Summary: One winter night in 1965, eyewitnesses saw a fireball streak over North America, bank, turn and appear to crash in western Pennsylvania. Then swarms of military personnel combed the area and a tarp-covered flatbed truck rumbled out of the woods. Now a former White House chief of staff and an international investigative journalist want to know what the Pentagon knows, calling on it to release classified files about that and other incidents involving unidentified flying objects, or UFOs.
(CNN) -- One winter night in 1965, eyewitnesses saw a fireball streak over North America, bank, turn and appear to crash in western Pennsylvania. Then swarms of military personnel combed the area and a tarp-covered flatbed truck rumbled out of the woods.
Now a former White House chief of staff and an international investigative journalist want to know what the Pentagon knows, calling on it to release classified files about that and other incidents involving unidentified flying objects, or UFOs.
"It is time for the government to declassify records that are more than 25 years old and to provide scientists with data that will assist in determining the real nature of this phenomenon," ex-Clinton aide John Podesta said Tuesday.
A Pentagon spokesperson could not be reached for comment regarding the requests for information.
Despite earning little credence, cases of strange aerial phenomena that defy explanation abound -- whether witnessed by thousands of Arizona residents, commercial airline pilots or a U.S. president.
The new initiative is not setting out to prove the existence of aliens. Rather the group wants to legitimize the scientific investigation of unexplained aerial phenomena.
Podesta was one of numerous political and media heavyweights on hand in Washington, D.C., to announce a new group to gain access to secret government records about UFOs.
Specifically, the Coalition for Freedom of Information (CFI) is pressing the Air Force for documents involving Project Moon Dust and Operation Blue Fly, clandestine operations reported to have existed decades ago to investigate UFOs and retrieve objects of unknown origins.
One of the most mysterious cases, the Kecksburg, Pennsylvania incident of December 5, 1965, is the first cited in the group's request for records through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Despite an official government story that the object was a meteorite, some eyewitnesses claimed that a military truck took an acorn-shaped object the size of a small car from the rural Pennsylvania crash site to an Air Force base in Ohio.
"We can't come up with a reason why this information is being withheld. The government won't even acknowledge that the incident took place but we know that it did," said Leslie Kean, a California-based freelance reporter who drafted the FOIA request.
In the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, the government did take the UFO search seriously and top generals considered the pros and cons of informing the U.S. public, Kean said, citing top secret memos.
In 1969, however, the Air Force terminated Project Blue Book, concluding that no reported UFOs were threats to national security.
Paradoxically, Kean notes, the military continues to deny some requests for UFO information by citing national security concerns.
Trying to stamp out ridicule
Backed by the Sci-Fi channel, the CFI hopes to reduce the scientific ridicule factor in this country when the topic is UFOs.
"There's definitely evidence of strange phenomenon in the world. These are well documented," said Kean, who has written for The Nation, the Boston Globe and the International Herald Tribune.
"Most people don't think that there is evidence because they haven't look for it. There's such a little green men mindset in this culture. It's hard to work your way through that."
The CFI director Ed Rothschild also works for Podesta's public relations firm, PodestaMattoon, which is coordinating the new group at the behest of the Sci- Fi channel. He said the initiative was a call for serious investigation, not a publicity stunt for the cable network.
"The Sci-Fi channel has had an interest in [UFOs] for some time. The difference here is that they are focusing attention on the serious, factual side of the issue, and that scientists have not had a chance to thoroughly examine it," Rothschild said.
"Of course it could help programming. But Sci-Fi thought they had some resources they could bring to the table."