Some years after the CIA released what it claimed was its entire collection of UFO-related documents, all of which were classified Secret or lower, it was discovered—as a result of a Freedom of Information request filed by researcher Stanton Friedman—that a National Security Agency (NSA) report referenced Top Secret CIA files on UFOs that had once been shared with NSA. In other words, highly-classified CIA UFO documents, whose very existence is publicly denied by the agency, remain secret to this day.
In view of this revelation, it’s perhaps advisable to examine the history of the CIA’s involvement with UFOs—both officially-acknowledged and recently-exposed. The following is a chapter from my 2008 book, UFOs and Nukes: Extraordinary Encounters at Nuclear Weapons Sites:
~ 26 ~
“It is time for the truth to be brought out in open Congressional hearings...Behind the scenes, high-ranking Air Force officers are soberly concerned about the UFOs, but through official secrecy and ridicule, many citizens are led to believe the unknown flying objects are nonsense. To hide the facts, the Air Force has silenced its personnel.”
—Vice Admiral R. H. Hillenkoetter (Ret.)
Former Director, Central Intelligence Agency
The New York Times, February 28, 1960
Thank you, Admiral Hillenkoetter. I guess we should be thankful that even one former CIA director chose to be truthful about UFOs after leaving the agency. But that was nearly 50 years ago, so don’t hold your breath waiting for the next one. Unfortunately, Hillenkoetter later reversed himself—under pressure from the agency, according to respected UFO researcher Major Donald E. Keyhoe (USMC Ret.)—and withdrew his support for congressional hearings.
Fortunately, another former, high-level CIA employee, Victor Marchetti, has also been candid with the public. As noted in Chapter 8, Marchetti wrote the best-selling book, The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence, which exposed many of the agency’s counterproductive and sometimes illegal activities. More to the point, he also wrote a lengthy article about the CIA’s interest in UFOs, titled, “How the CIA Views the UFO Phenomenon”, which appeared in the May 1979 issue of Second Look magazine. Marchetti said,
There are many myths, few facts, and much speculation about what the CIA knows of the UFO phenomenon. These, combined with the public’s distrust of the clandestine agency, have led to a strong popular belief that the CIA is at the center of a government-wide conspiracy to cover-up the truth about UFOs. It usually follows that the cover-up is designed to keep us ignorant, or at least confused and doubtful, about contacts or visitations by intelligent beings from outer space. Thus, if we only knew what the CIA knows, and is covering up, we would be better able to understand and deal with aliens. And that would be a good thing.1At first glance, it seems almost as if Marchetti is mildly chastising the public for its widely-held perceptions and occasional myth-making about the CIA’s involvement with UFOs. However, he then finished his thought,
I do not know from my own firsthand experience if there are UFOs. I have never seen one. Nor have I seen conclusive, empirical, or physical evidence that they really exist. But, I do know that the CIA and U.S. Government have been concerned over the UFO phenomenon for many years and that their attempts, both past and recent, to discount the significance of the phenomenon and to explain away the apparent lack of official interest in it have all the earmarkings of a classic intelligence cover-up.2Here Marchetti seems to suggest that at least some of the public’s perceptions—as regards an official cover-up—may indeed have merit. And what might the CIA be hiding from the public? Well, that involves a fair amount of guesswork. However, elsewhere in the article, Marchetti writes about the rumors he heard while working at the highest level of the agency, regarding “little gray men whose ships had crashed, or had been shot down.”3 While this statement cannot be taken as proof that the CIA has been involved in the recovery of downed UFOs, or even as evidence that such events have actually occurred—given that Marchetti refers to the reports he heard as “rumors”—it at least confirms that agency employees had discussed, in a serious manner in Marchetti’s presence, the possibility that such recoveries had in fact occurred. But as researcher Mark Rodighier correctly notes, “Rumors are just that, and a serious discussion of rumors is different than a serious discussion of actual documents or knowledge about crashed UFOs.”
Over the years, the CIA has attempted to portray its own role in the U.S. government’s UFO-related activities as a mostly passive one from the early 1950s onward. However, a number of researchers have doubted this carefully-crafted public image, believing it to be a façade designed to conceal a greater, perhaps central, role in the official cover-up. Over time, certain hints, inadvertent slips, and the rare admission by a former agency employee, like Marchetti, have coalesced in a way which suggests an official interest in UFOs far greater than the CIA is willing to acknowledge.
