Summary: These days, paranoia - or anyway, deep suspicion; perhaps there is a difference - seems in style. This time the inspiration is the ongoing, ever un-resolved MJ-12 dispute. The spectrum of paranoia ranges from the mild (and probably defensible) to the pathological (as in see your psychiatrist). Fortunately the latter has afflicted few on the sober side of ufology, but it is running rampant on the wild side.
The late Gray Barker, who trafficked in publications chronicling contactee adventures, men in black and sinister cover-ups of various sorts, was fond of saying that nothing sells like paranoia. Every time he had a new product to move, he pitched it in language that spoke to the most elemental fears of his customers, many of them certain that their knowledge of the world's deepest secrets (the hollowness of the earth, for example) would bring enforcers from the Silence Group to their doorstep any day. Barker himself wrote the all- time paranoid title, "They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers."
Its easy to laugh. Other people's paranoia is always funny. But what of our own?
These days, paranoia - or anyway, deep suspicion; perhaps there is a difference - seems in style. This time the inspiration is the ongoing, ever un-resolved MJ-12 dispute. The spectrum of paranoia ranges from the mild (and probably defensible) to the pathological (as in see your psychiatrist). Fortunately the latter has afflicted few on the sober side of ufology, but it is running rampant on the wild side. Since the early 1950s contactee believers have maintained that ETs are here to serve man - that is, to offer to help us. Now a new school of unhinged types claims the ETs are here to serve man, by which they mean offering us up as helpings, presumably in some cosmic McDonald's. Anyone who believes this (and to note the obvious - that not a shred of evidence supports this strange and sick reading of the UFO data - is to dignify it in a way it does not deserve) has, let's not mince words, cracks in his pot.
In the sane world, where it is not generally held that the U.S. government is covering up knowledge of man-eating aliens, paranoia manifests in speculation and rumour about the "true" nature of the MJ-12 briefing paper. The operating assumption is that it is not what it purports to be, a summary prepared for President-elect Eisenhower to inform him that the earth is being visited by extra- terrestrials, two of whose craft have crashed on North American soil. The questions being raised are these:
Who wrote the document, if Adm. Hillenkoetter (the ostensible author) didn't? Was it a well-informed nastily-clever ufologist putting one over on his gullible colleagues? Was it intelligence- agency personnel disseminating disinformation, either to hide real UFO secrets or to confuse the Soviets? Or - at the top of the paranoia hit parade - was it a ufologist consciously working in collusion with intelligence agents? If this last is true, just whom can we trust?
This week, as I write these words, I have heard serious charges leveled against two prominent figures in ufology. These charges were made by individuals who went to some length to list their reasons for entertaining suspicions that they acknowledge sound crazy. I am sure the ufologists at the receiving end of these accusations (which allege that they are collaborating with intelligence agencies involved in the cover-up) will be able to defend themselves and to explain the actions deemed suspicious. The mere fact that such accusations are being made by noncranks, however, illustrates how perilous UFO inquiry has become in the MJ-12 era.
By "perilous" I do not mean, of course, that anybody need fear for his life because he Knows Too Much About Flying Saucers (a conceit that, though widespread, has always done more to massage ufologists' egos than to truly frighten them). I refer instead to the problem of thinking through rationally what we may be up against, given the reality of a cover-up. (And there is a cover-up; if there were not, the U.S. government would have told us by now what it recovered in New Mexico in July 1947. We know that it was not a weather balloon and we know the recoverers knew that, too.)
One need not be a textbook-case paranoid or a conspiracy nut to recognize that yes, governments, even democratic ones, have secrets and ways of keeping them. They have intelligence agencies and, among their other tasks, these agencies' personnel track the spread of sensitive information, including rumours of same. They have established methods of dealing with leaks. In dictatorships leakers are easily dealt with: they're killed or sent off to remote gulags. In a democracy such as the United States, if outright treason is not involved, its trickier. Generally the worst that happens is that the leaker, if his name is known, loses his job. Beyond that, the official agency involved will vigorously deny the accuracy of the information being leaked and hope that journalists covering the story will be gulled into believing the denial.
