,000 and 2,000 reports that have come to us from all kinds of sources. Of this great mass of reports we have been able adequately to explain the great bulk of them, explain them to our own satisfaction. However there have been a certain percentage of this volume of reports that have been made by credible observers of relatively incredible things. It is this group of observations that we are now attempting to resolve. We have, as of this date, come to only one firm conclusion with respect to this remaining percentage, and that is that it does not contain any pattern of purpose or of consistency that we can relate to any conceivable threat to the United States." Gen. Samford gave few explicit answers to the questions from the press.
The discussion concentrated on the Washington sightings even though the General and his “support team” did not have all the information needed to decide what caused them. Gen. Ramey provided some information about the jet scrambles and Gen. Samford advanced the opinion, ostensibly based on the work of Air Force radar experts, that an atmospheric “inversion” had caused the radar targets. Various members of the press pushed hard to get a definite answer as opposed to an opinion, but he would not give a definite answer. He did say the Air Force was giving all reports “adequate but not frantic checks.” Gen. Samford rejected the interplanetary theory, implying that all the unexplained sightings were the results of natural phenomena. However, he could not be pinned down as to which natural phenomena because whenever he was asked questions about specific sightings he would plead a lack of information.
There were no witnesses at the conference, not even the Blue Book staff members who were in the control tower at AAFB during the July 26-27 sightings. (Those staff members had indicated that the radar targets were like strong aircraft returns and not like diffuse “anomalous propagation” targets.) Because there were no witnesses at the conference, members of the press could not directly confront the General with witness testimony. Some of the reporters were aware of sightings by military personnel and of sightings near the “vital installations.” They asked the General about these, but he pleaded a lack of information. The most they could do was get him to admit that about 20% of the sightings were unknown, an admission which was, by itself, quite startling. The next day the national press, in front page headlines, distilled the whole conference down to the simple answer which the Air Force wanted the public to believe about the Washington, D.C. sightings: summer heat had warmed the air above the earth’s surface and caused temperature inversions which, in turn, caused the unidentified radar targets, and that was it. In short, saucers are "hot air." Most members of the press, being skeptical of saucer sightings and not being radar experts, accepted this simple answer, albeit with reservations. A few news articles expressed a minority viewpoint that the Air Force was trying to debunk the whole phenomenon. Drew Pearson, a famous columnist, pointed out that the Air Force had now admitted for the first time that radar detections had occurred at the same time as visual observations. Pearson went so far as to suggest the objects might be from another planet.
Other dissenting press organizations did not go that far, but did criticize the Air Force for boasting about scientific advances when it was clear the Air Force did not completely understand the saucer phenomenon. During the following days and weeks there were scientists and radar experts who publicly disputed the General’s explanation of the Washington sightings. However, their arguments did not carry the weight of the pronouncements of General Samford and his staff. No one outside the Air Force had all the information so his explanation could not be carefully examined for accuracy .
When interviewed many years later the air traffic controllers who were involved at the time still rejected the official explanation, saying that they were thoroughly familiar with the types of radar images which appear during periods of anomalous propagation, and the images seen that night emphatically were not anomalous propagation images. Perhaps the Air Force felt that General Samford’s conference was not enough to dampen the saucer frenzy. General Vandenberg was interviewed a day later and expressed his dismay at the continued “mass hysteria about flying saucers.” Vandenberg told the press that the objects were not extraterrestrial craft nor secret weapons. He said that the Air Force had been investigating reports for several years and had found no convincing evidence. Then General Ramey appeared on television. He repeated what Samford had said at the big press conference and admitted the Air Force had been forced to come up with some quick answers to prevent a public panic. To the outside world it may have seemed that the Air Force had everything under control. Not so, to the inside world. If the press had known what General Samford’s staff was telling other “insiders” on the same day as the press conference the lid would have blown off the UFO cover-up!
On July 29, several hours before General Samford’s press conference, Gilbert Levy, Chief of the Counter Intelligence Division of the Office of the Inspector General of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI, a criminal investigation organization within the Air Force) decided to contact AFI to find out how the press had learned so much about the Washington, D.C. sightings. He may have wondered if someone had broken security and leaked the information. He reported the result of his “investigation” to General Carroll, the Director of AFOSI. His report is contained in the AFOSI section of the Blue Book file that was released in 1975:
1) In light of recent wide publicity concerning the (radar sightings at National Airport) I caused a check to be made for the purpose of determining the basis of recent releases to news media. 2) We were advised by the Current Intelligence Branch, Estimates Division, AFOIN, (i.e., General Samford’s office), which has staff responsibility with respect to these reports, that much of the publicity of the past few days is the result of a radar sighting of unidentified aerial objects by the Civil Aeronautics Administration at National Airport at 2115 hours, 25 July 1952. These sightings continued from 2115 hours, 25 July until 0010 hours on 26 July, and were described by radar operators as “good sharp targets.” They were observed in numbers from four to eight. 3) At 2320 hours, 25 July 1952, two (2) Air Force F-94’s were dispatched from New Castle AFB, Delaware, for the purpose of intercepting objects which have been sighted by radar. One of the F-94’s reportedly made visual contact with one of the objects and at first appeared to be gaining on it, but the object and the F-94 were observed on the radar scope and appeared to be traveling at the same approximate speed. However, when it attempted to overtake the object, the object disappeared both from the pursuant aircraft and the radar scope. The pilot of the F-94 remarked of (sic) the ‘incredible speed of the object.’ 4) The Director of Intelligence advises that no theory exists at the present time as to the origin of the objects and they are considered to be unexplained. (my emphasis) Much of the publicity has been based on authorized news releases by the Air Force.”
Now the cat is out of the bag. Reread paragraph 4: the Director of Intelligence said that no theory exists to explain the sightings which are considered to be unexplained. That’s not what he told the press only a few hours later! He told the press that he was satisfied with the "all natural phenomena" explanation. ********************** In the absence of any other information one might assume that this is a mistake. Perhaps whomever Mr. Levy spoke to in General Samford's office mis-spoke or perhaps Mr. Levy misunderstood what he had been told. However, there is other information which is consistent with what Mr. Levy wrote. In fact, there is a lot more information that was withheld from the American people until it was released in the FBI X FILE! (Note: this information has been available since my Freedom of Information Act request obtained the documents in 1977. They are presently at the FBI web site: http://foia.fbi.gov.
