Summary: Ever since 1948 the CIA has maintained an interest in UFOs and remains tight-lipped to this very day on the subject, keeping evidence and documents on the phenomena many levels above Top Secret.
The modern age of UFO phenomena began on a July afternoon in 1947 when private pilot Kenneth Arnold reported nine unidentifiable silvery, crescent-shaped objects that skimmed through the sky at an incredible rate of speed.
Their motion, Arnold said, reminded him of "a saucer skipping over water." A news reporter took up Arnold's description and the phrase "flying saucers" soon become imprinted on the collective consciousness.
When strange objects continued to be reported by competent witnesses, the U.S. authorities began investigating the phenomenon. The task fell under the auspices of the United States Air Force, but few were aware the CIA took an interest in the strange phenomena soon after the first reports of 'flying saucers' emerged.
The Air Force was actually in a state of near panic due to the wave of sightings. UFOs were reported over Maxwell Air Force base in Alabama, then, to the horror of the top military brass, over the White Sands Proving Ground - right in the middle of their atom bomb territory. General Nathan Twining, commander of the Air Materiel Command, wrote to the commanding general of the Army-Air Force stating that the phenomenon was something real, that it was not "visionary or fictitious," and that the objects were disc-shaped, as large as aircraft, and controlled.
The press latched onto the reports and sensationalised stories of alien invasion gripped the population. The press and the Government were demanding answers. The Air Force, worried that the whole situation was getting out of hand, tried to quell public angst by ordering a full investigation.
On December 30, 1947, Major General L. C. Craigie ordered the establishment of Project Sign at what became known as Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. Operating under auspices of the Air Material Command's Technical Intelligence Division, Project Sign was directed "to collect, collate, evaluate and distribute to interested government agencies and contractors all information concerning sightings and phenomena in the atmosphere which can be construed to be of concern to the national security."
The project was given a 2A restricted classification security rating under a system that acknowledged 1A as the highest, or most secret, designation.
The following year, three men from Wright-Patterson approached Dr. J. Allen Hynek, an astronomer then employed by Ohio State University in nearby Columbus. "They said they needed some astronomical consultation because it was their job to find out what these flying saucer stories were all about," Hynek recalls. Hynek was hired as a consultant with the Air Force and remained in that capacity for over two decades as Sign evolved into Projects Grudge and Blue Book, the last officially ceasing in December of 1969.
According to Hynek, the Air Force had a simple, but effective, method to explain UFOs: Dismiss all sightings as misidentified astronomical phenomena. The problem, says Hynek, was the Air Force "regarded it as an intelligence matter" instead of handing the investigation to an academic or university group. Therefore, any serious investigation of the new phenomena was stultified because top military brass believed it an 'intelligence' matter, another intrigue of the emerging Cold War.
However, military personnel directly involved in Project Sign had a different view. While 96% of reports turned out to be misidentified astronomical phenomena (e.g. the planet Venus), the other 4% were not so easily discredited or explained, and a minority of military personnel took these seriously.
Minority intelligence opinion then divided into the two camps, namely, those who saw UFOs as evidence of new Soviet technology, and those who thought they might be precursors of an invasion by extraterrestrials.
'Flying Saucers' and the CIA
Ever since 1948 the CIA has maintained an interest in UFOs and remains tight-lipped to this very day on the subject, keeping evidence and documents on the phenomena many levels above Top Secret.
A memo sent on January 29, 1952 to the CIA's deputy director of Intelligence from Ralph Clark of the Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI) states: "In the past several weeks numerous UFOs have been sighted visually and on special UFO group radar. This office has maintained a continuing review of reputed sightings for the past three years and a special group has been formed to review the sightings to date."
Many researchers believe that from the very beginning the CIA was quite certain UFOs were not just Soviet technology. In fact, as evidence accumulated pointing to the possible extra-terrestrial origin of UFOs, the CIA became increasingly nervous that other U.S. government agencies might launch their own inquiries into the matter. Secrecy would be an impossibility if everyone investigated UFOs, and in a matter of time, details would leak to the media and the public.
In response to these concerns, the CIA began a process of maintaining a tight rein over the investigations to ensure no public inquiries would ever take place. To discredit the phenomenon, the CIA set up a panel of experts whose job was to explain away UFOs.
The CIA convened on 14 January, 1953 a confab that became known as the Robertson Panel, after its Chairman Dr. H. P. Robertson, then Director of the Weapons Systems Evaluation Group in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and also a CIA employee.
The sequence of events leading directly to the Robertson Panel involved a series of UFO sightings over the nation's capital in the summer of 1952, sightings confirmed by military personnel, including radar operators and scrambled interceptor pilots, and which themselves resulted in the largest post WWII military press conference to that date. At the press conference itself, the repeated radar sightings were put down to "temperature inversions," and the attending Air Force officers made no mention of the scrambled jet fighters.
Besides the esteemed Dr. Robertson, the Panel also included as members physicist Dr. Luis Alvarez, later a Nobel Laureate, Dr. Samuel Goudsmit, another physicist from Brookhaven National Laboratories who was an associate of Einstein's and had discovered electron spin, a former University of Chicago astronomer and then Deputy Director of the John Hopkins Operations Research office, Dr. Thornton Page, and finally Dr. Lloyd Berkner, yet another physicist and one of Brookhaven's directors.
The Panel was addressed by a variety of CIA and Air Force personnel who reviewed some 20 of the better UFO cases and showed 2 film strips of alleged flying saucers, one of which purportedly portrayed objects characterised as "self-luminous" by no less an authoritative source than the Navy's Photograph Interpretation Laboratory which had spent over 1000 hours analysing the particular movie film in question.