Researcher Barry Greenwood writes,
The possible involvement of the CIA in UFO research has long been a hot topic of controversy. Up until the mid-1970s, the CIA’s response to inquiries about UFOs would be either not to answer or to forward the correspondence to the Air Force for attention. This was not very satisfying to individuals who had heard rumors [about], or had even experienced firsthand, [instances] of the CIA collecting and analyzing information on UFO sightings from around the world. There was little that could be done to gain more information. No legal means existed to force the CIA to answer any questions, let alone release documents.In other words, after telling Ground Saucer Watch that it had no UFO files involving its study of the phenomenon, except for the previously declassified Robertson Panel Report, the CIA—once it had been subjected to legal pressure in federal district court—managed to find some 900 documents in its files, which it eventually released to GSW. (Researcher Jan Aldrich notes that prior to the GSW lawsuit, the CIA had listed a handful of UFO documents in its Declassification Index. Some of those documents were used in the lawsuit to ask the agency about other documents referenced in them.)
When the Freedom of Information Act became law, this means was finally made available to UFO researchers. Initial attempts were not without frustration, however. One of the first organizations to pursue the CIA for UFO documents was Ground Saucer Watch (GSW) of Phoenix Arizona. Headed by William Spaulding, GSW was at the forefront of document research and made great strides in allowing public access to government UFO activities.
A request was filed on July 14, 1975 by GSW...The letter asked for copies of all UFO case investigations/evaluations by the CIA. After a long delay, the CIA responded on March 26, 1976:
‘In order that you may be aware of the true facts concerning the involvement of the CIA in the investigation of UFO phenomena, let me give you the following brief history. Late in 1952, the National Security Council levied upon the CIA the requirement to determine if the existence of UFOs would create a danger to the national security of the United States. The Office of Scientific Intelligence established the Intelligence Advisory Committee [more commonly known as the Robertson Panel] to study the matter. That committee made the recommendations found at the bottom of page 1 and the top four lines of page 2 of the Robertson Panel Report. At no time prior to the formation of the Robertson Panel and subsequent to the issuance of the panel’s report, has the CIA engaged in the study of the UFO phenomenon. The Robertson Panel Report is summation of the Agency’s interest and involvement in the matter.’This, then, was the CIA’s only involvement [with] UFOs, according to the CIA. A much protracted legal battle ensued and resulted in the ultimate release of nearly 900 pages of UFO-related documents...4
Perhaps not surprisingly, at least not to me, a review of these 900 pages leaves one with the impression that, generally, the subject of UFOs was not one the CIA actively pursued, relative to its other intelligence-gathering and analytical activities. And this is precisely the impression the agency wished to convey. The documents included various internal memoranda, a few reports, some low-level files from friendly foreign intelligence services, and even newspaper clippings of UFO sightings overseas. In short, the picture portrayed by this rather paltry collection is that—from its creation in 1947, up to the late 1970s—the agency’s interest in the UFO phenomenon was, with rare exceptions, both peripheral and superficial.
That said, there was among the files a memorandum, dated December 2, 1952, in which the Assistant Director of the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence, Dr. H. Marshall Chadwell, expressed concern about repeated UFO incursions into restricted airspace above various nuclear weapons-related facilities in the early 1950s. Because the memo does not explicitly identify the sites, referring to them only as “major U.S. defense installations”, it’s possible that the importance and sensitivity of the message was overlooked during the agency’s document declassification review.
Regardless, once the memorandum was in the public domain, I began highlighting it’s significance during my presentations on the U.S. college lecture circuit. Interestingly, the memo is not available at the CIA’s website, if one searches for the agency’s declassified UFO documents. Perhaps someone eventually realized the apparent error in declassifying it years ago and quietly pulled it back into the shadows. (It will be recalled that the Defense Nuclear Agency once declassified the deck log of the U.S.S. Curtiss AV-4, during the period of the Operation Castle nuclear tests in the South Pacific, in the spring of 1954. One log entry from April 7th revealed that a UFO had silently buzzed the ship at low altitude. Once that revelation was publicized by researchers, the log mysteriously disappeared from the Department of Energy’s public archives.)
In any case, on the whole, the documents released to Ground Saucer Watch in 1978 suggested that while the CIA had a moderate interest in the U.S. Air Force’s investigation of UFOs, they also seemed to rule out the agency’s involvement in any UFO investigations of its own. Nor was there any evidence to indicate that it had participated in formulating or directing government policies related to the suppression of UFO-related information—i.e. a cover-up. (Even though the CIA’s Robertson Panel Report, released years earlier, had advised implementing a covert program to “debunk” UFOs as a credible topic, using mass media to spread the message, and also recommended a government infiltration and spying operation against UFO research groups.)
But the self-portrait of CIA non-involvement with UFOs, as painted for GSW, is highly misleading. As I wrote earlier in this book, “The selective declassification of UFO-related information by the U.S. government has been routinely utilized for decades to steer public perception in a certain direction. It’s commonly called ‘spin.’ The purpose of this propaganda tactic is to change the actual story of official interest in the UFO phenomenon, so that it appears as if there exists only minimal concern, or none at all.”
