By Eric Vandenbroeck 30 June 2021
Interest in the idea that alien beings might be visiting Earth from off-planet has skyrocketed in recent years, particularly after the Pentagon verified that several videos showing what look to be objects moving at incredible speeds and with remarkable agility had indeed come from official U.S. Navy sources.
Kenneth Arnold (as detailed below) was the first person who came to 'fame' by claiming to have seen a number of UFOs seemed to understand this better than most that if anything he not seen a real craft. Instead, he suggested that “flying saucers are living things that dwell in the earth’s atmosphere, ‘becoming visible at certain stages in their life cycle.’ - “It’s the way they move,” he insisted. “It’s more like something alive than a mechanical craft.” He believed these living bodies could blink into apparent nothingness depending on various biological and environmental factors. “We know that water can disappear into the air in the form of water vapor and then reappear,” he told The Oregonian. “Some creatures in the sea can make themselves visible or invisible at will. Why not creatures in the air?”
Americans, including various people in other countries, are ready to believe. A 2019 Gallup Poll found that a third of U.S. adults agreed with the idea that "some UFOs have been alien spacecraft visiting Earth from other planets or galaxies."
Thus much has been made about the de-classified government report on UFOs issued on Friday whereby even Politico published an article that spins a conspiracy theory. Since the UFO report doesn't include everything the writer wants, he asserts (w/o proof) that there is "undoubtedly" hidden "information" withheld from the UFO task force and asks for Congress to seek answers.
A lot has been made of an unusual provision in a pandemic relief bill passed last year that required government agencies to provide an analysis of “unidentified aerial phenomena,” or, in layman’s terms, UFOs. The ensuing report out Friday, however, rains on the parade of those who hoped the military would determine there was alien activity on Earth: It found no evidence that UFOs are alien in origin.
Except on Fox news last night:
While the above mentioned report is the result of lobbying from UFO advocates, the actual report was written by a small number of career staffers with no known connection to UFO advocacy. While there were a few takeaways that believers see as sensational, the overall tone is one of concern that the lack of evidence leads to potentially faulty conclusions. The task force seems to have conducted only secondary research, reviewing testimony and sensor reports, but conducting no original research. There is also no mention of consulting relevant outside experts, or even of studying the sensors detecting the vast majority of so-called encounters. Overall, the report is highly provisional and better serves as a call for a new UFO program, something the Pentagon quickly implemented, and a brief for more funding, more defense contracts, and more consultants.
As already reported as far back as 2019 by the Washington insider publication The Hill the areas of research that were being funded by the program seemed to be things out of “Star Trek.” One grant was for the study of “Traversable Wormholes, Stargates, and Negative Energy” conducted by Eric W. Davis of EarthTech International Inc. Another grant was for the study of “Invisibility Cloaking” by German scientist Ulf Leonhardt, at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. Yet another area of study was “Warp Drive, Dark Energy, and the Manipulation of Extra Dimensions” conducted by Richard Obousy, a theoretical physicist and director of the nonprofit Icarus Interstellar.
In an article posted on 22 May 2021, about Senator Harry Reid and Robert Bigelow we described how the money for the government report on UFOs delivered to Congress on Friday as a landmark sign that this previously fringe topic has gained mainstream acceptance and thoroughly debunked the most crucial item in the report (the same item that is now also mentioned in Politico 6/25/2021 article as pictured above).
In 1995, Bigelow founded the National Institute for Discovery Science to research and advance study of various fringe sciences and paranormal topics, most notably ufology. The organization researched cattle mutilation and black triangle reports, ultimately attributing the latter to the military. The top man at NIDS is a familiar name to anyone who ever waded into these esoteric topics: Retired U.S. Army Col. John B. Alexander, the real-life psychic Jedi warrior in Jon Ronson’s book The Men Who Stare At Goats. Alexander is called “Col. Harold E. Phillips” in longtime Vanity Fair reporter Howard Blum’s book about Reagan-era UFO hunting by the Pentagon, Out There The Government’s Secret Quest for Extraterrestrials. The rest of the NIDS crew had similarly spooky backgrounds.
In December 2017, Bigelow was reported by the New York Times to have urged Senator Harry Reid to initiate what became the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, a government study tasked with the study of UFOs. According to the New York Times, Bigelow said he was “absolutely convinced” that aliens exist and have visited Earth. In June 2020, Bigelow founded the Bigelow Institute for Consciousness Studies to support investigations into life after death. In January 2021, he put up an award of $1 million for anyone who could demonstrate the existence of life after death.
