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The Pentagon UFO Report, Pt. 1
The Pentagon has spent the past 80 years debunking UFOs – Why the change?
Any minute now, the Pentagon is scheduled to release a report on the UFO investigations it’s been conducting for the past 14-plus years. Former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe even appeared on Fox News in March to remind everyone that this astounding report will be forthcoming.
Military pilots have been reporting what Ratcliffe referred to as "unidentified aerial phenomena" performing amazing maneuvers since the fabled World War II “foo fighters.” The government convened a secret scientific team to study – and debunk them – on into the late 1960s.
Why does the government now appear to be confirming the very UFO phenomenon it spent decades dismissing?
I picked the Center for UFO Studies as the subject for one of my freshman journalism class assignments at Northwestern University. It was 1977 and I set out to find its somewhat elusive offices just off campus in Evanston, Ill.
“Do you know where the Center for UFO Studies is?” I asked the red-faced man and young girl behind the sporting goods counter.
The girl giggled and the red-faced man forced a smile. “No,” he said. “Can’t say that I have.”
I thanked them and left. Fortunately, a half a block later, I located the small stairwell door leading up from Chicago Avenue to the Center on the second floor.
The Center has been established, a brochure said, for those who wish to see positive action taken to end a quarter-century of misrepresentation and misunderstanding. The evidence is strong that the UFO phenomenon represents new empirical observations of great potential value to mankind.
From that description, I was surprised to find the Center little more than a glorified closet. Books lined the walls, a handful of people scurried about and a typewriter clattered from some inner sanctum.
I had met Dr. J. Allen Hynek earlier that year. The soon-to-be-retiring professor of astronomy held court at a fireside chat in one of the dorms. “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” would not hit the theaters until December – I was amazed to learn that this kindly man with the tweed jacket and pointy goatee was one of America’s leading experts on UFO research.
Steven Spielberg borrowed Dr. J. Allen Hynek’s term “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” and gave him a cameo appearance at the end of the film./Photo Imdb
Hynek invited me to drop by the Center. The little staff for his hobby-office was led by astronomer Allan Hendry and included Flo Crone, Estelle Postol and Bill Hartel. Most had answered a newspaper ad placed by Hynek in the summer of 1976.
Flo, a middle-aged housewife, did not get paid for typing letters and handling subscriptions to the Center’s International UFO Reporter.
“Have you had a UFO experience?” I asked politely.
“I haven’t,” she said, continuing to type. “I’ve always wished I could.”
Estelle, a former medical tech, was the Center’s administrator. “I’ve always been interested in the subject. I had a sighting. I saw a nocturnal light. It was strange.”
“I don’t particularly believe everything they tell me,” chimed in Bill, a high school senior. “But it’s interesting.”
So far, no nuts or crackpots. They were all normal people, none ever having what Hynek defined as a “close encounter” – a UFO within 500 feet of a witness, often leaving physical traces behind.
I followed the sounds of clattering into a back room. A sandy-haired young man with an accent greeted me. Douwe Bosga was an “investigator” in Holland and now coordinated the 100 or so U.S. investigators then affiliated with the Center.
“We get four cases a day through the Hotline,” Douwe said. A toll-free number had been sent out to police stations across the country. When people made reports to the police, the police often phoned the Center.
“The majority of our cases are ‘nocturnal light’ sightings,” Douwe continued. “Allan Hendry investigates all those with our WATS [unlimited long-distance] line.”
Hendry, then the managing editor of the IUR, tried to identify all sightings that crossed his desk. The first order of business was to identifythe flying object. Calls to police, weather bureaus and the FAA easily explained away 80 percent of these UFO sightings.
Sometimes “field investigators” were sent out to make reports. These volunteers were usually able to explain another 15 percent of the sightings – leaving only 5 percent truly unidentified and inexplicable.
“And why are you so interested?” I asked Douwe.
“I can’t stand having something I can’t explain,” he answered, sincere. “I can’t stand people calling something rubbish without knowing the facts.”
Elated, I descended the stairs and passed by the sporting goods store – where no one had any idea all this was going on. Millions of Americans claiming to have seen a UFO, with hundreds of millions more believing they exist. Hundreds of sightings every day from all over the world, by everyone from astronauts to aborigines.
A couple of astronomers with a handful of volunteers were trying to crack the case, and I had the inside information.
It was early 1948 when up-and-coming Ohio State astronomer J. Allen Hynek received a bizarre invitation. The Air Force was studying UFO phenomenon at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton and needed an expert to provide astronomical explanations.
Reports of UFOs had been flooding in for months, ever since private pilot Kenneth Arnold told the newspapers about nine shiny saucer-shaped craft he saw zipping past Mount Rainier – at speeds he estimated to be at least 1,200 miles an hour.
Could meteors, twinkling stars, bright planets or fireballs have been misidentified as flying saucers from outer space?
