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Toward Consideration of a Cover-Up (Project SIGN)

Wendy A. Connors

original source |  fair use notice

Summary: Project SIGN was not the first investigation into unidentified flying objects, but it was the first officially known investigation of its kind. The question has always been, was Project SIGN and its successors, Project GRUDGE and BLUEBOOK, a cover for the United States government's deeper interest in unidentified flying objects and the need to keep important knowledge from the American people? In order to analyze this possibility a look back into history is in order.

Wendy Connors

author's bio

Hindsight, for what it is worth, has shown that the modern Unidentified Flying Object phenomenon has run parallel to the advance of worldwide technology since the nineteenth century. Retrospectively, this makes sense, even though the mystery of UFOs has not, as yet, been adequately explained scientifically for over half a century.

Unidentified Flying Objects seem to always be just slightly ahead of technology. As an example, it is strange that shortly after the great airship observations in 1896 and 1897, the development of flight in the United States became a reality in 1903 when Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first publicly recognized flight of heavier than air vehicles.

Following this pattern, the rise of rocket technology in Nazi Germany saw the introduction of flying balls of light that paced and out maneuvered military aircraft during World War II, and were affectionately called "FOO Fighters" by the pilots that reported encounters with them.

Shortly following the end of World War II and the defeat of Nazi Germany, rocket technology, although still in its infancy, saw the mysterious "ghost" rockets doing unimaginable maneuvers over the Scandinavian countries, further offering a chilling parallel to modern post-war technology.

During the advent of the jet age, cigar and disc-shaped objects were being observed, and as progress into faster and more advanced aircraft became common, the cigar/disc-shaped objects began to evolve into even more exotic shapes, such as triangles and pyramids.

What this phenomenon is, and what it means, remains unclear and unchallenged. As more is observed or pondered, the idea that the United States government and the military were not telling the truth to the American people began to gain credibility. The debate of a cover-up that has raged since the beginning of Project SIGN becomes more heated the closer the next millennium approaches.

Project SIGN was not the first investigation into unidentified flying objects, but it was the first officially known investigation of its kind. The question has always been, was Project SIGN and its successors, Project GRUDGE and BLUEBOOK, a cover for the United States government's deeper interest in unidentified flying objects and the need to keep important knowledge from the American people? In order to analyze this possibility a look back into history is in order.

Headlines today show that the government has kept the public mis-informed over many issues. Recently, information that people were deliberately infected with syphilis or injected with plutonium has come to light. Admission by the government of using mind-altering drugs on military and private citizens during the Cold War is now common knowledge as is the use of untried and unproved vaccines to combat the effects of chemical warfare, which were given to military personnel during the Gulf War. So the question is not if the government keeps secrets detrimental to the public interest, the question is how was this possible and what should be done about it?

Secrets multiply, as do theories. The government operates on the basis of secrecy which is provable simply by the fact that billions of tax dollars yearly are funneled into the likes of the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and even the hollowed halls of all other government agencies comprising the executive, legislative and judiciary branches. The greatest secret here is the fact that the true amounts of these organizational budgets are not known nor published for the most part. Administrative budgets are public knowledge, but operational budgets kept under wraps are not exactly keeping with the intent of a democracy.

Forgotten also is the secrecy that exist within the private sector of the nation. The competition of business, which allows for the need of secrecy when new ideas or products are being developed, but when such products are set for public distribution, the original intent of the secrecy becomes moot. In government this is not the case, except for certain examples. For instance, the Manhattan Project, the basis for developing the atomic bomb, was cloaked in the greatest secrecy for several years. Upon the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, the secret of the atomic bomb’s existence became a moot point. However, for years the nuts and bolts of the nuclear program remained classified as research continued into the new uses of nuclear power. The idea and belief that the government of the United States was totally honorable became less believable.