A more complete discussion of what was in the FBI files is in THE UFO FBI CONNECTION by Bruce Maccabee, Llewellyn Pub, 2000.) On the same day and perhaps even at about the same time as Mr. Levy’s contact with AFI, the FBI also asked AFI for information about the sightings. Mr. N. W. Philcox, the FBI liaison with the Air Force, arranged through General Samford’s office, to be briefed by “Commander Randall Boyd of the Current Intelligence Branch, Estimates Division, Air Intelligence, regarding research into the numerous reports regarding flying saucers and flying discs.” (This is exactly the same branch that provided the above information to Mr. Levy!) This is what Mr. Philcox was told. Commander Boyd advised that Air Intelligence has set up at Wright- Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, the Air Technical Intelligence Center which has been established for the purpose of coordinating, correlating and making research into all reports regarding flying saucers and flying discs. He advised that Air Force research has indicated that the sightings of flying saucers goes back several centuries and that the number of sightings reported varies with the amount of publicity. He advised that immediately if publicity appears in newspapers, the number of sightings reported increases considerably and that citizens immediately call in reporting sightings which occurred several months previously.
Agent Philcox erred in his statement that ATIC was set up to investigate saucer sightings. ATIC was set up at Wright Patterson Air Force Base with the mission to investigate all foreign aviation technology, particularly Russian aircraft. Blue Book was a project involving some of the ATIC personnel. Commander Boyd’s claim that the number of sighting reports was correlated to press reporting on the subject was a statement of belief on the part of the Blue Book staff, but it had not been proven true. In fact, important evidence to the contrary would occur within days of this statement as the press kept up a barrage of sighting stories while the actual sighting rate actually dropped precipitously. Continuing with Agent Philcox’s report, Commander Boyd stated that these reported sightings of flying saucers are placed into three classifications by Air Intelligence: 1) Those sightings which are reported by citizens who claim that they have seen flying saucers from the ground. These sightings vary in description, color and speeds. Very little credence is given to these sightings inasmuch as in most instances they are believed to be imaginative or some explainable object which actually crossed through the sky. 2) Sightings reported by commercial or military pilots. These sightings are considered more credible by the Air Force inasmuch as commercial or military pilots are experienced in the air and are not expected to see objects which are entirely imaginative. In each of these instances, the individual who reports the sighting is thoroughly interviewed by a representatve of Air Intelligence so that a complete description of the object sighted can be obtained. 3) Those sightings which are reported by pilots and for which there is additional corroboration, such as recording by radar or sighting from the ground. Commander Boyd advised that this latter classification constitutes two or three per cent of the total number of sightings, but that they were the most difficult to explain. Some of these sightings are originally reported from the ground, then are picked up by radar instruments. He stated that in these instances there is no doubt that these individuals reporting the sightings actually did see something in the sky. However, he explained that these objects could still be natural phenomena and still could be recorded on radar if there was some electrical disturbance in the sky. Commander Boyd stated that about 3% of sightings constitute the “hard core” of the phenomenon.
This percentage is consistent with the approximately 5% (53 sightings out of about 1,000) which Col. W. Smith said on July 24 came from “reliable sources.” An example of such hard core sightings is the visual-ground/air radar airplane chase event that occurred near Saginaw, Michigan, on the very morning of Samford's press conference(see above). Although not a large percentage, these were the sightings, which absolutely could not be explained without resort to such bizarre hypotheses as the idea that several witnesses could all go insane or hallucinate the same vision at the same time, perhaps even at the same time that instruments (e.g. radar, theodolite telescopes) malfunction, and then immediately after the sighting the witnesses and instruments would be normal again! Commander Boyd did not tell the FBI that at that time the fraction of unexplained sightings was about 20%, which included the 3% “hard core” sightings.
Presumably the other 17% unexplained sightings had elements or features which would allow them to be possibly explained if enough reasonable assumptions about erroneous reporting were made. The hard core 3%, on the other hand, required unreasonable assumptions before any explanation could be offered. Agent Philcox’s report continued: He stated that the flying saucers are most frequently observed in areas where there is heavy air traffic, such as Washington, D.C. and New York City. He advised however, that some reports are received from other parts of the country covering the United States and that sightings have also recently been reported as far distant as Acapulco, Mexico; Korea and French Morocco.” It is amusing to note Commander Boyd’s claim that saucers were most often seen in areas of high air traffic, which typically are areas of dense population, because one of the reasons offered against the reality of flying saucers was this: “If saucers are real, why are they only seen by the unsophisticated witnesses in the countryside and not over cities?” The Battelle Memorial Institute study (mentioned above), which was going on even as Commander Boyd spoke, discovered many months later that there was a degree of correlation between the number of sightings and areas with military and civilian airports. However, this does not mean that there were more misidentified aircraft reported as saucers in the vicinity of airports. Instead, the correlation may have resulted from a greater tendency of people living near airports to look upward to see passing aircraft and to also see the strange objects in the sky. Many (like 20) years after the Battelle study was published I discovered that the Battelle sighting data also showed essentially no correlation between population in an area and the number of sightings in the same area. That is, an area with several hundred thousand people could have the same number of sightings over the years as an area with millions of people.
That is not what would be expected if the skeptics were correct in saying that many sighting reports were “people generated,” that is from psychopathological people who reported hallucinations or other mental aberrations. The number of reports such as these would be correlated with the population. Continuing with Agent Philcox’s report, He advised that the sightings in the last category (category 3 above) have never been satisfactorily explained. He pointed out, however, that it is still possible that these objects may be a natural phenomenon or some type of atmospheric disturbance. He advised that it is not entirely impossible that the objects sighted may possibly be ships from another planet such as Mars. (my emphasis) He advised that at the present time there is nothing to substantiate this theory but the the possibiity is not being overlooked. He stated that Air Intelligence is fairly certain that these objects are not ships or missiles from another nation in this world. Commander Boyd advised that intense research is being carried on presently by Air Intelligence, and at the present time when credible reportings of sightings are received , the Air force is attempting in each instance to send up jet interceptor planes in order to obtain a better view of these objects. However, recent attempts in this regard have indicated that when the pilot in the jet approaches the object it invariably fades from view.
