Sunday, February 13, 2011

It’s Amazing MUFON’s Still Around

It’s Amazing MUFON’s Still Around

By Billy Cox
De Void

Billy Cox     Big-time food fight going down with the nation’s oldest functional UFO investigations outfit, and volunteers like Kristen Winslett are calling for the whole thing to be dismantled. A financial analyst in her real job, the Hackettstown, N.J., resident takes her work with the Mutual UFO Network seriously. At least, she did until she resigned last August.

Winslett, a number-crunching field investigator for the New Jersey chapter since 2008, got torqued when someone went in behind her last year and started monkeying with the database. Without consulting her, the culprit allegedly ignored her detailed eyewitness sighting reports and arbitrarily reclassified a number of New Jersey cases she’d closed out from explained to unknown. When Winslett drew it to the attention of another official, she was scolded for denying administrator access to the alleged perp without getting permission from higher authority.

“Now the whole file is contaminated as far as I’m concerned,” says Winslett. “We have a serious credibility issue here.”

That’s just one example, but the caca hit the fan in a big way a few weeks ago when details of MUFON’s 2009 contract with major benefactor Robert Bigelow were leaked on the Internet. The jillionaire founder of Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies (BAASS) agreed to invest $672,000 in MUFON for third-party access to whatever its rapid-response teams recovered. Eight months into the experiment, Bigelow yanked the balance of his funds because of MUFON’s apparent failure to comply with the exacting paperwork.

A lot of members howled over what they felt were draconian contract terms. Several, like former Utah MUFON director Elaine Douglass, accuse the nonprofit group of perpetuating a good ol’ boy hierarchy and want to institute “due process with democratically elected board members.” They’ve organized The Committee to Reform MUFON.

“Did Bigelow go into the database and siphon off the best cases?” she wonders from her home in Utah. “There’s a question of basic judgement here.”

De Void really doesn’t have the patience for this. Angelia Joiner and Frank Warren had a decent online discussion with the central characters Thursday night. What cultural anthropologists might find more remarkable is how a volunteer organization of this nature, which now counts 2,800 members, hasn’t watermelon-splattered after 42 years of egos, fiefdoms and turf wars.

“It’s maddening. I was so glad when I retired from that job,” says former International Director John Schuessler, a MUFON founder in 1969. “You’re working with volunteers with varying levels of education and sophistication, they pay the International Director a pittance, just a token salary, really, and he’s expected to work seven days a week, 24 hours a day, with the kind of responsibilities that would be worth $150,000 a year in any other field.”

Although he didn’t work the BAASS contract, Schuessler reviewed it and says Bigelow “absolutely, unequivocally” did not have administrator database access. As a MUFON board member, he doesn’t blame Bigelow for revoking the contract because “it wasn’t audited right.” But he doesn’t blame the group for going after the money, either. If only MUFON had a benefactor like, oh, say, Paul Allen, who’s poured more than $20 million into SETI radiotelescopes.

“A lot of people think it’s silly for him to have given so much money to SETI, but I don’t think it’s silly. I think it’s worthwhile,” Schuessler says from his home in Littleton, Colo. “And he hasn’t controlled SETI.

“But if we had $20 million, we’d probably be scared to touch it,” he adds. “A lot of people would say Paul Allen was trying to buy MUFON. Frankly, I wouldn’t care. I’m not a conspiracy buff; I just want answers to this thing.”

Meanwhile, UFO reports keep rolling in. And mankind remains the same as it ever was — a pain in the ass.

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