From esotericism to alleged Science
In fact, the same people that are currently into UFOs are the same kind of people that were driving this movement in the late 1940s (where also there already the Pentagon started its Project Sign, out of concern that such sightings could be advanced Soviet weapons) to 60' and '70s. So in this article, we will point out some of the sources that might have led people like Robert Bigelow and others to 'believe'.
During this era, the explosion of UFO stories sprung from fears about the Cold War and, specifically in terms of flying saucers, arises two years after the explosion of the atomic bomb in World War II. And it was also then already that such people like psychiatrist Carl Jung theorized this positive spin on UFOs had to do with religion's inability to ease people's fears about nuclear war.
What started it all was that in 1947 Kenneth Arnold reported seeing nine objects near Mount Rainier, which he shows on hand form a reconstruction here:
Lesser known is that it for the first time was mentioned by 'Fate' Magazine, which covered divination methods, Fortean events, belief in the survival of personality after death, predictive dreams, accounts of ghosts, telepathy, archaeology, flying saucer sightings, cryptozoology, alternative medicine, warnings of death, and other paranormal topics, many contributed by readers. Ray Palmer, the publisher of Fate, was the first to report Kenneth Arnold's report as flying discs.
Whereby the early June 24, 1947 sighting of Arnold news stories didn't mention "flying saucers" or "flying discs."
This changed with Ray Palmer who was the first to dedicate a full article alleged Arnold citing in his very first issue of Fate magazine:
Dubbed "The Man from Mars," Palmer's biographer Fred Nadis recounts how from 1945 to 1947, Palmer ran a series in Amazing known as the Shaver Mystery (or, to many, the Shaver Hoax). Author Richard Shaver wrote about a subterranean world inhabited by “Deros.” Traveling about in flying disks, these demonic creatures were responsible, employing secret rays for most of the ills of Mankind. Shaver claimed to have actually visited “the caves” and insisted his stories were factual. And in Fate, Palmer then promoted a new theory: that flying saucers came from Outer Space.
When Palmer also co-authored a book with Arnold, founded a press specializing in UFO publications, and (in the opinion of some) mischievously transformed the alien spaceships of science fiction into the flying saucer phenomenon.
As the space age dawned, in publications such as Fate, Mystic, Search, Hidden World, Flying Saucers from Other Worlds, and Space World, Palmer thus made himself an impresario of the paranormal and shaped the sensibility of an underground community. His loyal readers embarked on an endless mystery tour careening between the real world and the pulp wilds. He offered unorthodox ideas to shake things up, overturn preconceptions, and create mystique. Year after year, to all comers, Palmer generously offered his prime commodity: tales wrapped within tales, conspiracies within conspiracies, and worlds within worlds; to use sixties’ jargon, his humble goal was to “blow your mind.”
Maybe tellingly, when in the 1960s, famous UFOlogist Jim Moseley made a pilgrimage to the Wisconsin farm where Ray Palmer ("the man who invented flying saucers") spent most of his later years. Palmer asked Moseley rhetorically, “What if I told you it was all a joke?”
Palmer's cryptic remark, “What if I told you it was all a joke?” might be understood when we realize that Kenneth Arnold claims we can safely say was influenced by the Maury Island UFO Hoax, which Ray Palmer had sent Kenneth Arnold out to investigate. It was this made-up UFO sighting promoted by Ray Palmer that inspired the term “flying saucer.” Not surprisingly, Palmer also went on to co-author a book with Arnold, founded a press that specialized in UFO publications, and (in the opinion of some) mischievously transformed the alien spaceships of science fiction into the flying saucer phenomenon.
Kenneth Arnold suggested that “It’s the way they move,” he insisted. “It’s more like something alive than a mechanical craft.” He believed these living bodies could blink into apparent nothingness depending on various biological and environmental factors. “We know that water can disappear into the air in the form of water vapor and then reappear,” he told The Oregonian. “Some creatures in the sea can make themselves visible or invisible at will. Why not creatures in the air?”
Shortly thereafter, on July 8, 1947, Roswell Army Air Field issued a press release stating that they had recovered a "flying disc" from a ranch near Roswell. The Army quickly retracted the statement and said instead that the crashed object was a conventional weather balloon. Thus when In 1947, a high-altitude balloon crash-landed in Roswell, the aliens never left.
In fact, it would remain vital in the years to come. Over the next decade, flying saucers would become a ubiquitous feature of popular culture, starring, with tones of both wonder and fear, in comic books and TV shows and movies. There was 1950’s The Flying Saucer. And Flying Disc Man from Mars. 1956 brought Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. And 1957 brought Invasion of the Saucer-Men.