Soon after Samford’s press conference Stephen Possony, the top level scientist and consultant mentioned before (who wrote in April, 1952, that the Air Force could not assume that flying saucers were interplanetary) provided his opinion on the increase in sightings. Notice in what follows that he starts off by assuming saucers are natural phenomena, consistent with Samford’s opinion stated at the press conference but in contrast to his April memorandum in which he suggested that they could be Soviet devices. Notice, also, his direct refutation of Samford’s claim that an “atmospheric inversion” could explain the Washington, D.C. sightings of July. Also, his reference to warming of the northern hemisphere of the earth is interesting, considering that this was written almost 50 years ago. (This is another bit of evidence that the geniuses in science are far ahead of public policy.)
SECRET: 1 August 1952 MEMORANDUM FOR GENERAL SAMFORD SUBJECT: USAF Interest in Flying Saucers. At the risk of boring you with a tedious subject, I want to submit a few ideas which may be helpful in making a proper decision. What are the Flying Saucers? It is a well-established heuristic principle that the unknown must be made intelligible by referring to the known. If we ask the question: "What known phenomena bear the greatest similarity to saucers?" The answer seems to be that saucer behavior follows the pattern of electromagnetic phenomena. Assuming for the time being, that the saucers are a natural phenomenon of some electromagnetic kind, and accepting the fact that saucer phenomena have occurred at infrequent intervals throughout history, we should inquire as to the cause of the increased frequency of the occurrence. (The increase is about 4000-fold from 19th- century reports, though elimination of current sightings would tend to reduce this figure). Since the increase in sightings started in 1946-7, it may be fruitful to tie the sightings to events preceding them and of which there were no counterparts at earlier periods. Prior to the upsurge in saucer sightings, the following new activities took place:
1. The carrying of radioactive particles into the upper atmosphere by means of atomic explosions and production; 2. The penetration of the upper atmosphere by guided missiles, new types of balloons, and perhaps aircraft; 3. The production of shock waves at higher altitude, due to the breaching of the sound barrier; 4. The increased output in radio and radar signals, including television; 5. The seeding of clouds for purposes of weather control; 6. The great increase in commercial and private flying. Moreover, the present era is characterized by a general "warming up" of the climate in the northern hemisphere. Furthermore, the solar system may be passing through an area in the universe where there is a great deal of debris and where, therefore, an increase in the intensity of the meteoric bombardment may be expected. It is probable that flying saucers are not caused by any single one of these factors, but by a convergence of causes.
If the saucers are really electromagnetic phenomena, there is a possibility that they are connected primarily with atomic activities, and that they are caused by the encounter of radioactive particles and small meteors. In other words, they may be ionized air brought about by the entry of very small meteors into the atmosphere. During burn-up of the meteor metal, the natural degree of ionization may be increased greatly through available radioactive particles, with the possible result that after the destruction of the metallic core, there would be a gaseous rotating ion ball subject to movements in the atmosphere. This "interpretation" occurred to me after an illuminating discussion with General Maxwell, and I emphasize it merely to indicate what type of approach the Air Force should take in tackling the phenomena. Incidentally, there was no temperature inversion in Washington for a long time, and therefore, the mirage theory does not explain the latest sightings. What is the Air Force interest? 1. The Air Force continuously will be "on the carpet" as long as no satisfactory explanation can be given. Should the saucer activity increase, pressure by the press and even Congress will be quite considerable. 2. We cannot yet rule out entirely that saucers do represent a threat. 3. If there is any validity to the assumption that the saucers are partly the result of atomic activity, the phenomenon would tie in directly with long range detection and if solved, might lead to an increase in our intelligence capability... I suggest therefore, that before the ATIC program be undertaken, a very small panel of scientists be brought together and be briefed on the documentation which is in the files right now.” (I presume that the “ATIC program” referred to here is the study carried out by the Battelle Memorial Institute.)
By early August the UFO flap was tapering off. The sighting rate generally exceeded ten per day from July 19 through August 3. After that it dropped to five to ten per day through the rest of August. By the end of September it was below five per day. However, during that period newspaper discussions of the phenomenon indicated a continuing high level of interest. even though the publicity about the sightings continued at a high level. Months later the Project Blue Book staff determined that the sighting rate had, in fact, peaked about the time of the order to shoot and just before the press conference. Could it be that the saucers reacted to the fact that jet aircraft were now pursuing them whenever possible? Although the sighting rate was diminishing, Air Force investigative activity was continuing at a high rate. At ATIC there were 8 full time people working on the sightings and the Battelle Memorial Institute had assigned 2 full time employees. There was also a panel of experts to be called upon as needed.
Needless to say, the Blue Book and Battelle analysts were kept busy so the time lag between a sighting and its analysis could be months. Such was the case with a very famous photographic sighting that occurred on July 2, 1952, a sighting which had a major impact on the insiders. Navy Warrant Officer and Chief Photographer Delbert Newhouse and his wife were driving through Utah on their way to California. (One frame from his movie has already been presented.) They were were about 7 miles west of Tremonton when Mrs. Newhouse saw some strange looking objects moving erratically through the sky. She pointed them out to her husband. After 21 years in the Navy and 2,000 hours as an aerial photographer he knew what ordinary objects in the sky looked like, and these weren’t ordinary. According to Newhouse, they were circular and looked like two pie pans, one inverted on top of the lower one. He hurried to get his movie camera out of the trunk of his car. During this time the objects were moving away from him and by the time he got the camera going they were quite far away. They made small images on the film, with no particular features. Newhouse turned his film over to the Navy for evaluation right away.