Although impressive evidence was presented to the panel, highlighted by detailed reports documented by the Air Force, its recommendations read like they were formulated before the panel even convened. The CIA had already developed a cover story to cloak the real story: UFOs were to be dismissed as just another scientific enigma, a Cold War datum, one that might be cleverly manipulated by the enemy.
In short, the Robertson Panel ruled "That the evidence presented on Unidentified Flying Objects shows no indication that these phenomena constitute a direct physical threat to national security." While this ruling is considered contentious by many UFO researchers, it was the panel's second conclusion that really shocked. The panel decreed there was no national security threat from UFOs, however, its members did see a real and distinct danger posed by UFO reports!
In the panel's own words, it concluded "That the continued emphasis on the reporting of these phenomena, in these perilous times, result in a threat to the orderly functioning of the protective organs of the body politic."
"We cite as example [of such danger]," the Panel continued, "the clogging of channels of communication by irrelevant reports, the danger of being led by continued false alarms to ignore real indications of hostile action, and the cultivation of a morbid national psychology in which skilful hostile propaganda could induce hysterical behavior and harmful distrust of duly constituted authority." In other words, UFO reports might induce national psychosis that could be subject to manipulation by the Soviets.
In the final list of recommendations, the panel calls for "national security agencies take immediate steps to strip the Unidentified Flying Objects of the special status they have been given..."
The CIA had effectively halted any serious research into the phenomena, and now controlled all ongoing U.S. military investigations.
Ruppelt vs. the CIA
The public became aware of the panel a few years later with the publication of "The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects" by Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, former commander of Project Blue Book. Both Ruppelt and his Intelligence Liaison Officer, Major Dewey J. Fournet, gave evidence to the Robertson Panel.
Although the panel relegated UFOs to the dustbin of history, Walter Smith, then-Director of the CIA, saw fit to keep all evidence classified. The CIA's decision shocked Captain Ruppelt and Major Fournet. Both were part of the minority of intelligence officials that believed the evidence for UFOs was incontrovertible. They also believed the possibility of hysteria would be reduced if the public were told the truth.
Ruppelt had fought hard to keep the Air Force investigations afloat, after joining the Project Grudge team in January 1951, but soon found the CIA constantly interfering and withholding valuable information. Project Grudge evolved into the now famous Project Bluebook in March 1952 with Captain Ruppelt appointed as its chief. All this came in response to a spate of UFO sightings, beginning with the 25 August, 1951 famous sightings at Lubbock, Texas, which caused an enormous stir with the American public. And soon after, on 12 September, 1951, a major UFO sighting above the skies of Fort Monmouth in clear view of visiting military brass, contributed to the Air Force's new found enthusiasm.
Ruppelt first became aware of the CIA's unwanted presence after the Washington UFO 'invasion' of July 1952, when he was hampered from doing his job, and witnesses to the sightings were intimidated into changing their reports or simply remaining silent.
The person who most worried Ruppelt was Chief of Staff, General Hoyt S. Vandenberg. It was Vandenberg who had buried Project Sign's official UFO 'Estimate' report, caused its incineration, and had the project renamed Project Grudge. It is not clear just how much Vandenberg was influencing top military officials responsible for implementing the Air Force's UFO projects. Vandenberg had been head of the Central Intelligence Group (later the CIA) from June 1946 to May 1947, and his uncle was once chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, then the most powerful committee in the U.S. Senate. Clearly, Vandenberg still had great influence in those areas - and according to Ruppelt, pressure was always coming from them to suppress the results of official UFO investigations.
Thus, Ruppelt was not surprised when the CIA and other high-ranking officers including General Vandenberg convened a panel of scientists to 'analyse' all the Blue Book data. Nor was he too surprised when the Robertson Panel found that no further study was necessary.
The pieces of the jigsaw puzzle started to fall into place. It was clear to Captain Ruppelt and other members of Project Blue Book, that the purpose of the Robertson Panel was to enable the CIA and Air Force to state in the future that an impartial body had examined the UFO data and found no evidence for anything unusual in the skies. Subsequently, the Air Force embarked upon a public relations campaign to eliminate UFO reports totally. The CIA decided not to declassify the sighting reports and tighten security even more while continuing to deny "non-military personnel" access to UFO files.
One month later CIA director Walter Smith classified all UFO documentation and all subsequent directors continued to endorse the policy.
Initiation of a Cover-Up
In August 1953 Ruppelt left the Air Force out of disgust and because of the limitations placed on his work by the CIA. The same month the Pentagon issued the notorious Air Force Regulation 200-2, that prohibited the release of any information about a sighting to the public or media, except when it was positively identified as natural phenomenon. The new regulation also ensured that all sightings would be classified as restricted.
In December 1953 the much worse Joint-Army-Navy-Air Force Publication 146 made the releasing of any information to the public a crime under the Espionage Act. And the most ominous aspect of JANAP 146 was that it applied to anyone who knew it existed, including commercial airline pilots. Any information flow to the public was effectively cut.
By the end of the year Project Blue Book was severely decimated and for all intents and purposes, UFO research plunged into secrecy and under the control of the CIA. In just over six years since Kenneth Arnold's sighting of strange silvery objects, the infamous intelligence agency had secured complete official silence on the subject of UFOs.
The cover-up began and continues today, due to the CIA's indomitable power over all other intelligence groups within the U.S. security establishment. The truth is out there... and it just might be somewhere deep inside the secret files of the CIA.