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|By Robert Hastings|
“From time to time in the history of science, situations have arisen in which a problem of ultimately enormous importance went begging for adequate attention simply because that problem appeared to involve phenomena so far outside the current bounds of scientific knowledge that it was not even regarded as a legitimate subject of serious scientific concern. That is precisely the situation in which the UFO problem now lies. One of the principal results of my own recent intensive study of the UFO enigma is this: I have become convinced that the scientific community, not only in this country but throughout the world, has been casually ignoring as nonsense a matter of extraordinary scientific importance.” 1And how did McDonald arrive at that opinion? After several authorized, extended visits to the U.S. Air Force’s UFO Project Blue Book, to review its files, he wrote, “There are hundreds of good cases in the Air Force files that should have led to top-level scientific scrutiny of [UFOs] years ago, yet these cases have been swept under the rug in a most disturbing way by Project Blue Book investigators and their consultants.” 2
McDonald’s full statement before Congress may be found in the U.S. Congressional Record, as well as on the Internet. While acknowledging that the overwhelming majority of UFO sightings undoubtedly had prosaic explanations, and that a great many questions about the phenomenon remained unanswered, McDonald succinctly summarized his conclusions regarding the most credible of the unexplained cases: “My own present opinion, based on two years of careful study, is that UFOs are probably extraterrestrial devices engaged in something that might very tentatively be termed ‘surveillance.’” 3
McDonald was not the only one to conclude that UFOs represented a genuine mystery worthy of rigorous investigation. Although most scientists today are completely unaware of this fact, in the late 1960s, the first U.S. government-sponsored scientific study of the UFO phenomenon—informally known as the Condon Committee—actually found persuasive evidence to support the contention that UFOs are something other than manmade or natural phenomena.
However, as I shall discuss shortly, this startling finding was effectively masked in the project’s final report through a spectacularly successful sleight-of-hand by the study’s own director, physicist Dr. Edward Condon, whose blatantly anti-UFO bias was a already matter-of-record well before the report was released in late 1968.
Ironically, for four decades, countless scientists skeptical of UFOs have pointed to the official findings of the Condon Committee as justification for ignoring the phenomenon as a legitimate subject for study. However, despite their own sincerity, because of their unfamiliarity with the facts, these persons simply do not understand that they have been thoroughly duped.
Informed persons—those familiar with Condon’s often scandalous behavior during his association with the study—frequently argue about whether the UFO project’s flawed final report was merely the result of Condon’s naked prejudice toward his subject, or the result of some as-yet undocumented government subterfuge in which he participated. Regardless, the negative spin Condon put on the committee’s findings smacks of whitewash, a fact bemoaned by a number of the project’s own scientists, following the publication of the final report.
How and why did this travesty occur? Equally important, why did the national media slavishly portray the study as an objective scientific inquiry?
The Condon Committee, formally known as the University of Colorado UFO Project, was undertaken at the Air Force’s request and funded by a $500,000 grant it provided. From 1966 to 1968, a panel of scientists from various disciplines evaluated 91 reported UFO sightings—some drawn from confidential Air Force files, others from published sources. While the investigations themselves—with a few notable exceptions—were fairly rigorous and objective, project director Condon repeatedly displayed distinctly unscientific behavior in relation to his task, while the project’s coordinator, Robert Low, was caught privately enunciating what was, at the very least, an arguably questionable approach to organizing the supposedly objective investigation.
In a memorandum dated August 9, 1966, Low had written, in part, “Our study would be conducted almost entirely by non-believers who, though they couldn’t possibly prove a negative result, could and probably would add an impressive body of thick evidence that there is no reality to the observations. The trick would be, I think, to describe the project so that, to the public, it would appear a totally objective study but, to the scientific community, would present the image of a group of non-believers trying their best to be objective but having an almost zero expectation of finding a saucer.” 4
Moreover, notes researcher Jerome Clark, “Low also suggested that if the study focused less on ‘the physical reality of the saucer’ and more on the ‘psychology and sociology of persons and groups who report seeing UFOs’, then ‘the scientific community would get the message.’” 5
Low’s defenders, including leading UFO debunker Phillip Klass, have tried to explain away Low’s seemingly incriminating proposal for the project’s composition and aims. They argue that Low was simply attempting to present the project in the most benign terms possible to dubious faculty members at the University of Colorado, in a bid to soften their resistance to participating in the controversial UFO study.
Regardless, one of the Condon Committee’s concerned staff members, psychologist Dr. David R. Saunders, later leaked Low’s memorandum to Donald Keyhoe, director of the civilian National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP), who had long advocated an end to government secrecy on UFOs. Keyhoe subsequently shared the contents of the memo with Dr. McDonald. According to Jerome Clark, “The Trick Memo confirmed McDonald’s worst suspicions about the Committee. In response, he wrote a seven page letter to Condon, explaining point by point, his problems, frustration and disappointment with the Committee’s shortcomings.” 6
Condon was infuriated by the letter and called a meeting of the project’s staff to attempt to learn how McDonald had obtained an internal project memorandum. Saunders freely admitted that it was he who had sent the memo to Keyhoe. According to Saunders, Condon then called him “disloyal” and reportedly said, “For an act like that you deserve to be ruined professionally.” At this, Saunders reports, he responded by saying that his loyalty lay with the American people, while Condon’s own loyalty seemed to be to the Air Force.7 Saunders was subsequently fired from the project by Condon for his actions, together with another staffer, Dr. Norman Levine, who had also been involved in the memo’s unauthorized release.