Secrecy builds upon itself. Even though the existence of the atomic bomb was lifted, the medical experiments using nuclear materials on unsuspecting human subjects continued and are just now coming to light as to the magnitude of this secrecy. It has taken fifty years to learn that American citizens by the hundreds of thousands were routinely injected with plutonium or given radium treatments under the guise of medical research for a cure to physical maladies, when in fact the secret experiments were designed to gather information without the knowledge of participants, and to enhance biological warfare techniques. Secrecy always has a price and most advanced secrets are always too expensive to contemplate and contain. Consequently, secrecy becomes more of a threat than for the reason or reasons the secrecy was initially imposed.

A year before Project SIGN was to be created; President Harry S. Truman was in the process of creating the National Security Act. This legislation would create the National Security Council, Central Intelligence Agency, Department of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force, National Research and Development Agency, National Security Resources Board and an agency for Military Procurement.

President Truman could not tolerate the massive amounts of uncoordinated intelligence reports that came his way. In 1944 the Chiefs of Staff of the War Department had proposed to President Roosevelt an outline of a Central Intelligence Agency that would be responsible for coordinating all intelligence matters prior to submission to the President. Truman considered this plan workable and the National Security Act provided for its creation.

The National Security Act was very short and did not spell the total power that the National Security Council, its agencies and boards would have (a framework of compartments for total secrecy). This idea was the brainchild of General William Donovan, and it's to his credit that President Truman undertook what was known unofficially as the National Military Establishment or the unification of the military.

During World War II, President Roosevelt gave General William Donovan authority to create a wartime organization for secrecy, which became the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of the modern intelligence system. The OSS did admirable work and General Donovan's role in the creation of the modern American intelligence system cannot be overstated. Prior to the end of World War II, Donovan had proposed the creation of a permanent new intelligence agency, independent of both the State Department and military, which would be answerable only to the President. (1)

General Donovan's plan caused great desention with the State, War and Navy Departments. During the war, all three had their own intelligence divisions, and the prospect of losing control to another agency was abhorrent. J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation was furious at General Donovan for even suggesting the creation of a permanent rival to the FBI and worked on the fears of the public that just such an undertaking would be subversive to the security of the American people. Donovan’s reply was that, "no existing organization possessed the talent or the mandate to meet the needs that would arise after the war." (2)

President Truman had great difficulty establishing a unification program for the military that would give a more cohesive and smoother command structure to the modern military. What he proposed was the elimination of the War Department and replacing it with a Department of Defense. This would include taking the Air Force away from the Army and the Navy and making it a separate and autonomous branch, eliminating the Marine Corps. Again, no department wanted to surrender their powers to one man or one department.

This would have the effect of slimming the five branches of the War Department to three, eliminating parallel chains of command and having a single war Secretary instead of three. With the tenacity and perseverance of Clifford Clark and others, Secretary of the Navy James Vincent Forrestal, who had visions of his own intelligence agency and unification of the armed forces, eventually compromised with the President and the Army, thus allowing for the unification program to commence.

President Truman, who wanted the elimination of the Marines, bowed to the idea that the American people would not counter to the elimination of the Marine Corps. It was saved due strictly to the emotions the nation felt for its honorable traditions. The second comprise to Forrestal by President Truman, was the retention of the Navy of its own air forces. Years later it would become apparent that these compromises lead to an inflated military budget and considerable waste of manpower and equipment. (3)

The National Security Act was eventually passed and President Truman, to take the wind out of Forrestal’s sails, made him the first Secretary of Defense; not out of spite, but because a formidable opponent is better contained if given charge of the demands he himself created. However, within two years Forrestal would bow to the pressures of the job, and his personal life. His wife was an alcoholic and a constant source of embarrassment for him. (4)

Contrary to many UFO researchers, James Forrestal, due to the pressure of trying to make the new unification system work and his problems with his home life, began showing signs of severe depression long before the Roswell incident, and committed suicide at Bethesda Naval Hospital by jumping out of an unguarded window. According to his friend Clark Clifford (left), he was showing signs of severe stress as early as 1946. He observed Forrestal, facing a congressional hearing, constantly scratch the back of his head until it bled. Clark describes him as a man totally devoid of humor and a person whose intensity for the job was without equal. (5)

On January 22, 1946, President Truman signed an executive order establishing a National Intelligence Agency and a Director of Central Intelligence. The first post-war presidential directive dealing with intelligence issues. This executive order provided for the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), to coordinate a Central Intelligence Group (CIG). The function of the CIG was to minimize the adversity between the other intelligence departments throughout the government. This move pleased J. Edgar Hoover because he wanted to keep all domestic intelligence activities under his control.

