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UFOs and the National Security State
Chronology of a Cover-up 1941-1973
By RICHARD M. DOLAN
Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.Copyright © 2002 Richard M. Dolan
All rights reserved.
Prologue: To 1947
He who desires to reform the government of a state, and wishes to have it accepted and capable of maintaining itself to the satisfaction of everybody, must at least retain the semblance of the old forms; so that it may seem to the people that there has been no change in the institutions, even though in fact they are entirely different from the old ones. For the great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities, and are often even more influenced by the things that seem than by those that are.
—Niccolo Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, Chapter XXV
UFOs Before World War Two
It is quite possible that UFOs have existed for millennia. A steady stream of reports—stories might be a better word—appears through the centuries, some of them suggestive of modern reports. Of course, most of these stories were not about spaceships, although some of them were. Rather, people interpreted what they saw in the terms and concepts they knew best: they saw fiery wheels or chariots in the sky, conversed with fairy folk, or had visions of God, angels, and demons. While the accounts are certainly worth collecting, there is not much we can do with them other than reflect on the possibilities they suggest. Ultimately, they remain just stories.
Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the number of these stories spiked upward. Whether this means that more weird events were really taking place, or simply that more people were noticing them, is anybody's guess. Even today, some of these reports make for interesting reading. The London Times of September 26, 1870, for example, described a strange elliptical object that crossed the face of the moon. In November 1882, astronomer E. W. Maunder, a member of the Royal Observatory staff at Greenwich, noted "a strange celestial visitor" in his observational report. Others also saw this object, which they described as torpedo- or spindle-shaped. Years later Maunder said the object looked exactly like a zeppelin, except that there were no zeppelins in 1882. Sightings were widespread for the rest of the decade, occurring in Mexico, Turkey, Nova Scotia (a five-minute sighting in which shipmates saw a huge red object rise from the ocean, pause, and fly off rapidly), New Zealand, the Dutch East Indies, and elsewhere.
In 1897, the United States experienced the first modern wave of sightings. These were the "airships" which first appeared in San Francisco in late 1896 and moved eastward. Thousands of people, including astronomers, saw them, which typically had lights (usually red, green, or white), moved slowly, and seemed to be under intelligent control. Sometimes voices could be heard, whether in English or something unintelligible. On a few occasions, people claimed to see their occupants, and even to speak with them. Such outlandish sightings got some press. The New York Herald-Tribune described a sighting in Chicago on April 9, 1897, that lasted from 8 P.M. until 2 A.M.:
Thousands of amazed persons declared that the lights seen in the northwest were those of an airship, or some floating object, miles above the earth.... Some declared that they could distinguish two cigar-shaped objects and great wings.
Two giant searchlights apparently illuminated the object. Other, far stranger, incidents occurred. Explanations included many of the standard culprits of later ages: mass hallucination and hysteria, experimental aircraft (private, not military), opium-induced dreams, hoaxes, or all of the above.
The 1897 airship sightings were the most remarkable of the pre-1940s era. But other noteworthy UFO events also took place, including one in western China in 1926 by the party of explorer Nicholas Roerich. In his book, Altai—Himalaya, Roerich described the sighting as an "interesting occurrence." As he related, his party noticed a high-flying shiny object. The group brought "three powerful field glasses" and watched a "huge spheroid body shining in the sun, clearly visible against the blue sky, and moving very fast." Roerich and his party were certain they saw something real. What was it? What would be flying like that in the western China desert—in 1926? No answer ever emerged.
These early reports are intriguing, but offer few avenues for further research. UFOs appeared sporadically, elicited minimal response from the public and authorities, and were promptly forgotten. One wonders, in any event, what kind of response would have been possible?
The Second World War changed all this. Before the war, airplanes were scarce and radar nonexistent—by the war's end, both were global. In other words, it became much, much easier to detect strange aerial phenomena after 1940. Since military personnel were the main users of radar and airplanes, they might naturally be expected to encounter more UFOs than the average person—and they most certainly did. Let us take a moment to review some key developments of the American military and national security establishment.
The National Security Connection
When UFO skeptics claim that hiding something as significant as alien visitation is impossible, they should study some of the secrets that were kept for many, many years. A veritable secrecy industry exists in the modern world, complete with its own standard operating procedures and tricks of the trade.