Showing pentagon interest didn't start with the current declassified government report on UFOs already in 1948 a project was established by Air Force General Nathan Farragut Twining, head of the Air Technical Service Command, named Project SAUCER and later that year renamed Project Sign. The goal of the project was to collect, evaluate, and distribute within the government all information relating to UFO sightings, on the premise that they might represent a national security concern.
At first, the project hypothesized the sightings might be Soviet secret weapons. However, Project Sign's final report, published in early 1949, stated that while some UFOs appeared to represent actual aircraft, there was not enough data to determine their origin. Almost all cases were explained by ordinary causes, but the report recommended a continuation of the investigation of all sightings.1
The Esoteric precursor and the first report of an alien abduction
Apart from pulp fiction which, as we described, also led to Scientology, there is an earlier precursor that also might have inspired the ancient astronaut theory first popularized by the "Occult Science" of H.P. Blavatsky, who wrote in her widely sold book "The Secret Doctrine" (which claimed to reveal "the origin and evolution of the universe and humanity itself") that already during the time of "Atlantis" there were flying machines and that knowledge of such machines "was passed on" to later generations in India. Similarly, the founder of today's top-rated Waldorf schools Rudolf Steiner, also claimed that the Atlanteans had aircraft that had steering mechanisms by which they could rise above mountain ranges.
According to Mikael Rothstein Several “UFO religions” are expressions of Theosophical imagination and social entrepreneurship. Rothstein writes that during the 1950s, Theosophically-inclined flying saucer enthusiasts revivified the Mahatmas of classical Theosophy by reinventing them as benevolent “Space Brothers” arriving on Earth in physical vehicles to teach and protect the self-destructive children of the planet. The notion that the Mahatmas originated from somewhere special, or belonged to a place out of reach, was by classical Theosophical ideas, but distant planets provided a new and fresh realm for Theosophical imaginations.2
The person is known to be the first to have ever reported an alien abduction, William Dudley Pelley, as we reported clearly was influenced by such beliefs. And similarly can be said about among others George Adamski.
The man who told the world UFO's had landed
To some, he was a prophet. To others, a laughing stock. Even today, more than half a century after his death, George Adamski remains one of the most curious and controversial characters in UFO history.
George Adamski, who initially was employed as a maintenance worker in Yellowstone National Park influence by Theosophy later in 1932, wrote a short story revolving around spiritual contacts with mysterious, highly evolved beings which included the mention of an alleged Royal Order of Tibet on p.23. But Adamski's career as a visionary mystic really started when, after having read his story Lalita (Maud) Johnson invited Adamski to teach at the Little White Church for the Order of Loving Service, which she established earlier that year in Laguna Beach, an artists colony on the California coast. Whereby less than two years after that, still heavily influenced by Theosophy, The Royal Order of Tibet opens its ‘monastery’ the Temple of Scientific Philosophy in Laguna Beach:
A decade after he wrote his 1932 story, the same claims would again be presented, but this time as biographical facts of Adamski’s own life. Other texts from this involvement with the Royal Order of Tibet were reworked, and (initially an idea that sprang from Spiritualism where it was called 'spirit guides' the Theosophical Mahatmas were replaced with aliens.
In fact, Adamski ended up with multiple claims to UFO fame. Starting in the late 1940s, he took countless photos of what he insisted were flying saucers. But experts, including J. Allen Hynek, scientific consultant to the Air Force’s Cold War-era UFO investigation team Project Blue Book, dismissed them as crude fakes.
This included Adamski's infamous "chicken brooder" photograph, which he claimed to be of a UFO, taken on 13 December 1952. Soon thereafter, German scientist Walther Johannes Riedel said this photo was faked using a surgical lamp and that the landing struts were General Electric light bulbs.
Adamski chronicled his alleged adventures in several books. The first, Flying Saucers Have Landed (1953), co-authored with Desmond Leslie, recounted his chat with the Venusian. Widely read at the time, it later gained a new generation of fans in the trippy 1960s.
Adamski immediately became a major flying saucer celebrity after the release of his 1953 book, where he told the story of encountering and communicating with Orthon, the pilot of a landed extraterrestrial spaceship.
Adamski’s 1955 sequel, Inside the Space Ships, described further meetings, not only with the Venusian but also with emissaries from Mars and Saturn. In Adamski’s telling, every planet in our solar system was populated with human-like inhabitants, as was the dark side of the earth’s moon.