The Air Force photo lab at Wright-Patterson AFB also studied the film. After several weeks of work they ruled out birds, balloons and other aircraft. No one knew what they were. Word of this extraordinary evidence worked its way up through the ranks and finally showed up in the X-file! An FBI memorandum written on October 27 reads as follows: Air Intelligence advised of another creditable and unexplainable sighting of flying saucers. Air Intelligence still feels flying saucers are optical illusions or other atmospheric phenomena but some military officials are seriously considering the possibility of interplanetary ships. You will recall that Air Intelligence has previously kept the Bureau advised regarding developments pertaining to Air Intelligence research on the flying saucer problem. Air Intelligence has previously advised that all research pertaining to this problem is handled by the Air Technical Intelligence Center located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio; that approximately 90 per cent of the reported sightings of flying saucers can be discounted as products of the imagination and as explainable objects such as weather balloons, etc., but that a small percentage of extremely creditable sightings have been unexplainable. Colonel C. M. Young, Executive Officer to Major General John A. Samford, Director of Intelligence, Air Force, advised on October 23, 1952, that another recent extremely creditable sighting had been reported to Air Intelligence. A Navy photographer, while traveling across the United States in his own car, saw a number of objects in the sky which appeared to be flying saucers. He took approximately thirty-five feet of motion picture film of these objects. He voluntarily submitted the film to Air Intelligence who had it studied by the Air Technical Intelligence Center.
Experts at the Air Technical Intelligence Center have advised that, after careful study, there were as many as twelve to sixteen flying objects recorded on this film; that the possibility of weather balloons, clouds or other explainable objects has been completely ruled out; and that they are at a complete loss to explain this most recent creditable sighting. The Air Technical Intelligence Center experts pointed out that they could not be optical illusions inasmuch as optical illusions could not be recorded on film. Colonel Young advised that Air Intelligence still feels that the so-called flying saucers are either optical illusions or atmospheric phenomena. He point out, however, that some Military officials are seriously considering the possibility of interplanetary ships.
Nineteen hundred and fifty two was also the year that the top secret Central Intelligence Agency decided to join the fray. In previous years the Agency had paid only slight attention to the saucer/UFO sighting reports. They noted that such reports occurred in other countries and sometimes forwarded foreign sighting reports to the Air Force. They also noted the large number of sightings reported in the USA (the Air Force collected over 500 in July alone). But the Washington, DC flap was too much. They figured that something must be going on. Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), Walter Bedell Smith, decided that it was time to find out what was really going on out there! The CIA had been monitoring the flying saucer sightings worldwide on a very casual basis since 1947. A memorandum written on March 15, 1949 indicates that at least one CIA employee was unimpressed by sightings he had studied. The memo suggests some of the usual explanations (meterological balloons, meteors, psychological effects) and rules out the possibility that secret aircraft or guided missiles by either the USA or the Soviet Union could account for the sightings.
Another memorandum, dated March 31, 1949, mentions the conclusion of Project Sign, that sightings can be categorized generally as explained (misidentifications of conventional aircraft , balloons, natural phenomena or hoax) and unexplained, and goes on to offer the following possibilities for the unexplained sightings: a). Natural terrestrial phenomena (1) Meteorological (ball lightning) (2) Some type of animal (3) Hallucinatory or psychological phenomena b). Man-made terrestrial phenomena: (1) Advanced type of aircraft c). Extra-terrestrial objects: (1) Meteors (2) Animals (3) Space ships The memorandum concludes by mentioning the scientists involved in the investigation and their conclusions regarding the unexplained cases: Studies on the various possibilities have been made by Dr. Langmuir of GE (General Electric Corporation), Dr. Valley of the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Dr. Lipp of Project Rand , Dr. Hynek of Ohio State and (by the) Aero Medical Laboratory. That the objects are from outer space or are an advanced aircraft of a foreign power is a possibility, but the above group have concluded that it is highly improbable.” Following the date of this memorandum the CIA maintained a continuous but casual review of sighting data. Evidently there was nothing found of interest to the CIA because there are no further entires in the CIA file until 1952. The 1952 concentration was, however, just too much to ignore. On July 29, the same day as General Samford’s press conference, Acting Assistant Director for Scientific Intelligence of the CIA, Ralph Clark, wrote a memorandum for the Deputy Director of Intelligence that stated that the CIA had been "...maintaining a continuing review of such reported sightings for the last three years" and stated that a special group had been formed to study the situation.
Three days later a member of the study group, Edward Tauss, the Chief of the Weapons and Equipment Division of the Office of Scientific Intelligence, responded to Mr. Clark’s request "for an overall evaluation" of the saucer situation. He said most of the large number of (nearly 1,500) reports received by AMC/ATIC had been explained, but about 100 credible sightings had not been explained. He pointed out that there was no discernible pattern to the unexplained reports and offered his opinion: "it is probable that if complete information were available for presently ‘unexplainable’’ reports, they, too, could be (explained)." If his opinion were correct there would be no need for CIA involvement. However, he added a cautionary note which formed the basis for continued CIA involvment: "Notwithstanding the foregoing tentative facts, so long as a series of reports remains ‘unexplainable’ (interplanetary aspects and alien origin not being thoroughly excluded from consideration) caution requires that intelligence continue coverage of the subject." He recommended continued CIA surveillance of the "subject matter” in coordination with AMC/ATIC and said that he had arranged for a briefing by ATIC personnel on August 8. He recommended that "no indication of CIA interest or concern reach the press or public, in view of their probable alarmist tendencies to accept such interest as ‘confirmatory’ of the soundness of ‘unpublished facts’ in the hands of the U.S. Government.” CIA memoranda written by several study group members dated 14, 15 and 19 August provide details on what the CIA learned from ATIC and from the CIA's own study of sightings. According to the August 14 memorandum the CIA made its own check on the “U.S. secret project” explanation.
The Chairman of the Research and Development Board denied, at the Top Secret level, that any U. S. development could account for saucer sightings. Not satisfied with this top level denial, the author of the memorandum pointed out “two factors which tend to confirm the denials - first, the official action of alerting all Air Force commands to intercept, and second, the unbelievable risk of such flights in established airlanes.” (Note: even as this is written (2002), as 50 years ago, there are some skeptics who claim that all unexplained sightings are sightings of top secret aircraft. However, that potential explanation was denied at the highest level when J. Edgar Hoover asked in the summer of 1947, and here was see it being denied again, when the CIA asked in 1952. Whereas today there are some strange, experimental and/or secret aircraft that might give rise to "saucer" sightings, it must be accepted that there were no such aircaft in the 1940's and fifties. [Of course, there were some sightings which turned out to be top secret aircaft, but those were not part of the truly unexplainable sightings.]) On August 20 the DCI was briefed on the flying saucer situation. He directed his staff to prepare a memorandum for the National Security Council which would state the need for an investigation and direct various agencies to cooperate in the investigation.