The granddaddy of all secret projects was the Manhattan Project, the program to design and build an atomic bomb during the Second World War. More than any other program, it helped to forge the American military-industrial establishment, and served as a model for future secret projects. One of its key contributions was its secret—or black—budget. When President Roosevelt learned that such a weapon might be feasible, the best guess was that it would cost $100 million. The actual cost ballooned to a mammoth $2.19 billion, over twenty times the original estimate. Getting that much money through traditional means (i.e., congressional approval) raised the dual problem of asking Congress to authorize outlays that were unprecedented while at the same time alerting the enemy to the Allies' most important military weapon. The money, therefore, had to be hidden from Congress. Roosevelt told his science advisor, Vannevar Bush, he could draw upon hidden funding, "a special source available for such an unusual expense." Most of the money for the project was disguised in two line items in the military budget, and the rest was buried in other appropriations. The secrecy of the Manhattan Project was so remarkable that when the scientists at Los Alamos laboratory exploded an atomic device on U.S. soil in July 1945, the most decisive scientific achievement in human history, no one in the country knew a thing.
The Manhattan Project showed that the U.S. defense establishment could keep a secret. There were several others, such as its research into biological weapons, the interception of domestic cable transmissions, the wiretapping and bugging of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and much more. But the military had no monopoly when it came to spying against American citizens. Indeed, no organization had the kind of open-ended mandate bequeathed to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In 1940, Roosevelt authorized the FBI, directed by the obsessively paranoid J. Edgar Hoover, to engage in electronic eavesdropping against political spies, saboteurs, or merely suspicious individuals. This order became the basic document that permitted later presidents to wiretap. Thirty-five years later, Attorney General Levi testified that the FBI installed 2,465 microphones (bugs) against American citizens from 1940 to 1975, nearly all of which required break-ins. This total derives only from the FBI files that remained intact after Hoover's death in 1972—much had been destroyed. Hoover also systematically collected blackmail information against members of Congress, a substantial and secret effort that lasted for decades.
Compared with the wartime activities of the military or FBI, the birth of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) might seem a humble affair. It was not. Forerunner to the CIA, the OSS owed its existence to the great failure of American intelligence: the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt established it on June 13, 1942, and placed Gen. William "Wild Bill" Donovan at its head. The mission of the OSS was to gather intelligence, but it soon became famous for its success in special operations, just as the CIA did in the post-war period. The OSS earned its romantic reputation from a long list of wartime successes, including its work with resistance movements in France, Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, and elsewhere.
The OSS successes prompted Donovan in late 1944 to plan the creation of an American central intelligence authority headed by himself. Hoover, however, saw the plan as a threat to his own ambitions (at the time, he was running intelligence operations throughout the Western Hemisphere). Hoover obtained copies of Donovan's memo and leaked them to a Chicago Tribune reporter in January 1945. End of plan. Donovan also faced opposition from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which pigeonholed his plan. The OSS was an upstart, and with so many competitors in the American intelligence community, the birth of the CIA was no foregone conclusion.
Secretive, competitive, lawbreaking, and at times paranoid—into precisely this world was the UFO problem thrust. The very organizations of the new national security apparatus became those groups responsible for dealing with UFOs. Often the same people were involved, a pattern that recurs throughout the scope of this study.
Closely related to the world of intelligence was the world of science. The Second World War changed forever the relationship of professional scientists to the state. Shortly after its conclusion, half of all scientists and technical personnel in America were working for the Defense Department. The result was not only the most incredible leap in weapons development in human history, but a leap in power for scientists themselves. Men who had had to scrape for money in the 1930s now found themselves in positions of prestige, often above that of military leaders.
"Power scientists" were actively involved not only in the Manhattan Project and other secret projects such as Paperclip (which imported German scientists after the war), but in the UFO problem. Scientific names that cropped up in connection with one project were often tied to another. Names like Bush, Berkner, Bronk, Teller, Sarnoff, Page, Robertson, and Goudsmit would soon intersect with the UFO problem at some key juncture, and all were involved in other projects involving extreme levels of secrecy, always in close collaboration with military groups.
It is a matter of significance that such men of science, power, and secrecy would become interested in the problem of unidentified flying objects.
Even today, little is known about foo fighters, the bizarre aerial phenomena encountered by pilots of all countries during the war. Still, researchers over the years have collected enough information to describe some strange goings-on. Perhaps the earliest foo fighter report, a tame affair, dates from September 1941. In the early morning hours of a clear night out in the Indian Ocean, a sailor aboard the SS Pulaski, a Polish vessel converted for the British military, saw "a strange globe glowing with greenish light about half the size of the full moon as it appears to us." He alerted a gunner, and the two watched the object as it followed them for the next hour.