In the 1955 book, Adamski claimed that his new friends took him aboard one of their scout ships, flew him to an immense mother ship hovering over the earth, gave him a ride around the moon, and treated him to a colorful travelogue about life on Venus.
Along the way, he was also tutored by a spaceman he called “the master.” The master, who was said to be nearly 1,000 years old, shared the secrets of the universe with Adamski, only some of which he was allowed to divulge back on earth.
Adamski's following vision of a friendly, laid-back alien race is strikingly different from the descriptions of the bulbous, bug-eyed alien "greys" that UFO abductees speak of today. Adamski described Space Brother Orthon as tall, blond, humanoid with tan skin and brown shoes. Additionally, Adamski said that Orthon left mysterious symbolic imprints in the ground where he walked.
Preposterous as his stories seemed, Adamski became an international celebrity and lectured widely. Queen Juliana of the Netherlands raised a public stir after inviting him to her palace in 1959 to discuss extraterrestrial doings. Adamski supposedly claimed a secret 1963 meeting with the pope, as well.
Adamski soon had followers all over the planet. But not everybody was on board. Arthur C. Clarke, the author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, not only denounced Adamski’s work but characterized his believers as “nitwits.”
The "Aryan" appearance of spacemen spotted by Adamski and others might also have helped give rise to a theory that UfOs represented a secret weapon of remnants of the Third Reich. A topic taken up by both former SS Wilhelm Landig and Rudolf J. Mund (who in 1979 became prior of the Ordo Novi Templi and claimed to have been the inspiration for Landig's "Götzen gegen Thule. Ein Roman voller Wirklichkeit. 1971 the book which started the Nazi-UFO craze).
The time when UFO research became respectable
In 1966 J. Allen Hynek, the astronomer who pioneered the scientific study of UFOs for the Air Force’s Project Blue Book, told his friend, French UFO researcher Jacques Vallée, his deep dark secret: In terms of his scientific outlook, he wasn’t a strict materialist; instead, he was guided by his fascination with mysticism and the occult. Over the next decade, the two men toyed with the notion that UFOs weren’t alien spaceships at all but, rather, space poltergeists from another dimension. The two men’s discussions profoundly impacted a friend with an office near Vallée’s in the 1970s, an ex-Scientologist and physicist named Harold E. “Hal” Puthoff. Puthoff, who studied psychic phenomena at the Stanford Research Institute, championed debunked spoon-bender Uri Geller, was also a defense contractor. The intelligence community recruited him for a bonkers effort to use psychics. To spy telepathically on the Soviets, later known as “Project Stargate.” In 1984, one Stargate “psychic” claimed to travel back in time one million years to commune with Martians.
By 1949, the Pentagon officially dismissed UFOs as a product of hoaxes, misidentification, hallucinations, and mass hysteria. To convey this to the public, military officials worked closely with the Saturday Evening Post on a two-part article that derided the idea of intergalactic ships whirring through the skies. “It is a jittery age we live in,” the magazine concluded, “particularly since our scientists and military spokesmen have started talking about sending rockets to the moon… it is a small wonder that harassed humans, already suffering from atomic psychosis, have started seeing saucers and Martians.”
Instead of putting the matter to rest, as the Pentagon hoped, the article aroused ire and disquiet. Concerned that its public engagement was feeding into the country’s “war nerves,” the Pentagon resolved to go silent on UFO commentary.
Into this vacuum stepped a group of citizen crusaders, rank opportunists, and con artists. One leading voice was retired Marine Corps Major Donald Keyhoe, who in January of 1950 published a widely circulated article in True Magazine titled, “Flying Saucers are Real.” UFO sightings were soon taken up by mainstream media’s most iconic and influential publications. In 1952, Life Magazine published a lengthy article titled, “Have we, visitors, from outer space?” This was a watershed moment, writes Mark O’Connell in his recent book, The Close Encounters Man. “When Life spoke, the whole country listened,” he writes.
Book titles convey some of the period's mood: Flying Saucers: The Startling Evidence of the Invasion from Outer Space; Flying Saucers are Hostile; Flying Saucer Invasion; Target Earth; Flying Saucers, Serious Business; The Real UFO invasion; The Terror Above Us. The teaser on The Official Guide to UFOs promised, “Exclusive! First News of America’s Most Terrifying UFO Invasion!” Wilkins’s books return with arch blurbs asking, “Are they Friendly Visitors from Outer Space or Invaders Planning Conquest?” and “Is there a cosmic battle plan aimed at Earth?” The actual content was less dramatic than advertised, but that hardly mattered. The conviction of urgency transcended the material gathered for proof.