The Air Force was pursuing two basic questions: Do UFOs pose a threat to national security, and are they extraterrestrial? Threat assessment was the military’s top priority. Scientific inquiry was not even in the mission statement.
UFO sighting reports were being channeled to the Air Technical Intelligence Center (ATIC) at Wright-Patterson AFB. During World War II, ATIC’s mission was to gather intelligence on German warplane technology and reverse-engineer German and Japanese parts retrieved from crashes.
After the war, this mission included the fabled Operation Paperclip, which brought some 200 German scientists to Wright-Patterson, most eventually put to work in the various labs on base.
Two schools of thought about UFOs developed quickly at the ATIC, Hynek wrote in The Hynek UFO Report, published in 1977.
“One school felt that UFOs should be taken very seriously … that flying saucers were probably interplanetary and that the military should be put on alert,” he said. The other school “summarily dismissed the entire subject as misperceptions, a fad, post-war nerves…
“The top brass in Washington chose to adopt the latter view.”
The Air Technical Intelligence Center at Wright Patterson Air Force Base morphed into the Foreign Technology Division and eventually the National Air and Space Intelligence Center. /Photo Dayton Daily News
Hynek soon found himself in a dilemma. He was skeptical about the reality of UFOs, but felt the reports deserved to be studied scientifically. Could he conduct a neutral inquiry when the conclusion seemed foregone? And what would other scientists say about his new gig?
That first year went well. Hynek was able to debunk most of the 237 sightings he received. The 23 percent that could not be explained – “Unknowns” – gnawed at him.
Then the Air Force declared case closed in 1949: “There is no evidence that objects reported upon are the result of an advanced scientific foreign development; and, therefore they constitute no direct threat to the national security. In view of this, it is recommended that the investigation and study of reports of unidentified flying objects be reduced in scope.”
Hynek went back to lecturing and Wright-Patterson’s ATIC went back to filing away UFO reports – until 1952. On July 19, seven objects turned up on the air traffic control radar screens at Washington National Airport. The objects were 15 miles southwest of the city on fast approach. Then both Andrews and Bolling Air Force bases picked up more UFOs.
By the time two F-94 jets could scramble over Washington, the objects were gone. A similar “flap” occurred the next weekend, and the Air Force was calling Hynek back.
For nearly two decades, Hynek tackled UFO sightings for Project Blue Book, despite the CIA-orchestrated Robertson Panel that imagined UFO phenomenon to be a Cold War psyop (“the cultivation of a morbid national psychology in which skilful hostile propaganda could induce hysterical behavior and harmful distrust of duty constituted authority.”)
Hynek said the Air Force contracted the nonprofit Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus to manage Blue Book. Battelle was also doing analytical work and document translation for ATIC.
“The unspoken orders from the Pentagon, stemming from the Robertson Panel, seemed clear,” Hynek wrote. “Hold the fort, play down the UFO subject and not rock the boat.”
In 1969, the Air Force publically closed Blue Book with a final review of its research by the University of Colorado, Boulder. “Our general conclusion is that nothing has come from the study of UFOs in the past 21 years that has added to scientific knowledge,” wrote study leader, physicist Edward Condon.
“Consideration of the record as it is available to us leads us to conclude that further extensive study of UFOs probably cannot be justified in the expectation that science will be advanced thereby.”
Case closed – again.
Or was it?
Hynek had been transformed from a skeptic to a – believer? “No – not believer,” he wrote, “because that has certain theological connotations - a scientist who felt he was on the track of an interesting phenomenon. The UFO phenomenon is real and efforts to investigate and understand it could have a profound effect.”
Within six months of Project Blue Book’s demise, Hynek signed on as a consultant with the Foreign Technology Division, the name the Wright-Patterson’s ATIC assumed in 1961.
According to Hynek’s one-time research associate Jennie Zeidman, the astronomer was engaged in mysterious business at Wright-Patterson in October, 1973. During the Blue Book heyday, the pair had commuted together regularly from Ohio State. But now, years later – out of the blue – he called requesting she pick him up at Wright-Patterson and drive him back to Columbus.
The rendezvous was a small, one-storey building on base, Zeidman recounts in an article she penned for the International UFO Reporter in 1991.
“Hynek was standing in the doorway as I drove up. Another man appeared from the building. He was in dress uniform and may have been a major.
“On our way to Columbus, I asked in general terms what was going on. He would not tell me anything about what he was doing at Wright-Patterson. In face of his reluctance to explain, I felt I could not pursue the
subject. But he was agitated on that trip and seemed preoccupied with whatever had occurred earlier that day.
“Of course, Wright-Patterson housed other projects than those under the Foreign Technology Division. Was this work related to UFOs?”
Next time: The Pentagon UFO Report Part 2 – Two Whistleblowers and a Rock Star
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Steven Saint Thomas will conduct an online class, “Conspiracy Studies: The Pentagon UFO Report,” on June 27. Click here for details.