In this particular instance, all of the documents grudgingly released by the CIA—after the agency initially denied their existence—were classified SECRET or lower. Not a single TOP SECRET, or above, UFO-related document held by the CIA was declassified. “Or above” simply means any file designated TOP SECRET/Code Word, thereby restricting access to it by those CIA employees who hold not only a Top Secret clearance, but who also have a need-to-know about the project or operation with that specific code name.
One of those directly involved in the effort to access the CIA’s UFO documents, the late W. Todd Zechel, said that in the course of the legal action against the agency, Ground Saucer Watch’s attorney, Peter Gersten, had been informed by the CIA’s attorneys that some 10,000 pages of UFO-related documents been located. Although only an estimate, this number was nevertheless much higher—by a factor of ten—than the 1000 or so pages ultimately released to GSW. In an article written years later, Zechel described the unsatisfying outcome. Referring to himself in the third-person, he writes,
W. Todd Zechel [is the] founder of Citizens Against UFO Secrecy (CAUS) and [a] UFO researcher specializing in government cover-up. Zechel had initiated a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the CIA in September 1977, in conjunction with Peter Gersten, a New York attorney, and Ground Saucer Watch, a Phoenix-based UFO group for which Zechel was Director of Research. In December 1978 the suit resulted in the CIA releasing more than a thousand documents it had claimed didn’t exist prior to the suit…So there the matter rested. Due to a legal technicality, there would be no appeal of the CIA’s very limited and apparently highly-selective release of UFO-related files. The first verifiable confirmation that the CIA did indeed have TOP SECRET or above UFO documents occurred in the early 1980s, after a subsequent legal action against the National Security Agency (NSA) by the group founded but no longer headed by Zechel, Citizens Against UFO Secrecy, revealed that the CIA had sent the NSA 23 UFO-related files over the years, some of them classified TOP SECRET/Code Word. In the mid-1980s, researcher Stanton Friedman used the FOIA to access four of them. He writes, “It took me two years to get nine of [the 23 documents]...They were unclassified English translations of Eastern European newspaper articles about UFOs. It took another three years in response to my appeal to get four more, [which were] very heavily censored CIA TOP SECRET/Code Word UFO documents. On two, one could read only eight words that weren’t blacked out. One said ‘DENY in TOTO!’”6
The CIA had been ordered to search all of its files for UFO-related documents and make a full accounting of them. This Stipulation and Order was in accordance with an agreement Zechel and Gersten had worked out with the CIA’s attorney and a U.S. Attorney at a Status Call hearing on the suit on July 7, 1978. It was then that Zechel had, in a rather forceful manner, threatened to have CIA officials criminally prosecuted for issuing false replies to FOIA requests on UFOs. Faced with this, the CIA had backed down and agreed to cooperate. However, subsequently the CIA only accounted for 1,000 documents and claimed to be withholding a mere 57...
Statements were made by CIA representatives during the course of the suit, [whereby] attorney Gersten was led to believe [that] in excess of 10,000 documents would be made available. There was also a letter to Zechel from the CIA’s FOIA staff asking him to suspend action on a particular request, stating, ‘1,000 pages of additional UFO related documents have just been located’ and were being processed.
It was also clear from analyzing the documents released on December 15, 1978, that the CIA was continuing to be deceptive. Brad Sparks, a researcher with CAUS, found references in the released material to more than 200 other UFO-related documents which the CIA had failed to acknowledge. Moreover, it was evident the CIA had carefully selected the documents it released, even with heavy censorship. The CIA only accounted for documents related to matters Zechel and Sparks had uncovered during their investigation of CIA involvement, and excluded many others such as conclusions of its emergency studies of UFOs in 1952, 1957, 1965, 1967, and others. These studies were carried out in secret, utilizing Domestic Contact Service (a.k.a. Domestic Collection Division) agents, during a number of UFO flaps and in conjunction with the Condon Committee study (1966-68).
A Missed Opportunity
In March 1979, after the CIA filed deceptive affidavits with the court about its purported search of files, Gersten set out to file an Order to Show Cause Why the CIA Should Not Be Held in Contempt of Court. The Show Cause order asked the court to penalize the CIA for failing to comply with the Stipulation and Order agreed to in 1978...