Throughout the first half of the decade, Donald Edward Keyhoe, who in 1956 founded the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) that next pressed for Congressional hearings on the UFO problem by such tactics as letter-writing campaigns. The Air Force warned members of Congress such hearings would only dignify the problem and cause more publicity, thus adding to the problem. NICAP also published a book called The UFO Evidence (edited by Richard Hall) and sent copies to members of Congress to put forward their case that UFOs were, in fact, real and posed a danger to the fabric of society. The danger included an unprepared public being caught up in widespread panic if an external danger was suddenly imposed. A sudden confrontation with extraterrestrials could have disastrous results, they warned. Among them, “catastrophic results to morale.”
Then there the writings of Carol E. Lorenzen that were required reading for American UFO buffs in the sixties. Flying Saucers: The Startling Evidence of the Invasion from Outer Space (1966) builds on Donald Keyhoe's thesis that UFOs are engaged in reconnaissance. They are painstakingly mapping the geographical features of our country and testing our defense capabilities. The 1952 Washington D.C. incidents are regarded as accidental incursions by aliens mistaking the capitol and White House for military installations. The Lorenzen's expect they will be setting up bases since the taking of plants, boulders, and soil samples probably mean they are testing what sort of agriculture they should establish. The Ubatuba explosion is regarded as selfdestruction to prevent superior technology from getting into our hands and revealing its secrets. There is a bare possibility it was an atomic explosion. “UFOs are powerful radioactive sources.” The dangers they pose extend to the possibility that our next war could involve “all nations fighting as brothers against a common foe from outer space.”3
They showcase the ideas of Dr. Olavo Fontes that UFOs possessed weapons like heat rays and a device that inhibited the function of petrol engines. However, they claim priority that the observations UFOs made of cars and planes in the early years were done to devise these antimachine machines to disable propulsion systems.
A pattern of reconnaissance is seen, which suggests to them that aliens plan to release sleeping drugs into strategic reservoirs and water tanks as a means of bringing the world to its knees in a matter of hours. They are concerned there are too many blackouts on our power grids. There are also people disappearing. Is this the procuring of specimens? Add to this the case of a woman with medical problems they interpret as radiation effects. No person of conscience can ignore the UFO problem in the light of all this. The UFO problem has to be taken out of the hands of the military, who are lulling us into a false sense of security, and given to an international commission who will handle this red-hot political problem.
“We are in urgent need of the acquisition and objective analysis of basic data.” We are facing potential danger. Maybe they aren’t hostile, but “there is no indication of friendliness either... The existence of a species of superior beings in the universe could cause the civilization of Earth to topple.” This urgency “defies expression.” We must be anxious to relearn the lessons of history; Billy Mitchell, Maginot, Pearl Harbor, and so on.
Credit must be given where it is due. The Air Force got it right and told it straight. No material threat to national security existed. The invasion never took place. Mirarchi’s Pearl Harbor, Riordan’s knockout attack, Kevhoe’s final operation, Wilkins’ death ceiling blockade, Michel’s Sword of Damocles, NICAP’s danger to the fabric of society, the Lorenzens’ mass drugging and the toppling of civilization, Edwards’ imminent Overt Contact, Fawcett’s disaster beyond imagination, Steiger’s full-scale annihilation, Hvnek’s Russian Breakthrough, Clark’s swamp-lurking village-slayers, Palmer’s ongoing titanic war, Fowler’s cultural disintegration: all were concerns with more basis in fantasy than reality.
The sense of urgency, the sense that it may be too late, the sense that our existence depended on a properly conducted investigation was an irrational fear. The Air Force repeatedly tried to get across the message that UFOlogists were wrong, but they were in no mood to listen. It is dogma among UFOlogists that the Air Force was incompetent or worse, yet if that is accepted as a proper, measured evaluation, what word is proper to describe the body of thought presented by these UFOlogists? The Air Force did not perform flawlessly in the details, but they had the big picture in more than sufficient focus to understand it was a nuisance problem and not one of life and death significance.
The same cannot be said of UFOlogists. For them, the big picture keeps changing. In the fifties, they were considerate and peace-loving. In the sixties, they were a source of danger and death. The seventies were perversely irrational and a source of hope. In the eighties, they were traumatizing though they didn’t realize it.
