by Robert Scott Martin
19 August 1999
from TimeStar Website
Not only has
the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency admitted its role in trying to
"correct" public opinion about UFOs over the last half century, it
now believes the policy caused "major problems" in dealing with the
In an internal report entitled "CIA's Role in the Study of
UFOs, 1947-90" (above link), agency historian
Gerald K. Haines portrayed the CIA as consistently and
deliberately working to suppress reports of unidentified aerial
phenomena since modern UFO sightings began with the Kenneth Arnold
case of 1947.
Still, even in a paper filled with covert
attempts on the part of both the CIA and the Air Force to "persuade
the public that UFOs were not extraordinary," Haines himself
continued the suppressive policy, perhaps unconsciously, by writing that
the CIA "paid only limited and peripheral attention to the
phenomena" since the early 1950s.
This tension in the report,
written at the request of CIA Director R. James Woolsey in 1997, is
a telling reflection of the government agency's troubled broader
relationship with UFO sightings and literature. Haines' history is
studded with depictions of the CIA not only repressing UFO reports and
reviewing recommendations that agents monitor UFO clubs for subversive
activities, [emphasis added] but also trying to hide its own interest
in the matter.
Indeed, the struggle to "carefully restrict"
and "forbid" any public awareness of CIA involvement in
UFO investigations eclipses the actual investigations as the major
thrust of the agency's UFO efforts. Even though the agency had accepted
the Air Force's conclusion that there was only "a remote possibility" that
UFOs were interplanetary aircraft as early as 1952, investigations of the
"massive buildup of sightings" went on, just in case.
1953, when negative findings from a civilian panel motivated the
CIA to "put the entire issue of UFOs on the back burner" entirely,
Haines said the agency became almost exclusively concerned with
covering up its own involvement in the world of unidentified flying
This aggressive policy of public non-involvement was
important to the CIA for many reasons. First, a number of agency
officials and study groups over the years urged the CIA to "conceal its
interest" because such attention would seem to officially sanction to the
existence of UFOs. Although the agency itself, like the Air Force,
believed the chance of flying saucers posing a direct threat was minimal,
the fear that even unfounded public belief in the phenomenon, if
encouraged by government interest, could be enough to "touch off mass
hysteria and panic."
Particularly in the 1950s, the Cold
War heightened this somewhat obsessive concern with hiding any evidence of
the CIA's involvement, said Haines. Although the agency's UFO
study group did not see any security threat emerging directly out of
flying saucers themselves, even if they actually existed, the CIA
was deeply worried by the possibility that Soviet agents could use UFOs as
"a possible psychological warfare tool" or cloak a more Earthly attack
with fake UFO reports.
Tantalizingly, Haines also noted
that at least one CIA Director, Walter Bedell Smith,
know what use could be made of the UFO phenomenon in connection with US
psychological warfare efforts."
The report does
not mention whether the agency followed up on this opportunity to
manipulate UFO reports in a more sophisticated manner for its own
As the 1950s wore on, the CIA became even less
interested in UFOs in themselves and more concerned with covering up its
own early involvement with the phenomenon. In 1955, only the possibility
that the Soviets would eventually develop a flying saucer of their own
kept the investigations from ending completely.
ironically, the CIA had built its own "unidentified flying object,"
the U-2 surveillance aircraft, and sightings of these planes needed to be
kept out of the media. According to Haines, Air Force investigators
were "careful not to reveal the true cause" of U-2 sightings. However,
having no other means of explaining the encounters, it is likely the field
agents were forced either to lie or retreat into a suspicious silence.
The return of
argues that this suspicious silence was not a good strategy for the
agency, but the established need for secrecy left the CIA with
little choice while fervor over the government's role in "covering up" UFO
information grew. Even though the agency itself "had a declining interest
in UFO cases" by the late 1950s, it was still spending considerable
resources looking out for "the more sensational UFO reports and flaps"
[emphasis added] in order to suppress them.
policy backfired by highlighting the CIA's role in investigation -- or
the ominous cover-up thereof -- only to "add fuel to the growing
mystery surrounding UFOs." UFO researchers blamed the agency for
starting the UFO flap of the 1950s for psychological warfare purposes, and
the idea proved so persuasive that even CIA Director Stansfield
Turner asked his staff whether the agency was "in UFOs" after reading
a 1979 New York Times article.
At the end, Haines
concluded, the tactics of silence and repression were a failure.
issue probably will not go away soon, no matter what the agency does
or says. The belief that we are not alone in the universe is too
emotionally appealing and the distrust of our government is too
pervasive to make the issue amenable to traditional scientific studies
of rational explanation and evidence."
Indeed, much of
that "distrust" was the CIA's own doing, and the benefits appear to
have been limited. Despite the agency's best efforts to keep UFO
reports out of the media, according to Haines,
extraordinary 95 percent of all Americans have at least heard or read
something about UFOs, and 57 percent believe they are real."