A document entitled “The Air Force Stand on ‘Flying Saucers’ - as stated by CIA, in a briefing on 22 August 1952” contains the following information based on the CIA visit to ATIC: “I. The Air Force has primary responsibility for investigating the ‘flying saucers.’ The unit concerned with these investigations is a part of the AIr Technical Intelligence Center at Dayton, Ohio, and consists of three officers (a Captain in charge) and two civilians. They receive reports of sightings, analyze and attempt to explain them. A standard reporting form has been prepared which is used on a world-wide basis. The Air Force Office of Special Investigations checks into each sighting attempting to determine its authenticity and the reliability of the observer. II. (A) The Air Force officially denies that ‘flying saucers’ are: (1)U.S. secret weapons (2) Soviet secret weapons (3) Extra-terrestrial visitors II.(B) It is believed that all sightings of ‘flying saucers’ are: (1)Well known objects such as balloons, aircraft, meteors, clouds, etc. not recognized by the observer (2) Phenomena of the atmosphere which are at present poorly understood, e.g., refractions and reflections caused by temperature inversion, ionization phenomena, ball lightning, etc. III. Not a shred of evidence exists to substantiate the belief that ‘flying saucers’ are material objects not falling into category II B(1), above. IV. A study of ‘flying saucer’ sightings on a geographical basis showed them to be more frequent in the vicinity of atomic energy installations (which is explained by the greater security consciousness of persons in those areas). That by-products of atomic fission may in some way act catalytically to produce ‘flying saucers’ has not been disproved. The greatest number of sightings has been made at or near Dayton, Ohio, where the investigations are going on. V. Of the thousands of ‘flying saucers’ sighted of which there are records, the Air Force says that 78% have been explained by either II B(1) or II B(2) above, 2% have been exposed as hoaxes and the remaining 20% have not been explained, primarily because of the vague descriptions given by observers. VI.
The Air Force is mostly interested in the ‘saucer’ problem because of its psychological warfare implications. In reviewing publications designed for Soviet consumption, there has not been a single reference to ‘flying saucers.’ On the other hand, several ‘saucer’ societies in the United States have been investigated. Key members of some of these societies which have been instrumental in keeping the ‘flying saucer’ craze before the public have been exposed as being of doubtful loyalty. Furthermore the societies , in some cases, are financed by an unknown source. The Air Force realizes that a public made jumpy by the ‘flying saucer’ scare would be a serious liability in the event of air attacks by an enemy. Air defense could not operate effectively if the Air Force were constantly called upon to intercept mirages which persons had mistaken for enemy aircraft.” Evidently the opinion of the “saucer craze” as expressed by the Project Blue Book staff to the CIA study group was considerably different from the opinion expressed by AFI personnel in the Pentagon to the AFOSI and to the FBI, as described above. The AFI personnel admitted that there was a “hard core” amounting to about 3% of the sightings, such as many reported by commercial and Air Force pilots, which could not be explained and this led some top level officials to believe that saucers could be interplanetary vehicles.
Because the Project Blue Book personnel were very skeptical, even cynical, about UFO sightings, they did not tell the CIA study group about the “hard core” . Instead the CIA representatives were told that “...20 % have not been explained, primarily because of the vague descriptions..” This was misinformation (OK, a lie) provided (perhaps intentionally) to the CIA by the Blue Book personnel. The fact is that the hard core 3% of the total number of sightings (15% of the unexplained sightings) had well reported, explicitly described details which prevented identification as known phenomena. Instead of being told that saucers were most often reported in the vicinity of airports, as Commander Boyd had correctly told the FBI, the CIA was told, incorrectly, that saucers were most frequently seen near Dayton, Ohio. The Blue Book personnel did not tell the CIA representative that whenever a pursuing jet tried to get close to a saucer it invariably would fade from view, nor did they tell the CIA that the extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH) was not being overlooked. Instead, as the CIA perceived it, the Air Force had officially taken a rigid stand against the ETH: Anything But ET . Why would the Blue Book personnel do such a thing? We know from the FBI documents that at least some of the Top Brass at the Pentagon did not flatly deny that flying saucers could be ET visitors. We also know that there was a considerable amount of highly credible testimonial evidence available to the ATIC personnel to show that saucers could not be explained as II (B) above. We also know that the hard core unexplained cases did not have “vague descriptions” which prevented identification.
In fact, the Battelle Memorial Institute study was finding the opposite: the unexplained cases had lots of details that prevented identification as mundane objects. Furthermore, Battelle discovered that, on a statistical basis, the better sighting, with more details and more credible observers, the more difficult it was to explain. (A year or so later the Battelle study would discover that nearly 33% of the best sightings by military witnesses were not explainable!) So, the question is, why did Project Blue Book misinform the CIA? Was it because the Blue Book staff really believed there was no ET evidence at all or was to it to prevent the CIA from looking more deeply into the saucer problem and perhaps discovering something the Air Force wanted to keep secret? Although the document contains some incorrect information it also provides some information not found elsewhere. It states that a geographical study showed that saucer sightings occurred more often at nuclear installations. This contradicts General Samford’s statement to the press that there seemed to be no threatening pattern to saucer sightings. The comment about the “publications designed for Soviet consumption” (the Soviet press) not having any saucer reports, while the U. S. press was full of them, was intended to indicate a disparity that could work to the advantage of the Soviets if there were an attack. The importance of this disparity is clarified in the last sentence which indicates that public reporting of saucers during an attack on the USA could be a “serious liability,” whereas the Soviets would have no such liability. In fact, in the future months this would develop into three fundamental worries of the CIA: (a) a large flux of saucer sightings, whether saucers were “real” or not, during a time of national emergency could have a negative psychological impact on the American people, (b) saucer reports could act as “decoy unknowns,” diverting the limited number of defensive aircraft from protecting against attacking aircraft, which would initially also appear on radar sensors as “unknowns,” and (c) a large flux of saucer reports could clog defense communications channels.