The 1960s also saw many other flying saucer groups like The Adamski Foundation, Mark-Age. Universaucerian Foundation, Aetherius Society, World Understanding, Association of Sananda and Sanat Kumara, The Unarius Academy, and Rael are usually called UFO religions.
Hence the sightings of 1947 of which Ray Palmer said, “What if I told you it was all a joke?” quickly spawned major actors, organizations, and schisms that would dominate the UFO movement for decades.
Project Blue Book and the plethora of UFO news
Deep public concern about UFO sightings in 1966 pressed the Air Force into funding an external evaluation of Project Blue Book. This work, directed by Edward Condon, an eminent physicist at the University of Colorado, was completed in 1968 and concluded that there was no evidence supporting a belief in alien visitation and that UFO phenomena do not offer a fruitful field for scientific discoveries. The National Academy of Sciences reviewed Condon's report and concurred with his conclusions. Project Blue Book was terminated in 1969.
Of more than 12,000 sightings eventually registered by Blue Book, over 90 percent were plausibly attributed to misidentifications of celestial objects such as Venus, of human-made objects like weather balloons or artificial satellites, or hoaxes (Condon 1968: 11). Surely there are errors in attribution, but activists and skeptics agree that the vast majority of UFO reports indicate nothing extraordinary.
While valueless for physical scientists or engineers, these sightings are useful for sociologists, showing the context in which ET claims occur. For example, UFOs are usually seen after dark but before midnight, and more often in warm months than winter. This reflects the times when people are outside looking at the night sky. Many nations report UFOs, but the United States is the center of activity. Within the U.S., the geographical distribution of sightings correlates roughly with a density of non-urban population. Few reports come from urban areas, probably because city lights obscure the night sky.
The Air Force count of UFO sightings ceased with Blue Book's demise. Ufologists remedied that loss, one of whom, Larry Hatch, has for twenty years tabulated sightings worldwide and posted them in graphical format on the internet. Like Blue Book, Hatch's unit of analysis is the UFO event, that is, the sighting of one or more extraordinary objects in the sky, or if on the ground thought capable of flight, at a particular time and place by one or more observers. His compilation includes Blue Book; journals, newsletters, and encyclopedias from UFO organizations; news media; and private catalogs.
By Hatch's count, the greatest number of sightings for one year occurred in 1952. In March 1952, the Air Force consolidated its previous UFO inquiries into Project Blue Book, enlisting intelligence officers at all Air Force facilities to assess and report saucer sightings. This improvement in data collection may account for increased sightings in April and May but seems insufficient to explain the dramatic upturn during the summer.
The news media are another candidate. The Air Force's invigorated UFO inquiry was the lead-in for a highly influential story in Life magazine of April 7.9 Titled "Have We Visitors from Space?" Life's answer was essential "yes." Some 350 newspapers quoted the piece within days of its release. Media attention rose more sharply in July. The New York Times, for example, averaged only three UFO articles per month during the spring of 1952 but ran 17 articles in July, another 37 in August, and then by September nearly dropped the story.
The last three months of 1957 saw another flap, especially in November. Blue Book attributed many of these sightings to misidentifications of Venus. No increase in UFO news articles accompanied this peak, perhaps because journalists were focused on Sputnik 1, launched by the Soviet Union on October 4, and Sputnik 2 with the dog Laika on November 3. Headlines were plentiful, inducing people to watch the skies.
A plethora of UFO news began in March 1966 with repeated reports by many witnesses of glowing colored lights in two swampy areas near Ann Arbor, Michigan. Dr. Hynek, the Air Force consultant, thought these were visual effects of swamp gas or foxfire from rotting vegetation, producing a phosphorescent glow. Though scientifically reasonable, this "marsh gas" explanation was derided as a cover-up. Michigan congressman (later president) Gerald Ford called for a congressional investigation. House hearings in early April produced more news coverage. The publicity was a boon to the authors of some twenty-five books on UFOs published between 1965 and 1968. John Fuller, a columnist with Saturday Review magazine and a UFO believer, was the major beneficiary, fortuitously publishing two saucer books in 1966. Sightings rose apace with the publicity, peaking in 1967.
Sightings peaked again in fall 1973. This flap started in the southern states and might have gone unmentioned in The New York Times if Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter had not commented that he once saw a UFO (September 14). In mid-October, the Times reported that a UFO seen by thousands of South Carolinians turned out to be the work of an artist who launched the object as an experimental sculpture. About the same time, two shipyard workers from Mississippi, while fishing on the Pascagoula River, were nabbed by hideous-looking aliens, taken aboard the spacecraft for examination, and then released. A local lawyer, acting as the abductees' agent, sought payment for the Pascagoula story. The men repeatedly appeared on network television despite the transparency of their hoax. By this time, there were sightings around the nation.