Zechel had [learned in the course of conversations with former agency employees that] the CIA had been conducting secret studies of UFOs since 1952, and perhaps even before that, and had utilized high-tech cameras, sensing devices and a nationwide field staff of agents who became covert operatives in 1973…
The Order to Show Cause was filed one day late and thrown out of court when the U.S. District Court judge upheld the CIA’s Out of Time motion. The CIA had been 88 days late with its filing, surpassing a 60 day extension by 28 days. But that mattered not to Judge John Pratt, whose rulings had been reversed five times in the past by higher courts for decisions unfairly favorable to the CIA...5
In short, at the present time, there are for all practical purposes no CIA Top Secret or above UFO-related documents in the public domain. Moreover, there is no real assurance that the CIA actually released all of its SECRET or lesser-classified UFO documents in response to the GSW lawsuit. After all, the CIA initially lied to GSW’s attorney when it told him that the agency had no more UFO documents. Only when legal action was threatened did the CIA finally release a relatively small number of files (after its attorneys admitted that the agency had a much larger number) most of which were thoroughly innocuous. Even then, the agency continued to hide that fact that it had sent a number of TOP SECRET/Code Word UFO documents to the NSA. That fact was not uncovered until years later, and only after another lawsuit. And even then, when copies of those documents were finally released to Stanton Friedman, they were censored to the point of uselessness.
Regarding the probable futility of another lawsuit against the CIA, UFO researcher Bruce Maccabee has written, “Both the CIA and later NSA lawsuits showed that the government could appeal to ‘national security’ to withhold documents. There was no reason to believe that the same excuses wouldn’t be used again to protect the ‘really good stuff’ we wanted. In other words, [the CIA] might locate some more, even many more, documents and simply refuse to release them all or in part for national security reasons...”7
Regardless, in view of the agency’s documented track record of denial and obfuscation, should we the public really believe any official CIA pronouncement about its supposedly superficial and intermittent involvement with UFOs?
This question gets right to the heart of the matter, as regards the nukes-related UFO incidents. In light of the extensive testimony provided by my ex-Air Force sources—regarding UFOs disrupting nuclear missiles or, worse, temporarily activating them—it seems a virtual certainty that the CIA would have been informed of these incidents, given their obvious and immediate impact on the national security of the United States.
If this contention has merit, and in my view it does, the classification of such information would have been very high, at least SECRET and possibly higher, given its extraordinary sensitivity. I already know that after the Malmstrom AFB missile shutdown incidents in March 1967, the Air Force launch officers involved were debriefed and told that the incidents were classified SECRET. And that was just the initial classification level assigned to the shutdowns. It’s not out of the question that once the debriefing data were evaluated by higher-ups at SAC or the Pentagon, an even higher rating was assigned to the incidents. This last scenario, while admittedly speculative, is neither unreasonable nor unprecedented.
Some will dispute my contention that the Air Force would have provided the CIA with information about UFO activity at nuclear weapons sites in the first place, either because it was strictly a military matter, or because of the now well-documented inter-governmental rivalries that existed during the Cold War era, which precluded the sharing of vital information on many occasions—often at the country’s expense. (For example the notorious CIA-FBI rivalry during J. Edgar Hoover’s long tenure at the bureau and, more recently, when the two intelligence groups failed to share important information about the Islamic terrorists involved in 9/11, before the attacks occurred.)
However, considering the many nuclear weapons-related UFO incidents presented in this book—which clearly have national security implications in the most naked, fundamental manner—for one to argue that the CIA would have no documents relating to such events is to suggest one of two things:
1) Either the U.S. military successfully kept this monumentally-important information from the primary agency tasked with collating national security intelligence during the entire Cold War era.While some might be able to accept one of these scenarios as credible, I simply cannot. Therefore, in my view, it is almost a given that SECRET and/or TOP SECRET documents relating to UFO activity at nuclear weapons sites continue to be held by the CIA. Needless to say, if such documents do indeed exist, they will not be available for public scrutiny anytime soon.
2) Or the CIA—upon being informed about the apparent disruption or temporary activation of our nuclear missiles by those piloting the UFOs—simply shrugged and said, “That’s the military’s problem,” and thereafter circulated no SECRET or TOP SECRET memos about those incidents, and wrote no SECRET or TOP SECRET reports about them to be delivered to, for example, the President during his daily, highly-classified intelligence briefing prepared by the agency’s Directorate of Intelligence.
In the interim, American citizens, and the rest of humanity, are left only with the tantalizing statements by two credible sources regarding the CIA’s direct involvement in at least one nuclear weapons-related UFO incident. As noted in an earlier chapter, former Air Force officers, Dr. Bob Jacobs and Dr. Florenze Mansmann, both adamantly insist that CIA agents confiscated an astounding motion picture film showing a UFO shooting down a dummy nuclear warhead with beams of light, during a missile test in September 1964—the so-called Big Sur Incident.
Nothing in the 1000 or so documents released by the CIA in the late 1970s would indicate the agency’s involvement with, or even knowledge of, that extraordinary case. Nevertheless, the two officers at Vandenberg AFB who were directly involved unequivocally stand by their accounts of CIA intervention. According to then Major Mansmann, there was absolutely no doubt about who was in control, calling the shots, and impressing upon everyone present the importance of absolute secrecy. Mansmann has written that the incident was classified TOP SECRET. Therefore, presumably, the CIA has to have at least one TOP SECRET UFO case document, and the accompanying motion picture film, in its files. Efforts by researchers over the years to access the film have met with blanket denials from the agency about its existence.