One more thing to note in the CIA document is the statement that individuals and groups that promoted saucer studies had been investigated to check on the possibility of subversive activity. The reference to groups being funded by an unknown source indicates that the CIA suspected that some saucer groups might actually be funded by the Soviets. Evidently the CIA did not know that the FBI had already looked for subversion and hadn’t found any in 1947. However, in the 1950’s both the CIA and the FBI did keep track of some saucer enthusiasts and groups. (Yes, Big Brother was taking care of us!) By early September the CIA staff had collected enough information to make an informal report to the DCI. Dr. H. Marshall Chadwell, the Assistant Director for Scientific Intelligence reported that the study had been undertaken to determine “whether or not adequate study and research is currently being directed to this problem in its relation to national security implications” and what further work should be carried out. He reported that the only work on the problem was that being done by The Air Technical Intelligence Center under the authority of the Air Force Directorate of Intelligence. Chadwell wrote, “OSI (Office of Scientific Intelligence within the CIA) entered into its inquiry fully aware that it was coming into a field already charged with partisanship, one in which objectivity had been overridden by numerous sensational writers, and one in which there are pressures for extravagant explanation as well as for oversimplification. The OSI Team consulted with a representative of the Air Force Special Studies Group; discussed the problem with those in charge of the Air Force Project at Wright Field; reviewed a considerable volume of intelligence reports; checked the Soviet press and broadcast indices; and conferred with three OSI consultant, all leaders in their scientific fields, who were chosen because of their broad knowledge of the technical areas concerned. OSI found that the ATIC study is probably valid if the purpose is limited to a case- by-case explanation. However, the study makes no attempt to solve the more fundamental aspect of the problem which is to determine definitely the nature of the various phenomena which are causing these sightings, or to discover means by which these causes and their visual or electronic effects may be immediately identified. Our consultant panel stated that these solutions would probably be found on the margins or just beyond the frontiers of our present knowledge in the fields of atmospheric, ionospheric, and extraterrestrial phenomena, with the added possibility that our present dispersal of nuclear waste products might also be a factor.”
The consultant panel recommended the formation of a study group to analyze the fundamental sighting information, determine what fundamental sciences would be involved and make recommendations for further study. Dr. Chadwell then got to the heart of the problem from the national security point of view. First there was the psychological aspect. The CIA could find no mention of saucers in the Soviet media, so the Russians were not being “conditioned” to believe in saucers by the Russian press, which was saying nothing about saucers. In the USA, on the other hand, the recent continual press interest and “pressure of inquiry on the Air Force” indicated that a fair proportion of the population had been “mentally conditioned to the acceptance of the incredible. In this fact lies the potential for touching-off of mass hysteria and panic.” In other words, if a nefarious group of individuals bent on destroying the United States were to start publicizing UFO reports the US citizens might panic. The second national security aspect was air vulnerability. There was the possibility that a flux of saucer sightings at a time of air attack could cause the Air Force to divert precious hardware (airplanes!) to check out spurious unidentified saucers when they should be flying toward the unidentified aircraft. Dr. Chadwell suggested immediate steps should be taken to improve the methods of quickly identifying unknown objects or phenomena. He also suggested that US intelligence agencies should determine the level of Soviet knowledge about the phenomenon so we could defend ourselved against attempts by the Soviets to use their knowledge to our detriment, while at the same time using our knowledge of saucers to our advantage.
By this he meant using saucer sightings as part of psychological warfare against the Soviets. Finally, he recommended the National Security Council direct the CIA to begin a study along the lines he outlined. Dr. Chadwell’s memorandum to the Director apparently met with some favor because in early October the recommendations were formalized and sent to the DCI. Chadwell recommended “(a) That the Director of Central Intelligence advise the National Security Council of the implications of the ‘flying saucer’ problem and request that research be initiated. (b) That the DCI discuss this subject with the Psychological Strategy Board (c) That the CIA, with the cooperation of the Psychological Strategy Board and other interested departments and agencies, develop and recommend for adoption by the NSC a policy of public information which wll minimize concern and possible panic resulting from the numerous sightings of unidentified objects.” A draft proposal was written for presentation to the Intelligence Advisory Committee (IAC) and Secretary of Defense, Robert Lovett. On December 2, Dr. Chadwell summarized the situation regarding the NSC directive and included in his memorandum to the DCI the following statement which indicates a level of concern that goes beyond what the Air Force had conveyed to the CIA months earlier. (Recall that the sighting and film by Delbert Newhouse was well known to the intelligence community by this time, as indiced by the late October FBI document discussed above.) Chadwell wrote: “Recent reports reaching the CIA indicated that further action was desirable and another briefing by the cognizant A-2 (air intelligence) and ATIC personnel was held on 25 November. At this time, the reports of incidents convince us that there is something going on that must have immediate attention. The details of some of these incidents have been discussed by AD/SI (Associate Director of the Scientific Intelligence Division) with DDCI (Deputy Director of the CIA).
Sightings of unexplained objects at great altitudes and travelling at high speeds in the vicinity of major U.S. defense installations are of such nature that they are not attributable to natural phenomena or known types of aerial vehicles.” Note that Dr. Chadwell did not say that the sightings are or might be attributable to natural or manmade phenomena. Instead, he made the direct, unqualified statement that they are not attributable to natural or manmade phenomena. Could it be that he was convinced? He went on to say that OSI was about to establish a “consulting group of sufficient competence and stature to review this matter and convince the responsible authorities in the community that immediate research and development on this subject must be undertaken.” Notice that he expected the “consulting group” would be able to to convince the “responsible authorities” to immediately undertake research on “this subject.”