The first director of Central Intelligence was Rear Admiral Sidney Souers, a prominent intelligence leader of the day, and a friend of President Truman. Souers did not really want the job, but after President Truman told him he would only need to serve for six months, Souers agreed to take the position and would eventually become the first Executive Director of the National Security Council.

Sidney Souers would recommend Lt. General Hoyt S. Vandenburg, a friend of Stuart Symington for the job as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. It was, after all, General Vandenburg who asked President Truman for legislation to create an autonomous agency to be known as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). When the unification program became a reality, Section 102 was added to the National Security Act of 1947, abolishing both the National Intelligence Agency and the Central Intelligence Group and establishing the CIA. At the time, the Central Intelligence Director would still hold the separate title of Director of Central Intelligence that would allow for not only overseeing the CIA, but have authority over all the foreign intelligence communities within the government.

The instituting of the National Security Act also provided for covert operations within the CIA. Section 102 (d) (5), stated, "the CIA shall perform such other functions and duties related to intelligence affecting the national security as the National Security Council may from time to time direct." This was a carefully worded statement that would eventually allow for abuse of security both within and outside the government. Plausible deniability became the corner stone for abuse of the laws of the United States and the expectations of the public that the government remain honorable.

Clark Clifford, in his book Council to the President. NY: Random House, 1991, makes the following statement regarding the CIA and covert operations and activities:

"The 'other' functions the CIA was to perform were purposely not specified, but we understood that they would include covert activities. We did not mention them by name because we felt it would be injurious to our national interest to advertise the fact that we might engage in such activities. We intended that these activities be separate and distinct from the normal activities of the CIA, and expected them to be limited in scope and purpose - thus the important limiting language, "affecting the national security."

It was to these ends that the President, Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council would rein supreme over all intelligence activities in the United States without being burdened by the Congress that established it. This gave the President and his members comprising the National Security Council unlimited power. Power that was used during the time of Project SIGN, just as it is now.

So established the Secret Triangle - the President, the National Security Council and the Central Intelligence Agency. This triangle would have important influence on Project SIGN and any other investigation into unidentified flying objects in the future.

Looking into the brief life span of Project SIGN and analyzing its strange demise with its sudden replacement of a new investigation called Project GRUDGE brings forth some interesting contemplations. A project designed to be a paper mill rather than an investigation; GRUDGE was based on the premise that people who saw "flying saucers" were a little suspect. The next twenty years of a supposedly scientific investigation became a repository of sightings without cause or concern. Although there were good incidents worthy of proper investigation, Project GRUDGE and BLUEBOOK would not get to keep them, they had to be passed on to a higher command.

Dr. Hynek, the Senior Consultant on UFOs for the Air Force, would repeatedly state that he was never allowed to get close to the good cases. He suspected that the really good ones went to the National Security Agency or the Defense Intelligence Agency. Considering Dr. Hynek’s years with the Air Force investigation starting with Project SIGN, he would have been in the position to know. He once told Donald Schmit, the Director of his Center for UFO Studies in Chicago, that he "realized from early on that BLUEBOOK (and its predecessors SIGN and GRUDGE) was little more than a front."(6)

Project SIGN initially was a warranted investigation due to concerns by the government that the unidentified aerial phenomenon was a possible threat to the security of the United States. However, it was to be nothing more than an intelligence gathering instrument to obtain information from sightings of unidentified flying objects.