But in the end, the project concluded: "No UFO reported, investigated, and evaluated by the Air Force has ever given any indication of threat to our national security." According to the National Archives fact sheet, the program also concluded that the "unidentified" sightings were not advanced technology or extraterrestrial vehicles.
The project was closed down in 1969 because of its cost, the National Archives said.
The Heaven’s Gate suicides
After 1973 news reporters ignored UFOs except for a brief but intense return in 1997. There were two big saucer stories that year. In March, the bodies of 39 members of a millennial sect called Heaven’s Gate were found at a wealthy estate in California, victims of a mass suicide intended to remove them from their earthly bodies so they could join a spaceship lurking behind the Hale-Bopp comet, then passing near earth. In a lighter vein, many thousands of partiers gathered at Roswell, New Mexico, on the Fourth of July for the fiftieth anniversary of the crash of a flying saucer containing alien bodies, not all dead, that are still held in secret storage by the Air Force.
As we have seen above, as it relates to Area 51, the seed for the Roswell story was the crash of a government balloon on a nearby ranch in early July 1947. This was barely a week into the media frenzy set off by Kenneth Arnold’s “saucer” sighting near Mount Rainier. The rancher who found the wreckage notified the sheriff, who contacted Roswell Army Air Field, which picked up the debris. The base’s zealous public information officer, Lieutenant Walter Haut, wrote a press release saying that the Army had retrieved the wreckage of one of the rumored flying discs. The Roswell Daily Record ran the story under the headline, “RAAF Captures Flying Saucer on Ranch in Roswell Region.” By the following day, higher-ups in the Army identified the wreckage as a weather balloon, but that was not completely true. In 1994 the Air Force revealed that what crashed at Roswell was a 600-foot long train of weather balloons and radar targets then tested for Project Mogul, a top-secret attempt to detect sound generated by Soviet nuclear-bomb tests.
What is most remarkable about the Roswell crash is that it was virtually a non-event for four decades. I found a mention of Roswell in my perusal of UFO literature barely before 1990. The exception was a book called The Roswell Incident, but its absurdities (e.g., President Eisenhower lacked sufficient security clearance to be told about the downed saucer) gave it little credibility even among UFO believers. Roswell was reinvigorated in the early 1990s as new books promoted theories about one or more crashed saucers, recovered bodies, perhaps a survivor, and of course, a cover-up.
Alleged Alien Abductions
During the mid-1980s, several sensational books, presented as nonfiction, explicated the phenomenon of alien abduction, including intrusive medical examinations and the extraction from unwilling donors of sperm and ova, to be used in fertility experiments. There were accounts of hybrid fetuses taken from pregnant women and hybrid children shown briefly to their human mothers but kept by the aliens (Strieber 1987; Hopkins 1981, 1987; Jacobs 1992; Mack 1994). According to this literature, abduction and hybridization are commonplace, but since the aliens induce amnesia, contactees are barely aware of their encounters until memories are restored under hypnosis. The most commercially successful of these books, leading the New York Times bestseller list by May 1987, was Communion by Whitney Strieber, a well-known author of horror fiction, who wrote of his own abduction and traumatic medical examination by aliens. A movie version of Communion, starring Christopher Walken, followed in 1989, and following that was a wave of reported abductions.
In 1994, the abduction phenomenon got an enormous boost from the trade publication of Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens by Dr. John E. Mack, a long-time professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and winner of a Pulitzer Prize in 1977 for a biography of T. E. Lawrence. Mack had been introduced to the abduction phenomenon in January 1990 by Budd Hopkins, an accomplished artist and amateur hypnotist who had worked with abductees for over a decade. In 1987 Hopkins had published Intruders, a book on the reality of alien abduction. By 1992, after Intruders was reshaped as a fictional TV movie, the lead character was a Mack-like psychiatrist (played by Richard Crenna) working with abductees. Both Mack and Hopkins were consultants on the film.