The important point here is that if the CIA’s official stance is factual—regarding its supposedly passive, or even non-role in the ongoing collection and simultaneous suppression of UFO data—then it should not have been interested in the Big Sur incident at all, deferring instead to the Air Force. But the former Air Force officers directly involved in the case continue to say otherwise. For example, in the early 1980s, Mansmann—after confirming in writing, on numerous occasions, former Lieutenant Jacobs’ published account of the UFO incident—also expressed concern about possible repercussions to himself from “the agency involved” in the confiscation of the film because of his willingness to substantiate Jacobs’ story.
(When considering the CIA’s supposedly limited role in the UFO cover-up, one might also consider the statements of retired high-level FAA official John Callahan, who unequivocally states that a CIA agent confiscated radar tapes and voice communications data relating to the sighting of a huge UFO in Alaska in 1987 and angrily ordered that the incident be kept secret to prevent public panic.)
In any case, the ongoing controversy among researchers, regarding the degree to which the CIA has been involved in monitoring—and perhaps even coordinating the government’s covert response to UFOs—is unlikely to be resolved in the near future.
In 1994, the CIA authorized the publication of an official history of its involvement with UFOs, condensed into a 17-page article by the CIA’s own historian, Gerald K. Haines. The piece appeared in Studies in Intelligence, a classified journal accessible to members of the intelligence community. Titled, “CIA’s Role in the Study of UFOs, 1947–90,” it appeared in the unclassified edition of the journal in 1997.
If Haines was not ordered to be intentionally disingenuous, it seems evident he was largely kept in the dark by his superiors at the agency, and was given a highly selective cross-section of files from which to construct his “history.” His article was probably intended as an exercise in spin. If so, it succeeded completely, if one reviews the generally uncritical, naïve, almost slavish acceptance by the U.S. media of Haines’ summation as something actually resembling reliable history.
The sanitized version of history offered by the CIA’s in-house historian is a combination of old news—publicized long ago, at least within ufological circles—and patently ridiculous claims (e.g. CIA officials who worked on the U–2 and SR-71 spy plane projects claimed that over half of all UFO reports from the late 1950s through the 1960s were the result of manned reconnaissance flights over the United States.)
Noted ufologist Mark Rodighier’s excellent critique of Haines’ article is available online.8 Rodighier is the Scientific Director for the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) and, while I disagree with some of his assessments, he neatly dissects Haines’ own naiveté, personal unfamiliarity with the UFO phenomenon, and probably predictable face-value acceptance of the materials he was provided with by agency higher-ups to review. Needless to say, no Top Secret or above UFO-related documents were handed to Haines to include in his “history.” Rodeghier writes,
When the press learned about the Haines study, the attention was dramatic...The media generally focused on two aspects of the Haines article. In a brief section entitled ‘CIA’s U–2 and OXCART as UFOs,’ Haines claims that many UFO sightings in the late 1950s and 1960s were actually misidentified secret American spy planes. Moreover, he alleges that the Air Force’s Project Blue Book was in on this cover-up, purposely misled the public, and falsified (Haines didn’t use that word but that is plainly what the Air Force would be doing) UFO explanations. This is important news if true, and the media rightly played up this angle…Note that the CIA is not accused of deception by Haines; rather, it is the Air Force that willingly concocted the bogus explanations…Not surprisingly, there is no mention of nuclear weapons-related UFO incidents in Haines’ CIA-authorized history, or any of the “very sensitive activities” involving UFOs alluded to by disaffected CIA official Victor Marchetti—in his far-more-cogent, if way-too-brief 1979 article on the agency’s actual, ongoing, deadly-serious interest in UFOs.
Press coverage focused on the [CIA’s Robertson Panel’s] recommendations that UFO reports be debunked (a policy Blue Book followed assiduously after 1953), that UFO groups be watched, and that there was a danger the Soviets might use UFOs to clog the channels of communication and then launch a nuclear attack. The deception about our spy planes was just a small part of this strategy.9
Even if Marchetti had not resigned from the CIA in 1969, the agency would never have asked him to write a history of its involvement with UFOs. Unlike Gerald Haines, he would have undoubtedly asked too many questions regarding the highly-selective, very limited data he was given to peruse. (I can imagine old Victor asking, “So, guys, where are all of the TOP SECRET UFO documents?”) That said, perhaps Haines can be forgiven for the often misleading article he wrote. After all, he was never privy to the hushed discussions about UFOs that took place at the highest levels of the CIA—the ones later publicly alluded to by Marchetti.