Even though many reports were taken from the public, the main reason for investigation was due to the credibility of some of the military's own trained expert personnel reporting that their aircraft were being approached by objects unknown, and this also warranted caution and concern. Analyzing reports from the public could possibly assist with the investigation at the onset of Project SIGN.

General Hoyt Vandenburg, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and Sidney Souers, Executive Secretary of the National Security Council (composed of the President Truman, George C. Marshall, James Forrestal, Stuart Symington, Vannevar Bush, Kenneth Royall and John Sullivan), would be most interested in the progress of Project SIGN. These people would have been in the position to initially realize the importance of the UFO phenomenon.

Based on the circumstantial evidence collected, it could be concluded that the government has covered up important information regarding UFOs. People are convicted of crimes every day based upon less circumstantial evidence than that which has been established.

Within this framework it would be logical to assume that Truman, Forrestal, Vandenburg, Bush (right) and others had personal knowledge that Project SIGN would solve the puzzle of UFOs while pursuing Forrestal’s desire for a cover as well as an organization capable of operating outside the reaches of Congress.

General Vandenburg had authorized Project SIGN when he became the first Chief of Staff of the new United States Air Force. General Eisenhower may have been acting on the wishes of James Forrestal, with the approval of President Truman when he verbally requested from General Nathan F. Twining, Air Materiel's opinion regarding "flying discs," early in 1947. General Vandenburg authorized the project when General Eisenhower was no longer the Commanding General of the Army, and Eisenhower when he became President, supposedly received a top secret report detailing the events in Roswell in July 1947. There can be little doubt remaining that these people knew that the phenomenon was not the result of advanced aircraft from Russia or Germany.

Once Project SIGN became operational it was beset with problems. It failed to adequately organize it's operating procedures and structure of investigation due to personnel shortages and lack of a detailed operating budget. Its failue to use sound scientific research principals and basics into its investigation was due to lack of interest by the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board. In all likelihood, this was the intent.

There may be several reasons for this: 1) The perceived urgency by the staff at ATID of the concerns from higher echelons that initiated the project, made for haste and incompleteness on the part of the project staff and, 2) the project staff's belief, or consensus, that the phenomenon's source would be answered quickly was a tactical error in judgment and 3) the project was never meant to be organized properly since it was only to be used as a cover operation much like those used by law enforcement and the various intelligence agencies today.

James Forrestal, as early as 1944, was contemplating the necessity of forming a central intelligence organization separate from the military and the feasibility of a consortium that would oversee this organization which would be removed from the authority of the legislative and judicial branches of government. In his diaries he wrote on March 29, 1945:

"Admiral King made the remark today, when I asked him what he thought about a single agency of the government for the collection of intelligence, both internal and external, that he thought this, while it sounded logical, had elements of danger. He pointed out that over a long period of time such an agency might acquire power beyond anything which had been intended for it; that power, once acquired, might be hard to take away. He questioned whether such an agency could be considered consistent with our ideas of government." (7)

Forrestal saw the eventual creation of the Central Intelligence Agency, but as approved by Congress, it was to be external and concerned only with intelligence activities outside the United States. The possibility exists that due to the weight James Forrestal had within the government and with President Truman, his concept of "internal intelligence" may have been implemented before, and parallel to, the creation of the CIA.

However, the information Congress would need to create the CIA was just that - information. What it received was double talk from Forrestal and the Agency was created without Congressional charter or funding allocation. When President Truman sent the National Security Act to Congress, the subject of secret operations were never mentioned. The CIA subsisted on funds taken from the Armed Forces appropriations during the early years, clearly in violation of law. Consequently, the first establishment of covert operations was made by the National Security Council's secret order No. NSC-10/2. Interestingly, General Nathan Twining was involved in the establishment of the CIA with General Hoyt S. Vandenburg and was instrumental in later obtaining "Black Budget" allocations from Congress from 1957 through 1960 before his retirement. (8)

Walter Millis, the Editor of the Forrestal Diaries, makes the following statements regarding the massive amount of personal papers James Forrestal had locked away:

"This material as a whole presented many problems, both of a public and of editorial policy. On re-examining it in the spring of 1950 the representatives of the government removed nine documents, of a technical nature, as plainly prejudicial to military security. The representatives of the estate were given the option of leaving the remainder for security review - or of accepting it with a view to publication, under an engagement that nothing would actually be published until it had been cleared for security by the Department of Defense."