Dr. Mack provided a level of credibility that Hopkins or any other UFO believer could not approach. He provoked a storm of controversy at Harvard, including a Medical School investigation of his work with abductees. Still, tenure and the spirit of academic freedom preserved him from serious censure. In the paperback edition of his book, Mack slightly moderated the sensationalism of the original hardback, stating that he did not presume that everything abductees told him to be literally true. Still, he vigorously defended the credibility of abduction experiences until he died in 2004, struck by a bus in London. It remains puzzling why a physician of Mack's stature would espouse so implausible a phenomenon. He did have a history of flirting with dubious practices like Werner Erhard's EST and Stanislav Grof’s "holotropic breathwork," a technique that allegedly accesses extraordinary states of consciousness. Whatever his motives, the Harvard professor and the mass media carried alien abduction a long way from the fabulous tale of Barney and Betty Hill.
There is no physical evidence associated with alien visitation or abduction that cannot be explained in ordinary terms. We have testimony from people like the Hills, who insist that they personally experienced these events. Most do not suffer severe psychopathology (Clancy 2005). In the clinical laboratory, when their supposed abductions are brought to mind, these claimants show physiological signs of stress consistent with a recall of trauma. Apparently, most of them truly believe they were kidnapped and sexually molested by extraterrestrials.
The major argument given to support the reality of alien abduction is that the stories told by unrelated abductees have a high degree of consistency on specific details. What are the broad commonalities? Most abduction occurs at night when the abductee is alone, usually in bed or asleep. Abductees often feel paralyzed while they are being taken. And abduction stories are generally accepted to be simply a result of sleep paralysis.
In the end it would be odd if the report instigated by Senator Harry Reid and Robert Bigelow said the government could rule out an extraterrestrial origin of UFOs while still knowing next to nothing about what they are, just like it would be strange for a report on an unidentified serial killer to determine that the killer is not from Tulsa, Oklahoma, even though nothing else of their origins is known.
These sightings also lack any good supporting evidence to suggest they are life from other planets: UFOs were not observed entering our atmosphere from millions of miles away, leaving our atmosphere while en route to another planet or showing any sign of life, all things that would happen if UFOs really were extraterrestrials visiting us from Alpha Centauri.
Of course, those who believe “the truth is out there” might point to the fact that the government report exists at all. But government interest doesn’t inherently mean something is real. When national security is on the line, there’s little that government agencies (domestic and foreign) haven’t investigated. We’re familiar with the crazy ideas that were successful (try wrapping your head around how nuclear weapons work), but there are many other projects that proved to be boondoggles.
The Japanese Empire, not to be outdone in the field of bizarre bombings, attached bombs to thousands of balloons and used easterly air streams to send them from Japan to the continental United States (and Alaska and Mexico and Hawaii and everywhere in between). Aiming a balloon at a target thousands of miles away works about as well as you’d expect, though they did manage to kill six American civilians in Oregon with one of the thousands of balloons released.
The Cold War saw research projects grounded more in cheesy pulp novels than reality. The CIA was so worried about the possibility that the Soviets had invented mind control techniques that they tried to develop their own. Collaborating with scientists from Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany, they gave unwitting volunteers LSD (a serious violation of research ethics). They failed to develop mind control, but they did introduce Ken Kesey (author of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”) and many other countercultural luminaries to dropping acid.
Later, a loosely organized group of military researchers, worried about the possibility the Soviets had recruited psychics (see a pattern here?), tried to recruit psychics of their own in an attempt to spy on enemy military bases, predict new types of enemy weapons and kill goats just by touching them. They supposedly killed at least one goat and definitively inspired a book with a movie adaptation that starred George Clooney: “The Men Who Stare at Goats.”
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t fund odd-sounding research (in fact, it’s vital that we do) but merely to say that government funding does not by itself prove an idea is reasonable. (For a nonmilitary example, remember the bridge to nowhere?)
Ultimately, UFOs should be investigated not because we might need to call in Will Smith to fight aliens but because other, more plausible, explanations (like that UFOs are experimental technology from rivals overseas) are of national security importance.
Science relies on repeated observations to learn about the world, and right now, our observations of these unidentified aerial phenomena are limited. Part of science is admitting what we don’t know today, but to keep watching closely so we might know tomorrow.
Timed to correspond with the release of long-classified documents about federal investigations into UFO reports, Oreo’s responsive marketing campaign asked fans to vote on what exactly should go into the offering. It was then placed, obviously, in an Oreo-branded crop circle:
1. For details see Howard Blum, Out There: The Government's Secret Quest for Extraterrestrials. Simon and Schuster, 1990.
2. See Mikael Rothstein, Mahatmas in Space: The Ufological Turn and Mythological Materiality of Post-World War II Theosophy.
3. See, Encounters with UFO Occupants, Coral & Jim Lorenzen, Paperback, 1976.