Summary: Over the years the UFO enigma has given rise to numerous official inquiries. Ostensibly these have attempted to search out the truth of the phenomenon as open mindedly as possible.
Over the years the UFO enigma has given rise to numerous official inquiries. Ostensibly these have attempted to search out the truth of the phenomenon as open mindedly as possible. Claiming to follow strict scientific method, these investigations have given the semblance of a well researched endeavor, carried out by diligent highly qualified personnel. The reality unfortunately has turned out to be somewhat different.
We now know that many of the major official inquiries such as Blue Book followed a hidden agenda; a deliberate effort to stifle the most exciting evidence and play down its significance. It also appears that in many instances case studies were poorly conducted and rarely investigated to any great depth. In fact at one point the notorious Blue Book investigation became known under the derisory nickname of "The Society for the Explanation of the Uninvestigated"!
The First Investigation 1235.
Mans need to explain strange happenings in the sky goes back many centuries. The first official investigation that we know of was conducted by the Japanese in the 12th century. Flying discs had caused much consternation and in 1235 , a General Yoritsume dispatched a team of investigators to discover the truth of the matter. The conclusion they reached is almost as farcical as some of today's official verdicts! It was the opinion of the wise men involved, that the reason behind the bizarre aerial phenomenon of 'earthenware vessels', as they called them, was " the wind shaking the stars"!
In recent history the post-war rise of the flying saucer grew to such proportions that it couldn't be ignored. In 1947 events and happenings were running at a high. For the authorities the most disturbing aspect was the status of the witnesses. In many cases these were well respected professional people including many pilots whose evidence was not so easily discounted.
At Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton Ohio, the phones of the Air Technical Intelligence were buzzing like crazy. UFO's were everywhere and the threat of this aerial invasion had to be evaluated in terms of national security. At first it was felt these strange aerial sightings were some form of secret weapon probably of Russian origin. To investigate this possibility, and other implications it was felt necessary to open an inquiry. Thus Project Sign was initiated. Also known as 'Project Saucer', its brief was manifold. On the one hand there was the question of security, and on the other a need to sell the public a version of events that deliberately avoided any "fantastic scenario"!
The very early days of Project Sign were characterized by a sharp division of opinion between its principal investigators. This was perhaps due to the tight parameters imposed on the inquiry by its overall paymasters, the Pentagon in Washington. They were known to be wholly unsympathetic to the idea of extraterrestrial involvement, and Project Sign was definitely under pressure to come to conclusions that reflected this view.
A phenomenon certainly existed. Explanations were needed, and the policy of Project Sign and other inquiries like it was to ascribe common place answers to what were highly unusual events and happenings.
Mirages, temperature inversion phenomena, as well as the planet Venus, stars and marsh gas, were all well trodden excuses! Incidents were classified. Those that were easy to explain in terms of the ordinary were given priority. Those that were likely to prove a problem were quickly buried. Yet another tactic was to discredit the evidence.
Often this went to endless pains to rubbish the testimony of what in some cases were highly trained personnel. Thus when several fighter planes chased after a bright object without seeming to gain on it, the explanation advanced was that the pilots were chasing stars. In other words the defense of the United States relied on pilots, who according to the inquiry, were incapable of distinguishing a star from its normal background.
One major criticism of Project Sign was that it made little effort to seek independent scientific help. An exception to this was the appointment of an astronomical consultant to assess cases in terms of known celestial phenomena. His name was J. Allen Hynek! By his own admission Hynek was then very much a junior "in the ranks of science", but the profile of Project Sign and other subsequent inquiries, eventually thrust his name into the forefront of the UFO debate. Hynek also became "technical adviser", to the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
At the outset of Project Sign, Hynek felt the best policy was to remain neutral! In his own words: "to let the phenomenon prove or disprove itself." Twenty years later however, when the whole inquiry was a far distant memory Hynek was rather more outspoken on the subject. In his book "The UFO experience", he slams the inquiry as "insulting the intelligence of competent people"! In his opinion the evaluation of exciting evidence had come up against "an explanation gap"! When the phenomenon couldn't be explained in terms of foreign Earth based technology, this created a huge dilemma of not knowing quite where to turn.
Writes Hynek: " An 'explanation gap', had arisen. Either the whole explanation had to be 'psychological' (an expression that was often used for want of a cogent explanation), or there was something behind the phenomenon that no-one wanted to admit." Continues Hynek: " Their reaction was the expected one, the one that has been experienced through the centuries: 'It can't be, therefore it isn't".
In February 1949 Project Sign gave way to Project Grudge. Now the guidelines of inquiry shifted rather more aggressively. In Hyneks words: "The change signalled ... the adoption of a strict brush-off attitude to the UFO problem. Now the public relations statements bore little resemblance to the facts of the case." For Captain EJ Ruppelt, the first head of Operation Blue Book, this bias was difficult to believe. He writes: "This period of 'mind changing' bothered me. Here were people deciding there was nothing to this UFO business right at the time when the reports seemed to be getting better".
Referring to this period as the "Dark Ages", of UFO research, Ruppelt commented: " Everything was being evaluated under the premise that UFO's couldn't exist, and good UFO reports continued to come in at the rate of about ten a month, but they weren't being verified or investigated. Most of them were being discarded."
As an indication of the ludicrous extent to which this "brush-off" was carried, Ruppelt made reference to a Pentagon document which gave one explanation for UFO's as 'hailstones that became flattened out and glided.' Continues Ruppelt: "The problem was tackled with organized confusion."