This statement gives the impression that Chadwell was quite certain the consulting group would conclude, as he apparently had, that saucers were real objects flying around U. S. defense installations and other locations. Chadwell’s proposal was accepted and on December 4 the IAC was briefed on the problem. Present at the meeting were representatives of the Air Force, the Army, the Navy, the Department of State and six representative from the CIA, including Dr. Chadwell. General Samford represented AFI. Also present was Mr. Meffert Kuhrtz, acting for the Assistant to the Director, FBI. The CIA version of the minutes of the IAC meeting shows only that the IAC approved having the CIA set up a review of the available evidence and scientific theories. General Samford offered the AFI cooperation. Any further work would depend upon the the result of the scientific study. Mr. Kuhrtz’ report to the FBI, written December 5, provides a bit more information. It says that Dr. Chadwell talked about a theory of saucers that had been suggested by a German atomic scientist (name censored from the released document). He also said that a “recent” saucer sighting in Africa “presents some evidence that the ‘saucers’ are not a meteorological phenomena, which theory has been held to date by the Air Force.” Mr. Kuhrtz said that details of the African report were not given but that he would try to get the details from the Air Force. According to Khurtz’s report, the IAC approved the idea of having a group of scientists study the sightings and try to identify the saucers. This would be carried out under CIA direction. The IAC would not get involved unless the scientists determined that the saucers were devices “under control of our enemy.” (Presumably, then, if ET’s controlled the saucers and if ET’s were not our enemy, then the IAC would not become involved. ) On December 23 Mr. Kuhrtz reported the CIA had information about an explosion in Africa that had been picked up on seismographs. There were reports “of unknown reliability” that associated the explosion with a flying saucer.
During December Dr. Chadwell wrote several memoranda which show that he was impressed by the Tremonton Utah (Delbert Newhouse) film and several others. He also met with several scientists to brief them and get their opinions. Most of them agreed that the subject should be studied, but Chadwell’s memoranda do not indicate they were enthusiastic about studying saucer sightings. Also during December and January (1953) the CIA and ATIC (under Capt. Ruppelt) prepared for the big meeting that would decide the fate of the CIA study of UFOs. The CIA asked Dr. H. P. Robertson, a distinguished scientist, formerly of Princeton and the California Institute of Technology, and a constultant to the CIA, to establish a panel of “top scientists and engineers in the fields of astrophysics, nuclear energy, electronics, etc., to review this situation.” AFI and ATIC offered full support and Capt. Ruppelt and the Project Blue Book staff prepared a briefing for the scientists. Unfortunately the Battelle study was nowhere near completion (it wouldn’t be finished for about a year), so the complete statistical analyses were not available. It would not be too much of an exaggeration to say that this meeting was the equivalent, for UFOs/saucers, of the Inquisition, perhaps with Dr. Robertson as Torquemada. The idea that flying saucers might represent something truly unknown, such as interplanetary craft, was scientific "heresy" of the first order. And the result of this saucer inquisition was analogous to the result of most of the cases tried before the Inquisition: the guilty party was found guilty and "termination" was recommended. The meeting convened on Wednesday, January 14.
Attending were Dr. Robertson, Dr. Samuel Goudsmit (co-discoverer of electron spin) , Dr. Luiz Alvarez (professor of physics; Nobel prize winner many years later) and Dr. Thornton Page (professor of astronomy). Two days later Dr. Lloyd Berkner (physicist; radar engineer) arrived in time for the closing sessions. The ATIC representatives had spent weeks preparing for this meeting but because of time limitations were only able to present in detail about two dozen of the sightings which they considered to be their best evidence. Two of these were the Newhouse film and the Washington, D.C. sightings discussed before. The panel of scientists, after a few hours of study, concluded that “reasonable explanations could be suggested for most sightings and ‘by deduction and scientific method it could be induced (given additional data) that other cases might be explained in similar manner.’” One particularly egregious example of their explanations was that “birds” explained Delbert Newhouse’s film, which the ATIC had said couldn’t be explained. The claim by the photographic analysts that the images were too bright to be reflections from birds was discounted. The visual sighting by Newhouse and his wife of pie-pan like objects before he started filming was not even mentioned! Obviously these expert scientists did not get the full picture in their several day review of the five year phenomenon that had generated thousands of reports. Hence their conclusions were based on a lack of information and a lack of understanding combined with a natural bias against anything unusual that wouldn’t fit their scientific “world view.” Another example of a faulty conclusion based on insufficient information was that of Dr. Thornton Page. He argued that saucers couldn’t be ET craft because such craft wouldn’t appear in only one country. Of course he was correct: they would show up all over the world. What he didn’t know, and apparently no one told him, was that saucers had been seen all over the world, as the CIA was well aware from their own world-wide information collection activities.
The panel concluded that, even though they were not “real,” the saucers were a danger for the reasons already cited above. An enemy could use an existing saucer flap or create one with balloons or some other devices in order to swamp the communications channels with sighting reports while using the objects as decoys for the actual attacking aircraft. To reduce the danger the panel recommended stripping the saucers of their special status and starting a program of education and “debunking” or explaining so the general public would be better able to identify normal aerial objects and phenomena. Once the subject had been sufficiently debunked the general public would believe that all the sightings had been explained and so there would be less interest in reporting. Although the debunking recommendation of the panel was not widely disseminated it did have an effect. Over the next 12 months, after Ruppelt left the project (and retired), Project Blue Book went from being an active analytical organization to mere shadow of its former self, with investigations carried out by another organization (the 4602 Air Intelligence Service Squadron or by the AFOSI). The activities of the Project Blue Book were centered on categorizing sightings into two classes, those which they could explain and those which they could not explain, and then filing these sightings away, with no further study of the unexplained sightings. The other major Blue Book activity was handling the publicity surrounding UFO sightings.
Whenever the press asked the Air Force about sightings Blue Book provided an answer. During the 1953 the Air Force issued two new regulations which virtually guaranteed secrecy about saucer sightings by military people. These documents restricted information release to those sightings which had been explained and threatened a fine and prison term for military people who intentionally released UFO information without proper authorization. In the months and years following the Robertson panel the number of sighted objects fluctuated from roughly 500 to roughly 1,000 per year. Project Blue Book claimed that all but about 3% could be explained and, without supporting evidence, claimed that even those could have been explained if more information had been available. Not only was there no supporting evidence for this claim, the Battelle scientists, many months after the Robertson panel, discovered evidence to contradict it. They discovered that the highest quality sightings with the most information were the least likely to be explainable. As stated in a discussion above, the most obvious example of well reported sightings came from on-duty military witnesses between 1947 and 1952: about 33% of these sightings were unexplained!. And what happened to the CIA? Insofar as could be determined from the released documents the agency essentially ignored the saucer phenomenon from then on. They collected some sightings from around the world and occasionally reviewed the situation, but never again did the agency officially take the same interest that was shown in the summer of 1952 before ATIC “pulled the wool over their eyes.”