"After the diaries had been edited in accordance with the forgoing principles, the completed typescript was submitted to the Department of Defense, under the original agreement with the estate, for security review. As a result of this review a few passages were eliminated as directly violative of military security."

"While the present volume has been 'screened' for security, it is in no sense an official document and carries no stamp, even by inference, of official approval." (9)

It is astounding that James Forrestal had highly classified documents hidden away within his personal papers. It would be interesting to know what these documents were referring to and why he considered them important enough to place in his personal papers in violation of law. Unfortunately, not only is special permission required to view his papers, many are still classified and beyond the scope and intention of the Freedom of Information Act. Would the nine technical documents referred to include the Estimate of the Situation?

Project SIGN was scrapped before all contracted work by outside agencies were completed, yet the final technical report is written as if it was a status report rather than a report of findings. A report of findings could be construed to mean just that - this is a final report. Actually the report can be read both ways, as if it may have been rewritten to accommodate or appease someone or a ruse to redirect its original intent.

If General Vandenburg had been upset with ATID's final analysis that unidentified flying objects were extraterrestrial in origin it could possibly have been for two reasons: 1) he knew the analysis was correct but did not want it to become public knowledge, or 2) his anger was a ruse or red herring to have the technical analyst personnel at ATID assume they had the General's disfavor and had better amend their position in order to redirect the truth.

Project SIGN was terminated by General Vandenburg and most of the staff of SIGN was reassigned, but the immediate replacement of the project by a new code name can only be construed as an attempt to either cover up or to redirect its course of action. In this case, Project GRUDGE was to be nothing more than a repository for UFO reports with a position that UFOs didn't exist, and people who saw them were unreliable. In other words, the evolution from SIGN to GRUDGE probably became the governments disinformation center to hide its alleged other activities from the public and the lower echelons of the military staff.

If a true attempt were made to hide knowledge of the government's acquisition of a crashed unidentified flying object, this would easily accomplish the task. People at ATID would tow the official line since their careers were in the hands of the military; military personnel would have some source of command in which to report what they saw that would eliminate feelings of not knowing what to do, and the public would hopefully forget about UFOs because nobody wanted to be known as a "crazy."

By dissolving Project SIGN and instituting Project GRUDGE, the reputations and credibility of General Vandenburg, James Forrestal and others, would be safe from public criticism of being irrational and unfit for the positions they held, as well as not informing the public that other biological entities may exist, so as to maintain the government "ego" that the military can keep the nation secure. If the government does have in its possession a recovered UFO or UFOs, then it would have been felt necessary to clamp down securely the lid of secrecy.

Economic intelligence may have been used as a further method of disinformation in order to show that the time and money spent on Project SIGN was not wasted. The "Estimate of the Situation" may have been disavowed and sanitized on General Vandenburg's orders and retitled to make it appear as a final technical report from the Project SIGN staff.

The transition from Project SIGN to Project GRUDGE was accomplished before all the contracted and ordered information and assessments were obtained, or so researchers are led to believe. Project SIGN's completed report is more of a quickly culled and thrown together endeavor which leads credence to the possibility of it having been sanitized and included into the files as a cover in order to show that the time, money and manpower used on the project was both appropriate and conducive to accomplishing the task originally assigned.