Few ufologists are aware that in the United States it is illegal for official agencies or individuals to circulate dis- information for domestic consumption. We all know, of course, that officials, including Presidents, break the law. They usually don't bet by with it, as witness such episodes as Watergate and the Iran-contra fiasco. The reason they don't get by with it is that Congress, prosecutors and the press are watching them. That's why there was an uproar, a year or two ago, when the Wall Street Journal fell victim to a disinformation scam that reported, falsely, that the U.S. government was about to bomb Libya again. The story was circulated for psychological purposes; the idea was to scare the Libyan government. A 'Journal' foreign correspondent picked up the story and made the mistake of taking it seriously. When the truth came out, the Reagan administration was severely criticized and forced to give assurances that nothing like this would happen again.
In the context of the UFO controversy, however, it is undeniably true that a different set of rules apply. It is an article of faith among this country's opinion-making elite (New York Times, CBS News, Time, Science, et al) that people who believe in UFOs are all screwballs, since UFOs do not exist. Nothing that happens among UFO believers could conceivably be of any significance except to readers fo the "National Enquirer". That being the case, UFO "evidence" is of no interest whatever, regardless of the amount of documentation or quality of witnesses. Because there are no UFOs, there cannot be a cover-up of important information about them. Therefore any testimony that claims the contrary need not be heeded.
In other words, the field is open to any government agency to play any game it feels it need to play. The watchdogs aren't just sleeping on the job; they're not even on the job. "The New York Times" and the "Washington Post" have never heard of the Roswell incident, much less dispatched investigative reporters to look into it. Supremely smug and blind, they will not know if laws are being broken by official persons keeping UFO secrets; anybody who says they are need only be referred to "Skeptical Inquirer", or a psychiatrist, to get his head straightened.
It is not true as a general principle, the cliche notwith- standing, that secrets can't be kept. But it has to be especially easy to keep UFO secrets, since nobody except ufologists, who have no influence and only limited resources, is looking for them. (In the 1970s famous investigative journalist Seymour Hersh made a point of telling "Rolling Stone" that he doesn't do "flying saucer stories .") Nor, consequently, is anybody looking to see if federal laws are being violated by keepers of UFO secrets. Any ufologist who says his phone is being tapped or that intelligence personnel are circulating domestic UFO disinformation is, well, just another paranoid, a harm- less version of the guy who tells police that space aliens ordered him to shoot his mother.
What is truth? a famous man asked. Two thousand years later we ask, what is paranoia? Well, it's certainly no delusion, no purely subjective phenomenon. A fear or suspicion that has no demonstrably objective basis is paranoia. That makes the fear that the CIA assassinates ufologists paranoia, but it does not do the same for the suspicion that intelligence agencies are doing other things to ufologists. We know that both active-duty and retired spook types have told ufologists hair-raising tales about EBEs in government custody. There is no independent reason to believe these stories are true, but what's important for the moment is that they're being told by the individuals who are telling them. We also know that some ufologists have interacted, sometimes in curious ways, with these individuals.
What is going on far away from the scrutiny of the usual establishment watchdogs? And what is the reason for it? It must surely mean that ufologists are on to something, otherwise why the attention? But where do reasonable questions end and crazy fantasies begin? Beyond the richly-documented Roswell incident, we have no real evidence of what the government may or may not know, what it may or may not be concealing. That leaves us open to any credentialed liar who comes along - if we are foolish enough to take him at his word, that is.
Under the circumstances, given the bewildering and bizarre nature of events in recent years, a certain degree of paranoia (provided that it be mild and containable) is inevitable. Any more that a mild degree, however, need an antidote. I suggest laughter. What's ahead of us, as we work our way through Roswell and beyond, is not going to be easy to get to, but lunatic fears, we can be sure, will take us only to never-neverland.