THE UFO BRIEFING
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U.S. GOVERNMENT UFO PROJECTS & STUDIES
The involvement of the U.S. Government in the UFO mystery dates back to the latter part of World War II, when "foo-fighters" (luminous orbs at night, shiny and reflective in daylight) puzzled Allied airmen by approaching and pacing their aircraft during missions, then suddenly darting away. The objects, though assumed by debriefing intelligence officers to be enemy weapons or observation devices, never posed a threat. Sightings of them were recorded in military unit records, but it is not clear that they were ever systematically studied.
When the first major, well-recorded UFO sighting wave began in July 1947 in the Pacific Northwest, the reports stirred memories of "foo-fighters" among World War II veterans. Once again shiny, maneuverable unidentified objects were reported to be pacing aircraft and widely seen by ground observers as well. When thousands of citizens reported daylight sightings of disc and oval-shaped, apparently metallic objects coursing through the skies, the Army and the spin-off Air Force (formerly Army Air Corps) initiated urgent studies.
At first it was feared that the Soviet Union, despite its bedraggled state, had somehow made a major aeronautical breakthrough - perhaps with the assistance of captured German engineers. At the onset of the Cold War, this posed a threat to U.S. and Allied interests. The initial readings quickly ruled out a Soviet origin, but left an important mystery. These early intelligence findings remained totally secret for many years.
The top-level evaluations produced such conclusions as: "This 'flying saucer' situation is not all imaginary or seeing too much in some natural phenomena. Something is really flying around." "The phenomenon reported is something real and not visionary or fictitious." 144
In October 1947, a U.S. Air Force document classified "secret" included the statement: "...it is the considered opinion of some elements that the object [sic] may in fact represent an interplanetary craft of some kind." 145
In the succeeding years, there were at least six U.S. Air Force projects and studies ostensibly aimed at solving the UFO mystery. Although these studies have been perceived by the news media and important segments of the public as having fully explained UFOs in "prosaic" terms, a closer study reveals their serious flaws and shortcomings. The following brief summaries describe the six studies.
Project Sign was the first U.S. Air Force investigation of UFOs and lasted from January 1948 to April 1949. Based at Wright-Patterson AFB, Dayton, Ohio, it collected several hundred sighting reports from government and non-government sources, and claimed to explain most of them. Due to its unwillingness to accept UFO reports not sent directly to it, the Project Sign files include only a few dozen reports from 1947, while newspapers received more than 1,500 reports in just two weeks.
Project Grudge replaced Project Sign in April 1949. In December 1949, a magazine article on UFOs written by the famous aviation writer, Donald Keyhoe, based on his private investigations and military contacts, elicited enormous media attention. In it, Keyhoe insisted that UFOs were alien spacecraft and that the U.S. Government was keeping this knowledge secret. In response to the furor that Keyhoe's article caused, and to demonstrate that there was nothing to get excited about, the Air Force reduced Project Grudge to a routine intelligence effort. However, in October 1951, Project Grudge was returned to its original status as a special project. This investigation ended in March 1952. The final report suggested that most sightings had been explained. However, a large percentage of the reports were left either unexplained or only conditionally explained.
Project Blue Book
The final open U.S. Air Force UFO investigation took over from Project Grudge in 1952 and lasted until December 1969. By this time, almost 13,000 sighting reports had been collected by all three projects combined. Approximately 600-700 cases remained unexplained (depending on which Air Force statistics are accepted). However, it is notable that hundreds of other cases have been labelled as explained without adequate justification and often in ways counter to known facts. Thousands of reports received conditional explanations (e.g., "possible balloon"; "probable aircraft"). But when the annual statistics were compiled, the qualifiers were dropped and "possible balloons" would become definite balloons, as if speculative answers were established facts.
The project was closed down in late 1969, concluding that the continuation of Project Blue Book "cannot be justified, either on the ground of national security or in the interest of science... A panel of the National Academy of Sciences concurred in these views, and the Air Force has found no reason to question this conclusion." The memorandum recommending this action made it clear that the system which had long dealt with "reports of UFOs which could affect national security would continue to be handled through the standard Air Force procedures designed for this purpose," namely as it had all along - separately, "not part of the Blue Book system and in accordance with JANAP 146 or Air Force Manual 55-11." 146
After the end of Project Blue Book, its case files were opened to public inspection at the Air Force Archives. They were withdrawn in 1974, to reappear in 1976 in the U.S. National Archives, after the names of all witnesses had been censored, thus preventing the reinvestigation of cases.
In late 1952, Project Blue Book director, Capt. Edward J. Ruppelt, ordered a study of all the cases in the files for 1947-1952, under a contract with the Battelle Memorial Institute. The data were supplied by the Air Force, while the conclusions were those of the Battelle scientists. The Air Force issued the final report as "Project Blue Book Special Report No. 14." It was released in 1955, accompanied by an Air Force news release. Although the Air Force stated their own conclusion that there was nothing to warrant interest or concern, this was contrary to the conclusions of the Battelle study. The Battelle scientists had stated that of almost 2,000 reports that were deemed to have sufficient information to permit analysis, 22.8% were judged to be "unexplained," and another 31.3% were judged to be "doubtfully" explained. In total, therefore, 54% of the sightings were said to lack convincing explanations! 147
The Robertson Panel
In July 1952, a major sighting wave occurred and Air Force jet interceptors chased UFOs all over the country. Around Washington, D.C., UFOs were tracked by several radar installations simultaneously, and seen visually from the air and ground. The Central Intelligence Agency apparently became concerned that whether UFOs were real or not, the reports might clog the Nation's intelligence channels, allowing an enemy to attack undetected.