Speaking of official history versus actual history, another notable article by Marchetti, titled, “Propaganda and Disinformation: How the CIA Manufactures History”, was published by the Journal of Historical Review, in 2001. He writes,
The CIA is a master at distorting history—even creating its own version of history to suit its institutional and operational purposes...The real reason for the official secrecy, in most instances, is not to keep the opposition (the CIA’s euphemistic term for the enemy) from knowing what is going on; the enemy usually does know. The basic reason for governmental secrecy is to keep you, the American public, from knowing—for you, too, are considered the opposition, or enemy—so that you cannot interfere. When the public does not know what the government or the CIA is doing, it cannot voice its approval or disapproval of their actions. In fact, they can even lie to you about what they are doing or have done, and you will not know it...Marchetti was obviously ahead of the curve in exposing CIA abuses and follies, as the public now knows. Over the last few decades, other former intelligence agency employees and government officials have come forward to decry the agency’s questionable policies and practices which clearly deserve public scrutiny and greater congressional oversight. While no ex-CIA official has yet elaborated—at least candidly and at length—on Marchetti’s intriguing comments regarding the agency’s involvement with UFOs, other persons with CIA contacts have.
The CIA, functioning as a secret instrument of the U.S. government and the presidency, has long misused and abused history and continues to do so. I first became concerned about this historical distortion in 1957, when I was a young officer in the Clandestine Services of the CIA.
One night, after work, I was walking down Constitution Avenue with a fellow officer, who previously had been a reporter for United Press.
‘How are they ever going to know,’ he asked.
‘Who? How is who ever going to know what?’ I asked.
‘How are the American people ever going to know what the truth is? How are they going to know what the truth is about what we are doing and have done over the years?’ he said. ‘We operate in secrecy, we deal in deception and disinformation, and then we burn our files. How will the historians ever be able to learn the complete truth about what we’ve done in these various operations, these operations that have had such a major impact on so many important events in history?’
I couldn’t answer him then. And I can’t answer him now. I don’t know how the American people will ever really know the truth about the many things that the CIA has been involved in. Or how they will ever know the truth about the great historical events of our times. The government is continually writing and rewriting history—often with the CIA’s help—to suit its own purposes...
If the public were aware of what the CIA is doing, it might say: ‘We don’t like what you’re doing—stop it!’ Or, ‘You’re not doing a good job—stop it!’ The public might ask for an accounting for the money being spent and the risks being taken.
Thus secrecy is absolutely vital to the CIA. Secrecy covers not only operations in progress, but continues after the operations, particularly if the operations have been botched. Then they have to be covered up with more lies, which the public, of course, can’t recognize as lies, allowing the CIA to tell the public whatever it wishes.
Presidents love this. Every president, no matter what he has said before getting into office, has been delighted to learn that the CIA is his own private tool. The presidents have leapt at the opportunity to keep Congress and the public in the dark about their employment of the agency.
This is what was at the basis of my book, The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence. I had come to the conclusion, as a member of the CIA, that many of our policies and practices were not in the best interests of the United States, but were in fact counterproductive, and that if the American people were aware of this they would not tolerate it...10
W. Todd Zechel, perhaps the person most responsible for the release of the relatively few CIA UFO documents currently available, died in 2006. In one of his last published articles, he summarized his 30-year investigation of the agency’s involvement with the UFO phenomenon.
Zechel’s history, although unofficial and incomplete, is almost certainly closer to the truth than anything offered by the agency itself. He wrote in part,
Although the United States Air Force (USAF) has been a great deal less than candid and forthright about UFOs over the years, especially in view of the fact the Air Force is charged with defending the country’s air space, it appears that it was the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) which orchestrated a policy of deception in order to prevent the American people from learning the truth about UFOs.In other words, according to Todd Zechel, the CIA has been running the show since 1958, at least as far as the collection and analysis of scientific intelligence on UFOs is concerned.
A formerly SECRET report (the so-called Robertson Panel Report) released under the Freedom of Information Act shows that CIA officials and consultants thought people seeing and reporting UFOs was more dangerous than UFOs themselves, stating, ‘the continued emphasis on the reporting of these phenomena (UFOs) does, in these perilous times, result in a threat to the orderly functioning of the protective organs of the body politic.’
Another ‘danger’ cited by the CIA panel was that acknowledging UFOs could result in ‘...the cultivation of a morbid national psychology in which hostile propaganda could induce hysterical behavior and a harmful distrust of duly constituted authority.’ To counter these supposed dangers, the CIA panel recommended a policy of ‘debunking’ and education designed to persuade people that what they were seeing really wasn’t there.
In explaining how this psychological warfare against the American people should be carried out, the report stated: ‘The debunking aim would result in reduction of public interest in ‘flying saucers’ which today evokes a strong psychological reaction. This education could be accomplished by mass media such as television, motion pictures and popular articles.’