Condon had already revealed his own suspect attitude toward the supposedly scientific study, well before the furor over the Low memorandum erupted. According to Clark, “In late January, 1967, [NICAP executives Donald Keyhoe and Richard Hall] gave Saunders a clipping from The Elmira Star-Gazette, dated January 26. Condon was quoted as saying [during a lecture] that he thought the government should not study UFOs because the subject was nonsense, adding, ‘but I’m not supposed to reach that conclusion for another year.’
Saunders was stunned. He asked if Condon could have been misquoted, but Keyhoe reported that several NICAP members had been present when Condon delivered his lecture; one of them had resigned from NICAP in protest, arguing that the Condon Committee was nothing more than pretense.”
If this were not enough, it is now known that one of the committee’s members, psychologist Michael Wertheimer, had openly argued against any consideration of the extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH) well before the project concluded its work, a position openly supported by project administrator, Robert Low. In other words, even before the data-gathering phase of the study was completed, some key members of the committee—including Condon himself—had already reached the de facto conclusion that UFOs could not possibly be alien spacecraft. Obviously, this rush to judgment effectively precluded an objective analysis of the facts.
To further illustrate this point, after the various case investigations had concluded, one committee investigator, astronomer William K. Hartman, had actually written that some of the unsolved cases he examined were in fact consistent with the extraterrestrial hypothesis of UFOs. When Condon read this conclusion in Hartman’s draft report, he wrote, “Good God!” and crossed out the passage. Given that it was Hartman, not Condon, who had investigated the cases in question, this negative editorial spin by the project director was at least presumptuous, if not downright deceptive.
The UFO project’s shortcomings finally came to light when an exposé by journalist John Fuller was published in the May 1968 issue of LOOK magazine. Titled, “Flying Saucer Fiasco”, the article laid bare the various questionable actions and attitudes exhibited by some of the Condon Committee’s leading members.8 The resulting widespread public indignation was predictable and even some scientists began to question the UFO project’s objectivity and purpose.
Researcher Dr. David Jacobs notes, “When the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) covered the ongoing Committee controversy in an issue of its official journal Science, Condon first promised to grant an interview apparently in the hopes of offering his side of the conflict. Shortly thereafter, however, Science editor Daniel S. Greenberg reported that Condon announced it would be ‘inappropriate for Science to touch the matter, withdrew his offer of cooperation, and proceeded to enunciate high-sounding principles in support of his new-found belief that Science should not [review] the subject until after the publication if his report.’” 9
A few other scientists, notably astronomer Frank Drake—founder of the Search for Extraterrestrial Life (SETI) movement and an outspoken critic of the hypothesis that UFOs are alien spacecraft—expressed deep doubts about the Condon Committee’s overall objectivity. At one point, Drake fired off a letter to the National Academy of Sciences, in which he argued that the UFO study had been “tainted” and should, therefore, be discredited.
But there was another type of fallout from the exposé in LOOK magazine, as David Jacobs further notes: “The Fuller article even helped inspire Congressional hearings. Representative J. Edward Roush [of Indiana] spoke on the House floor, arguing that Fuller’s article brought up ‘grave doubts about as to the scientific profundity and objectivity of the project’. In a Denver Post interview, Roush suggested that the Trick Memo proved that the Air Force had indeed been dictating the Project’s direction and conclusions.” 10
The committee’s final report was released in the fall of 1968. In the introduction, titled “Conclusions and Recommendations”, Condon wrote: “Our general conclusion is that nothing has come from the study of UFOs in the past 21 years that has added to scientific knowledge. Careful consideration of the record as it is available to us leads us to conclude that further extensive study of UFOs probably cannot be justified in the expectation that science will be advanced thereby.”11
Consequently, despite the evidence amassed—over 25% of the cases investigated by the committee were judged to involve “unknown” craft or other unexplained phenomena—the study’s final report, written by Condon himself, stated that there existed no basis for continued Air Force investigation of the UFO phenomenon. If one had read only Condon’s introduction, but not the actual report itself, one might reasonably conclude that the idea of UFOs, as an objective reality unto themselves, had been irrefutably disproved. However, a careful examination of the report as a whole yields an entirely different impression.