In January 1953, the CIA convened a panel of scientists, chaired by H.P. Robertson, a scientist at Cal Tech, to look at some of the Government's UFO data. The scientists were briefed by an Air Force team. After three days, the panel concluded that its original concern was correct, but that there was no convincing evidence that UFOs themselves were a threat to national security. The panel's recommendation that the Government treat UFOs more openly was never implemented. 148
The Condon Committee
By the mid-1960s the Air Force was becoming increasingly embarrassed by its poorly thought out public statements on UFOs, which were highly criticized by the public. After Congressional hearings were held in response to public complaints, plans were begun to have one or more universities review the Air Force project and study the UFO situation independently. Eventually, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research gave a grant to the University of Colorado for a study to be headed by Dr. Edward U. Condon. From the very beginning, the project was under a cloud of suspicion due to Dr. Condon openly expressing his view in public forums that UFOs were nonsense.
A letter was discovered in the project files in which a prominent leader of the study suggested to university officials that skeptical scientists could be disarmed by assuring them that the study would only appear to be an objective one, and that the researchers were not expecting to find anything significant, in any case. Recently, further documentation has been found which makes it clear that the Air Force was encouraging the university to help them justify closing down Project Blue Book and abandoning open UFO studies. 149
In early 1969, the $500,000 study was completed and the public received a strangely conflicting report, reminiscent of the conflicting Air Force/Battelle statements 15 years earlier. Dr. Condon dismissed UFOs, reporting that they were without substance or significance. In the body of the report, however, more than 30% of the cases were left without satisfactory explanation. In some instances, the University of Colorado scientists made it clear that they were completely baffled by many things, such as sightings in which visual observations were confirmed by radar trackings. 150
The Roswell Crash and Project Mogul
In July 1947, something crashed on a ranch outside of Roswell, New Mexico, giving rise to a long-term controversy: Was it an alien spacecraft, or a weather balloon as claimed by the U.S. Government? At first, the U.S. Army Air Force said it had recovered the remains of a "crashed flying disc," which was an early term for UFOs. This explanation was soon changed to "a weather balloon," which remained the official position for several decades.
Witnesses, interviewed long after the fact, describe debris of several types, including metallic materials of extreme strength and very light weight. They also tell of extraordinarily high security in connection with the recovery and shipment of a large quantity of debris (and in some versions, alien bodies) from the crash site.
In 1994, the U.S. Air Force announced that in fact, the debris was from a cluster of balloons being tested for a long-secret project called Project Mogul, designed to detect nuclear explosions within the Soviet Union. 151
In 1995, the Air Force published an exhaustive 1,000-page report documenting the Mogul balloon project, purporting to prove the Mogul explanation for Roswell. Once again, the Air Force summary conclusions conflict with information in the body of the report. The data clearly indicates that the only test balloon clusters that conceivably could have landed at the ranch near Roswell were never tracked, and so their landing sites remain unknown. Moreover, the balloons consisted only of familiar materials (not exotic metals) and would have quickly decomposed in the hot sun. The balloon clusters were held together by a braided line. The debris described by witnesses at the scene included neither braided line nor standard balloon material.
While the U.S. Air Force unquestionably had the capability to investigate UFOs scientifically, there is no evidence that it has ever done so. Published reports and related documents suggest studies that were hastily done, each time forced by short-term political considerations and public pressures rather than scientific inquiry. The resulting studies were superficial at best, inept at worst.
At various stages of UFO history, the Air
Force high command considered UFOs to be possibly extraterrestrial
spaceships... and at the other extreme an annoying public relations
problem. Even Air Force officers at the Air University, Air Command and
Staff College, wrote reports puzzling over the Air Force position and
raising serious issues about the significance of UFO
144. Air Force Base Intelligence Report, ibid.; Twining, ibid.
145. Shulgen, Brig. Gen. George, ibid.
146. Bollender, Brig. Gen. C.H., ibid.
147. Project Blue Book Special Report 14, ibid.
148. Report of the Scientific Panel on Unidentified Flying Objects - Robertson Panel, January 17, 1953.
149. Memo to E. James Archer and Thurston E. Manning from Robert J. Low, August 9, 1966; Letter to Dr. Condon from Lt. Col. Robert R. Hippler, USAF Science Division, January 16, 1967.
150. Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, "Condon Report."
151. Weaver, Col. Richard L, USAF, ibid.
152. Air Force Research Reports on UFOs, Fund for UFO Research, 1995.
UFO BRIEFING DOC - TABLE OF CONTENTS