In the imagination of the public the idea of a military inquiry conjures up images of a highly motivated task force, banks of computers, and teams of expert researchers prepared to travel to the ends of the country at a moments notice. However nothing like this existed. UFO investigation was given a very low priority . Poorly staffed by junior ranks, funds were limited, and organization was at best haphazard. Very little effort was made to collect all the available data on an incident, and what was available was afterwards poorly processed. In the early stages very little of it was cross referenced, and making a comparative analysis, linking trends behind sightings involved a lengthy examination of each and every record. Eventually a computer data base was started but here again it became difficult to cross reference incidents of a similar category.
In 1952 Project Grudge gave way to Project Blue Book, whose full official title was The Aerial Phenomena Group. The name may have changed but essentially the methods and intentions stayed the same. There was the same malaise, the same inefficiency, and the same obsession to misrepresent the evidence. Comments Hynek: "Only the most perfunctory attempts were made to mount any type of serious investigation." He continues: " When a case did appear to have a likely misperception explanation Blue Book often spared little effort in phone calls, interrogations etc., in order to pin it down to a planet, a refueling mission or some other natural occurrence".
It was often the case that Blue Book would only take an interest in an incident after it had received extensive media publicity ! When this was the case every resource was mobilized towards finding a convenient answer that would quickly put a stop to the "wild speculation". When the evidence became especially compelling, leverage was placed on those in the field to arrive at "the right conclusions"! Hynek remembers one such instance with great clarity. He writes: " one time when I inquired into the specifics of a case I was told by the Pentagon's chief scientist that he had been advised by those at a much higher level to tell me 'not to pursue the matter further'. One can make of that what one will".
Even the initial chief of the project EJ Ruppelt, felt drawn in the clutches of a system that seemed to operate to a highly secretive agenda. In his memoirs he reflects: " Maybe I was just the front man for a big cover-up"
By this time Hynek appears to have become rather more bold in his criticism. Eventually the Air Force invited him "to define those areas of scientific weakness" that so distressed him. In his final report Hynek included the following comments: "The statistical methods employed by Blue Book are nothing but a travesty"! He concluded: "Blue Book is unscientific in that a working hypothesis has been adopted which colours and determines the method of investigation."
Hynek was not by any means the only high profile critic. In 1966 a Senior Physicist at the University of Arizona, Dr James McDonald announced to newsmen that: "Years of Air Force assurances have kept the public, press, Congress and the scientific community under the impression that the UFO problem was being studied with thoroughness and scientific expertise. This I have found to be completely false."
The Condon Inquiry.
In October of 1966 The United States Air Force commissioned the University of Colorado to make a scientific study of UFO's . The idea was to instigate an independent study using, to quote the commission itself, "a group of the nation's leading scientists". Independent it may have been - unbiased it was not! Particular doubt concerned the objectivity of the project Director Dr Edward Condon. A physicist of established reputation, Condon was known to view the whole UFO question with considerable 'negativity'. Just three months into the study he gave a speech saying: "It is my inclination right now to recommend that the government get out of this business. My attitude right now is that there's nothing to it....but I'm not supposed to reach a conclusion for another year".
Throughout its investigation the Condon inquiry was rife with internal division, and squabbles over policy. Resignations and sackings were frequent. An early casualty was Dr David Saunders. He had clashed with Condon on a variety of issues and the final straw was his link to a highly embarrassing memo. This was by the project administrator Robert Low. It said: "The trick would be, I think, to describe the project so that, to the public, it would appear a totally objective study but, to the scientific community, would present the image of a group of nonbelievers trying their best to be objective but having an almost zero expectation of finding a saucer".
The next casualty was Condon's administrative assistant Louise Armstrong. Her letter of resignation could not have been more condemning. She wrote: "To me, too much of his (Dr Condon's) time has been spent in worrying about what kinds of 'language' should be used in the final report so as to most cleverly avoid having anything definitive to say about the UFO problem." She concluded: "One does get the feeling that somehow the slate should be wiped clean and the job done over - properly."
When the Condon report was finally published it ran to around a thousand pages of rambling, ill connected statements and studies, only around half of which actually concerned UFO sightings. Peculiar prominence was given to atmospheric anomalies, psychological profiling, the deleterious effects of the UFO culture on children, and to quote one section, the "Natural philosophy of Flying Saucers".
The report also declared that "children are educationally harmed by absorbing unsound and erroneous material (concerning UFO's) as if it were scientifically well founded". It went on: "we strongly recommend that teachers refrain from giving students credit for school work based on their reading of the presently available UFO books and magazines. As a bottom line the report concluded: " the extensive study of UFOs probably cannot be justified in the expectation that science will be advanced thereby".
What the report declined to emphasize was that a quarter of the cases it investigated remained unexplained. These however were buried under pages of data that only the most diligent of readers would trouble to find.
Criticism was swift in coming. Scientist W.T. Powers declared: "Condon uses as illustrations exclusively the cases which are silly, easy to explain, or poorly reported". He continued, that the report was "an affront to his fellow scientists". Major Donald Keyhoe director of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena released the following statement: "We are publicly challenging the attempt to dismiss UFOs. Dr Condon started as a non-believer and made his findings fit his beliefs".
Amongst the most notable of other official inquiries was research conducted by the Battelle Memorial Institute in the USA during the mid 1950's. This involved the statistical processing of data from hundreds of USAF cases spanning several years. Much valuable data was extracted leading UFO investigator Jenny Randles to comment: "Their procedure was a great example of how UFO groups should act today".
It seems obvious that any future offical inquiry will be destined to follow the same narrow path as its predecessors. However the evidence clearly points to the fact that on an unofficial and strictly confidential level, UFOs have been rather more thoroughly investigated by the military, with findings completely different to the white-wash presented to the public. Former astronauts including Dr Edgar Mitchell have openly admitted this much. The feeling is that the intelligence community know a great deal more than they're saying. Many are said to be anxious to speak out on the subject, but for the moment it's a case of "those who know won't talk, and those who talk don't know"!