The panel had further ideas on how what was essentially a disinformation program should be mounted, stating: ‘It was felt strongly that psychologists familiar with mass psychology should advise on the nature and extent of the program.’ The report went on to name certain psychologists who might be recruited to join the debunking project.
The formation of the CIA panel came about as a sort of compromise worked out by the National Security Council (NSC) after events in the summer of 1952. A major UFO flap had taken place across the country, highlighted by puzzling incidents in July 1952, when UFO intruders were simultaneously tracked on ground radar and observed by jet interceptor pilots over the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. The public, the press, and even President Harry Truman demanded to know what was going on. As a result, the US Air Force held a major press conference on July 29, 1952, the largest press conference since WW II, at which it was suggested the UFOs were temperature inversions—layers of warm air trapped under cold air that, by some giant stretch of the Air Force’s imagination, were tracked on radar and seen as maneuvering flying craft by pilots sent aloft on scramble alert.
In August 1952, as documents released as the result of the FOIA suit filed by the author confirm, the CIA began reviewing the Air Force’s handling of UFOs. Ransom Eng, an official with the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence, wrote a report in which he characterized the Air Force’s efforts as ‘scientifically invalid.’ Armed with these criticisms, the CIA wanted to take charge of UFO intelligence (the collection and analysis of UFO evidence), and proposed, through CIA Director Walter Bedell Smith, that UFOs were much too serious of a matter to be left in the hands of the USAF. The National Security Council, however, would only approve a compromise whereby a CIA-appointed panel would review UFO reports provided by the Air Force to determine if UFOs were a ‘direct, hostile threat to national security.’
...In January 1953 the CIA’s Robertson Panel—mostly consulting scientists of the CIA’s chosen to review the UFO evidence selected by the USAF—rejected the conclusions of the U.S. government’s top photo analysts from the Naval Photographic Interpretation Center (NAVPIC), at Anacostia, Maryland, Capt. Arthur Lundahl and Lt. Robert Neasham, who had concluded the objects in two 8mm UFO films submitted to the Air Force and examined by the CIA Panel were extraterrestrial spacecraft. Both men were reportedly emotionally shattered by the Panel’s rejection of their studied conclusions.
But within a matter of days, Lundahl and Neasham were invited by the CIA to resign their Navy officers’ commissions and come over to the CIA as civilians and establish the CIA’s National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC) at 5th and K Streets in Washington, D.C., with Lundahl serving as the founding Director for the next twenty years and Neasham as his top assistant...
The mastermind of what was to become the U.S. government’s UFO policy and author of the CIA’s Robertson Panel Report, which found that UFOs did not pose ‘a direct, hostile threat to National Security,’ was Fred Durant, an officer with the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI) who at the time was operating under the cover of being a civilian scientist employed by the Arthur Little Co. In fact, in August 1952, Durant, claiming to represent a small group of ‘concerned scientists’ (actually CIA officers) had approached USAF Captain Ed Ruppelt, Commanding Officer of the Air Force’s UFO ‘study,’ Project Blue Book, and USAF Major Dewey Fournet, the Pentagon’s liaison to Blue Book. Most revealingly, the CIA had found it necessary to spy on the Air Force in order to find out what it had collected on UFOs, and Fred Durant had been the perfect man for the secret mission...
The CIA Takes Control
The U.S. Air Force (USAF) began collecting UFO data in mid-1947, shortly after the first civilian sightings of ‘flying saucers’ were reported. The initial study was code-named Project Sign. This was changed to Project Grudge in 1948. In December 1949 the Air Force issued a ‘Grudge’ report in an attempt to have saucer sightings dismissed as post-war or Cold War jitters, then closed down the official study program. However, in early 1951, the Commanding General of Air Force Intelligence at the Pentagon, Gen. Charles P. Cabell, secretly requested UFO studies to be reopened, and in 1952 the revitalized UFO study was assigned the code-name Project Blue Book. [Its formal name was] the Aerial Phenomena Group of the Air Technical Intelligence Center (ATIC) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio. Air Force Intelligence at the Pentagon designated a senior officer to be liaison to Project Blue Book.
After the fiasco of July 1952, in which the USAF ‘suggested’ at a major press conference that the multiple UFO chases involving jet interceptors after the UFOs were tracked on ground radar were just ‘temperature inversions’ and the shameful American newspapers ran screaming headlines that (uncritically) proclaimed ‘AIR FORCE DEBUNKS UFOS AS JUST NATURAL PHENOMENA,’ the CIA tried to grab control over UFO intelligence away from what it perceived as an irresponsible USAF. But the National Security Council wasn’t willing to embarrass the Air Force by taking away [its authority to investigate] the UFO problem.