If the government found itself facing the actual reality of unidentified flying objects in July 1947, it was unprepared. In order to facilitate control over the matter immediate secrecy needed to be imposed and a core group chosen to control the information necessary to maintain the secrecy. The military, since it takes orders from the upper echelons of government, becomes more a pawn in the game of secrecy. The military becomes an enforcer of secrecy rather than its custodian. The control group falls to those who conducts the governments policies which is contrary to the belief of most people that government operates under the direction and control of its elected leaders. After all, new elections constantly disrupt the inner workings of government, thus mandating by default, that career government employees maintain the innermost workings and secrets of the government entity.

Can secrets ever be kept? The answer to this question is no, they cannot. The core piece of a secret usually can be kept from outside knowledge, but eventually enough is said or seen that rules out that the secret is still secure. The difficulty is unraveling the outer layers, much like an onion, of the compartments that hide the pieces comprising the secret until there is no choice remaining other than to admit something is true. This has been the goal of many researchers in pursuit of knowledge about unidentified flying objects.

The controversy regarding a possible cover-up had been debated by insiders of Project SIGN and continuing so to the present day by group and individual researchers. One thing is certain, however, that the debate will continue until the knowledge of unidentified flying objects is finalized. Much like archaeologists, the people who are interested in the subject and those who continue in research, all make a difference regarding the UFO phenomenon. Slowly, pieces of the puzzle emerge, and documentation is secured that show that a cover-up is a higher probability.

Over the years, the layers of the UFO mystery slowly peel back, and a closer step is taken to knowing the truth. Not so with the disinformation that is so rampantly becoming a part of the phenomenon. It is a waste, and accomplishes nothing, except for those in authority that may feel so threatened that they continue to divide and conquer the public. After all, power comes from those who maintain the secrets, and even if the secrets are hollow the belief system will always insure continued funding to career civil employees and their departments.

With many theories regarding the phenomenon floating around, precious time is wasted just by the sheer amount of energy it takes to try and convince others of a specific point of view. The tragedy of this is simple. It allows for disinformation campaigns to work by drawing attention away from the real target, in this case the truth about UFOs, and redirects it to the human ego where it becomes adversarial.

It does not make any difference if one believes in the extraterrestrial theory or any other theory. What does make a difference is the struggle to find out the truth. That's the true target - the truth. Once the truth is known, theories naturally become obsolete.

Since the probability of a cover-up by the United States government is so high it means that more than one person holds the key to the truth about unidentified flying objects. Many responsible and conscientious citizens have already come forward with information and more are sure to follow.

Initially, Project SIGN was perhaps the most sincere attempt by the Air Force to come to terms with the UFO phenomenon. However, since its inception in 1947, it alone has been the initial source of the cover-up controversy between private researchers and the military. Unfortunately, a project that was begun in earnest quickly fell into mediocrity and superfluous inconsistencies. Alone, this fact shows that Project SIGN was steeped in mystery and secrecy and when quickly replaced by the paper effort of Project GRUDGE, gives great credence to the possibility that either the military or other elements of government made the decision that the UFO phenomenon was more important than what the public needed to know.

The UFO phenomenon remains an exceptionally important area of investigation that needs proper study. Diversionary elements between the government and UFO researchers need to be abandoned and replaced with an open and decisive sharing of information. UFOs are no longer the fodder of psuedoscience and needs proper investigation by all scientific and academic disciplines.

Disposing of secrecy, animosity and the sharing of all information would go a long way in the pursuit of knowledge concerning the most unique and awesome phenomenon of our time. But most importantly, it would do much to eliminate the arrogant belief that we are the center of the universe.

This one single step would help maintain a cohesive sense of our humanity and prepare future generations to seek the path to greater understanding of the human condition and our place in the Cosmos. Mankind can always raise an arm to the heavens, but collective determination alone dictates the course the voyage will take.


Clifford, Clark. Council to the President. NY: Random House, 1991.
Randle, Kevin. The UFO Casebook. NY: Warner Books. 1989.
Millis, Walter Editor. The Forrestal Diaries, NY: Viking, 1951.
Weiner, Tim. Blank Check: The Pentagon's Black Budget. NY: Warner, 1990.

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