Although the Blue Book representatives had told the CIA in the summer that everything was explainable (so go away and leave us alone!?), by the end of December it was apparent to the Blue Book staff that not everything was easily explainable or could be passed off as poor reporting. The Blue Book presenters (Ruppelt, Fournet) tried to show the CIA panel that there were unexplainable sightings, but the CIA experts would hear none of that, and provided their own explanations when necessary (e.g., seagulls for the Newhouse film). However, the CIA explanations did not impress the Blue Book staff. On a January 23, 1953, about two weeks after the Robertson Panel, Project Blue Book briefed the Air Defense Command (ADC) on the status of UFO investigations. The Project Blue Book personnel admitted in private what they would never say publicly.
Based on a statistical breakdown of about 1,000 sightings received through military channels in 1952 the Blue Book staff concluded that (get this!) only 11% of the reports could be positively identified. These reports fell into the categories astronomical, balloons, aircraft, other and hoaxes. Most of the remaining sightings were labelled probably identified (17%), possibly identified (29%) and unknown (20%). There was also a separate category for sightings which were indeterminate. That is, they couldn’t make a definite decision as to whether or not these sightings were identifiable because of “insufficient information” (23%). Considering that a large proportion of these sightings had been generated by ADC personnel (pilots, air traffic controllers, etc.) on duty at the times of their sightings, the ADC officials, who were in charge of protecting the USA from a Soviet attack, may have been sorely dismayed to learn how many sightings were not immediately identifiable. It is to be noted, by the way, that the low percentage of positive identifications was not public knowledge. Whenever public statements were issued regarding the percentages of unknowns and knowns the possible, probable and insufficient information cases were all added to the positively identified cases, thereby creating a statistic which showed the largest portion of sightings (roughly 80%) as (positively) identified. The Air Force, appealing to the “logic” of the situation (based on the assumption that there was no evidence to show saucers were real), would then claim that the unknown sightings could have been explained, too, if there had been more information about them.
In other words, they essentially reclassified the unknowns as insufficient information even thought there was a separate category for those indeterminate cases and the unknowns could have been placed into that category initially, if the analysts had thought there was not enough information for a clear decision for or against identification. After learning what happened in 1952 one wonders just how many times the saucers would have to beat the Air Force over the head before it would admit they were real. Could it be that the people having delusions were not the witnesses but the Air Force intelligence experts who so desperately wanted to disbelieve the information which was pouring in from all over the United States... the evidence that was right in front of their noses? Or was this denial of evidence effectively orchestrated from above, from the Top of the military and government command structure in order to cover up something about flying saucers that certain government officials didn’t want people to know? Another secret government agency decided it was time to find out just what was going on. Too bad this agency contacted the Air Force first, before doing its own independent investigation!
Sightings began to be reported in June 1947 and continued through 1952 and beyond. The initial sightings were analyzed by Air Force aeronatical technology experts and the initial conclusion for at least SOME of the sightings was not ours, not theirs (Soviet), not misidentifications, hoaxes or delusions, but "interplanetary." The first "bookend" was the rejection of this conclusion by General Vandenberg in October, 1948. This rejection impacted on the quality of investigation by the ATIC personnel of Project Grudge and then Project Blue Book. Sightings had to be force fit into the general classifications misidentification, hoax or delusion because "interplanetary" was not an acceptable (to Vandenberg, at least) explanation. The second "bookend" was the Robertson Panel in January, 1953. Between these bookends were the continuous sightings during 1949, 1950 and 1951, and then the huge flap in 1952. By all rights, the 1952 flap should have put the evidence for UFO/saucer reality over the top.
There were military radar-visual sightings and photos and film as well as the testimony of hundreds of witnesses or all types throughout the USA and in other countries. Many of the sightings simply could not be explained. We now know that in the spring of 19521, before the flap really got underway, the Air Force was close to publicly admitting that "things" were not "under control" and that the interplanetary hypothesis was being considered. General Samford was aware of this and had an opportunity to reverse the public Air Force policy that saucer sightings represented no new technology and presented no danger. Instead, he covered up the internal "interplanetary" opinions of some top AF brass by reaffirming the Vandenberg policy: the unexplained sightings are misidentified natural phenomena. Then came the second "bookend," the Robertson Panel, and that caste the policy in concrete: all sightings can be explained and so there are no True UFOs. All the basic "books" (sightings, analyses) had been written by the time of the Robertson Panel and nothing really new happened afterward (at least not until abduction reports began in the 1960's). After 1953 a new policy began to work its way slowly into the official UFO investigations. The new policy was "debunking" of sightings. The policy was to go public with the sightings that could surely be explained and keep quiet about the ones for which no reasonable explanation could be found. The "glory days" of UFO investigation were over for the Air Force. Thanks to Samford and the Robertson Panel, by the end of January, 1953 the lid was securely on!
In thinking back over all the events of that time period, with all the press publicity and news stories and theories about flying saucer/UFO sightings (which even relegated the Korean War to second page news in late July) and Hollywood movies [1951:The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Man from Planet X, The Thing; 1952: Red Planet Mars; 1953 : Invaders from Mars, It Came from Outer Space, The War of the Worlds) I wonder, why didn't the world change? Why didn't a thousand sightings over 3 months (June, July, August; and these are only the reports collected by the Air Force; there were probably many more sightings that were never reported) succeed in convincing everyone, Air Force included, that something truly strange was going on? I think that the answer to this question is that the public attitude of the Air Force, combined with the belief of the scientific community in general that the Air Force was doing a good investigation, resulted in the good, solid cases being essentially covered up. Few outside the Air Force knew that truly unexplainable sightings existed.
It has long been my opinion that if we knew what really happened 50 years ago (1947-1952) we would know much or most of the "flying saucer story." However, during the first 5 years the Air Force established a "tradition" that UFO sightings were of nothing new, represented no danger, etc., and the press followed right along helping to solidify this tradition. Very few scientists had either the time or access to the raw data in order to form their own opinions and the sightings (raw data) were not discussed in science or technology journals, so the scientific community also generally agreed with the Air Force, helping to further establish the tradition. To a large extent this tradition is still with us preventing us from finding out what we would/could/should have known 50 years ago!
We have wasted a lot of time trying to find "absolute proof," when sufficient evidence has been available since 1952. Time to wake up and figure out where we go from here!