The next big UFO flap started in early November 1957, when landed UFOs as large as 200 feet in diameter were observed near Levelland, Texas, by credible witnesses, including law enforcement officers. After a quick visit, an Air Force Intelligence officer [sic] dismissed the incidents as resulting from ‘ball lightning.’ This absurd explanation angered the local Texas residents and witnesses, many of whom held responsible positions in local government. Powerful U.S. Senator Lyndon Johnson (D-Tex), then Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was contacted by the outraged Texas citizens from Levelland, and he asked the CIA to conduct a secret investigation, since it was clear the USAF was dropping the ball and just trying to protect its own ass. At one point, in November 1957, CIA Director Allen Dulles phoned Dr. Knox Milsap, then the Chief Scientist at White Sands Missile Range, in New Mexico, at 4 A.M. (local time), to request an investigation of a reported (to the CIA) UFO landing in the nearby Organ Mountains. According to Dulles, a civilian had reportedly snapped photos of the landed UFO and the CIA had an urgent need to obtain the photos for its emergency study.
As part of the November 1957 emergency UFO study, the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI) ‘levied a requirement’ (sent out an order) to the CIA’s Domestic Contact Service (DCS), which had offices in 35 to 40 larger cities across America. The Domestic Contact Service was part of the CIA’s Intelligence Directorate (DDI), and agents would normally show CIA IDs and say they were collecting intelligence for the CIA. (As opposed to the CIA’s Directorate of Plans—DDP—which was the clandestine or covert branch and utilized ‘back-stopped’ covers provided by the Central Cover Staff.)
After its emergency study, CIA officials once again came to the conclusion the Air Force was arbitrarily and capriciously explaining away UFO reports that might have important scientific or intelligence value. With Senator Lyndon Johnson’s support, the CIA again proposed to the National Security Council that it be given control of UFO studies.
This time the NSC secretly concurred, reportedly issuing an intelligence directive (NSCID) in early 1958, granting control of all scientific intelligence—which included the collection and analysis of UFO data—to the Central Intelligence Agency. The USAF was in turn relegated to the control of technical Intelligence, such as the collection and analysis of data pertaining to aircraft advances by the Soviet Union.
Although the Air Force continued to operate Project Blue Book until it was disbanded in 1969, Blue Book was not in the loop for classified intelligence reports on UFOs that were originated under JANAP 146E or CIRVIS reporting instructions for American defense forces, whereas the CIA was a primary recipient of such messages and reports...11
(Researcher Jan Aldrich disputes Zechel’s unequivocal statement regarding Blue Book being out of the loop for intelligence reports originated under JANAP 146E or CIRVIS, saying, “Project Blue Book did receive a large number of CIRVIS and MERINT reports. Maybe they didn’t receive all such reports, but Blue Book and the 4602d AISS have such reports in their files.”12 CIRVIS reports dealt with airborne UFO sightings by military pilots; MERINT reports related to sightings by U.S. Naval personnel.)
Zechel’s research into the CIA’s covert, UFO-related activities was often augmented by information gleaned from former agency insiders with whom he had developed something vaguely resembling personal relationships. During several visits with him in the 1980s, he provided me with a great many details—far more than I can present here—relating to various conversations he had with those persons.
To be entirely candid, Zechel audio taped most of those discussions without the other person’s knowledge. His view was that the importance of the information he was gathering outweighed the legal and moral questions surrounding the surreptitious recording of other persons without their prior consent. I am in no way defending or justifying Todd’s actions here; I am simply stating facts.
Nevertheless, Zechel’s investigations into the extent of the CIA’s actual involvement with UFOs are considered to be without peer by many researchers, including myself. While he was never able to mount a follow-up lawsuit against the agency—in an effort to force the release of the CIA’s TOP SECRET UFO documents—Todd’s initial work in the late 1970s (together with researcher Brad Sparks and attorney Peter Gersten) was a milestone of sorts, and remains a testament to one American citizen’s attempt to learn what his government was hiding from the public on this monumentally-important subject.
In my view, Zechel’s research convincingly paints a picture of CIA involvement in the collection and analysis of UFO data which is clearly at odds with the official portrait offered by the agency itself. While the CIA’s carefully-reinforced public image is one of occasional agency concern over certain UFO sighting reports—all of them occurring long ago, of course—and involvement in a few low-level studies, Zechel’s work has revealed a much broader and far more authoritative CIA role in the official U.S. government cover-up of UFOs.
1. Marchetti, Victor. “How the CIA views the UFO Phenomenon”, Second Look, Vol. 1, No. 7, May 1979
4. Greenwood, Barry and Fawcett, Lawrence. Clear Intent: The Government Cover-up of the UFO Experience, Prentice-Hall Inc., 1984, pp. 112-13
10. Marchetti, Victor. “Propaganda and Disinformation: How the CIA Manufactures History”, Journal of Historical Review, Vol.20. No.1, 2001
12. Jan Aldrich to Robert Hastings, personal communication, May 28, 2008
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