In his 1999 book, The UFO Enigma: A New Review of the Physical Evidence, astrophysicist Peter A. Sturrock examined the failings of the Condon Committee and their consequences. One review of the book correctly notes, “[The Condon Committee] report has clouded all attempts at legitimate UFO research since its release. Much of the public, including the scientific community and the press, erroneously assumes that this project represents a serious, in-depth look into the issues.”12
The review continues, “Sturrock assiduously dissects the Condon Report and makes it clear that the study is scientifically flawed. In fact, anyone who actually reads the report carefully will be surprised to find that Edward Condon, who personally wrote the Summary and Conclusions, did not investigate any of the cases. Rather it was his staff that did the legwork. That is why [Condon’s summary] is internally inconsistent with the body of the document, [which supports] some UFO cases, while the summary does not.”13
In the book, Dr. Sturrock writes about the scientific community’s sharply-divided response to Condon’s final report, noting that “critical reviews came from scientists who had actually carried out research in the UFO area, while the laudatory reviews came from scientists who had not carried out such research.”14
In other words, those self-satisfied individuals who had always dismissed UFOs, without so much as glancing at the data, were quite pleased by Condon’s claim that the subject deserved to be ignored by science—because that was already their own position. On the other hand, persons such as James McDonald and J. Allen Hynek, who had actually investigated the phenomenon, were outraged by Condon’s misleading statements. Hynek criticized Condon’s final report as “singularly slanted”, noting that it had “avoided mentioning that there was embedded within the bowels of the report a remaining mystery; that the committee had been unable to furnish adequate explanations for more than a quarter of the cases examined.”15
Unfortunately, due to the length of the Condon Committee report—which ran nearly 1000 pages—very few reporters actually read it before wrapping up their stories to meet publishing deadlines. Consequently, most media accounts covering the report’s release almost invariably focused on Condon’s easily-accessible, negatively-slanted conclusions, to the exclusion of the study’s many positive findings about the UFO reality.
Influential columnists, including The New York Times’ science editor, Walter Sullivan, applauded Condon’s disingenuous statements as the last word on the subject and urged the Air Force to move onto more important things. Only later, long after their stories had been published, did a few inquisitive reporters actually get around to reading the UFO project members’ individual reports which, in many cases, clearly pointed to the presence of an unexplained phenomenon worthy of further scientific study.
But the damage had been done. Because the initial media hoopla surrounding the release of the report had painted such a dismissive picture of UFOs, it regrettably reinforced most scientists’ negative assumptions and erroneous perceptions about the phenomenon. Whatever his motives, Edward Condon had pulled off a wonderfully slick sales job—boldly dismissing all UFO sightings as the misidentification of known, natural phenomena or manmade aircraft, as well as a few hoaxes—even though his own study had concluded otherwise.
In response to the report’s official conclusions, most scientists—led astray by both Condon’s misleading remarks and the supposedly astute pundits in the national media, who should have recognized duplicity disguised as science—nodded knowingly and with great satisfaction when they read that Dr. Condon had finally killed the UFOs. Betrayed by a debunker—and their own biases—they relegated the phenomenon to the proverbial intellectual trash heap, and washed their hands of the whole matter.
Meanwhile, as this controversy was unfolding, out in the vast prairies surrounding America’s nuclear missile bases, the UFO phenomenon—apparently unaware of its supposed non-existence—continued to assert itself, often in dramatic fashion. As now-declassified U.S. Air Force documents confirm, sightings by Air Force security personnel of disc-shaped objects at ICBM sites were ongoing, if unpredictable, sometimes punctuated by sudden, unexplainable disruptions of the missiles’ functionality, concurrent with the presence of the UFOs.
Following many of these disturbing incidents, witness statements were taken and national security non-disclosure forms were signed, whereupon the incidents became non-events, known only to a few Office of Special Investigations (OSI) agents, missile wing commanders, and their superiors at Strategic Air Command Headquarters and the Pentagon.
Given the extreme secrecy surrounding these developments, the members of the Condon Committee, scientists in general, and the public as a whole, were completely unaware of them and would remain so for decades to come. Indeed, even today, this information will be news to the great majority of American citizens, not to mention others living all over the planet.
As I readily acknowledged in my book, UFOs and Nukes, my research material does not qualify as scientific data. The testimony offered by my ex-military sources is simply anecdotal evidence, often reluctantly revealed, by dozens of highly-reliable individuals whose professional responsibilities had inadvertently and unexpectedly placed them in a position to experience the UFO phenomenon within an environment inaccessible to most persons. Those who have not worked with nuclear weapons—which is to say the vast majority of us—have obviously had no opportunity to witness UFO activity in such a highly-restricted setting.
Therefore, it seems to me, whether one is a scientist or a layperson, we should all at least listen to what these persons have to say. To automatically dismiss their now-numerous, detailed accounts of UFO encounters at nuclear weapons sites as mere fantasies, or fabrications, is to suggest that those who held the fate of the entire planet in their hands during the Cold War were dangerously demented or otherwise untrustworthy. Surely, this was not the case.
1. McDonald, Dr. James E. “Prepared Statement before the House Committee on Science and Astronautics”, July 29, 1968
2. [Tucson] Daily Citizen, March 1, 1967
3. McDonald, Dr. James E. “Prepared Statement before the House Committee on Science and Astronautics”, July 29, 1968
7. Saunders, Dr. David R. UFOs: Yes! Signet, 1968. p. 189
8. LOOK. “Flying Saucer Fiasco”, May 14, 1968
12. Sturrock, Dr. Peter A. The UFO Enigma: A New Review of the Physical Evidence, Aspect, 1999
15. Hynek, Dr. J. Allen. The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry, Ballentine Books, 1972. p. 217