A not-so-tame incident occurred in Los Angeles on February 25, 1942. That night, a number of unidentified craft flew over the city and seemingly caused a blackout. At least a million residents awoke to air raid sirens at 2:25 A.M., and U.S. Army personnel fired 1,430 rounds of antiaircraft shells to bring down what they assumed were Japanese planes. But these were not Japanese planes. George Marshall wrote a memorandum to President Roosevelt about the incident, which remained classified until 1974. Marshall concluded that conventional aircraft were involved, probably "commercial sources, operated by enemy agents for purposes of spreading alarm, disclosing locations of antiaircraft positions, and slowing production through blackout." Despite the barrage of American antiaircraft fire, none of these "commercial" planes were brought down, although several homes and buildings were destroyed, and six civilian deaths were attributed to the barrage. Considering the carnage, the military's explanation was meager. U.S. Navy Secretary Knox even denied that any aircraft had been over the city; he called the incident a false alarm due to war nerves. The local press, needless to say, did not take this very well. The Long Beach Independent noted that: "There is a mysterious reticence about the whole affair and it appears some form of censorship is trying to halt discussion of the matter." It is noteworthy that for thirty years, until the release of the Marshall memorandum, the Department of Defense claimed to have no record of the event. Five years before Roswell, the military was already learning to clamp down on UFOs.
The very next day after "The Battle of Los Angeles," the crew of the Dutch Cruiser Tromp in the Timor Sea saw "a large, illuminated disc approaching at terrific speed." The object circled above the ship for three or four hours, then flew off at an estimated speed of 3,000 to 3,500 mph. Obviously, the officer on duty could not identify the object as any known aircraft.
Many similar, baffling sightings occurred throughout the war. An RAF bomber over Zuider Zee in Holland in March 1942 saw a luminous orange disc or sphere following the plane, about one hundred or two hundred yards away. The tail gunner fired some rounds—no effect—and the object departed at 1,000 mph. On August 12, 1942, a U.S. Marine sergeant in the Pacific saw a formation of about 150 objects, no wings or tails, wobbling slightly, not Japanese planes. He called it "the most awe-inspiring and yet frightening spectacle I have ever seen in my life." On August 29, 1942, an Army Air Corps control tower operator named Michael Solomon in Columbus, Mississippi, saw two round reddish objects descend near the AAC flying school, hover, accelerate, and speed away.
Such sightings continued through 1943 and 1944. In November 1944, a B-17 pilot in Austria reported being paced by an amber-colored, disc-shaped object. In January 1945, a pilot with the 415th Night Fighter Squadron was followed by three red and white lighted objects which followed his evasive maneuvers. In France that month, an American pilot reported being paced by an object at around 360 mph before it "zoomed up into the sky." In March 1945, while in the Aleutian Islands, fourteen sailors aboard the U.S. attack transport Delarof saw a dark sphere rise out of the ocean, follow a curved trajectory, and fly away after circling their ship.
The last significant foo fighter sighting occurred in the Pacific, and nearly brought down an American plane. On August 28, 1945, less than three weeks after the atomic bombings and Japanese surrender, twelve 5th Air Force intelligence specialists aboard a C-46 flew toward Tokyo in advance of the occupation forces. As the plane approached Iwo Jima at ten thousand feet, the crew saw three teardrop-shaped objects, brilliantly white—"like burning magnesium"—and closing on a parallel course to the plane. The navigational needles went wild, the left engine faltered and spurted oil, the plane lost altitude, and the crew prepared to ditch. Then, in a close formation, the objects faded into a cloud bank. At that moment, the plane's engines restarted, and the crew safely flew on. One of the plane's passengers was future UFO researcher Leonard Stringfield.
One would expect that events such as these warranted an investigation, and that is what they received. There were at least two official American investigations of foo fighters. The U.S. 8th Air Force, under the command of General James Doolittle, conducted a study, although no copy of it has come to light. The report is said to have concluded that the sightings were possibly Axis experimental weapons, static electricity charges, misidentification of ordinary sights, or some kind of "mass hallucination." The young OSS also investigated the phenomenon. At first its investigators believed the sightings to be German experimental craft, but soon discounted that theory. Donovan and his staff apparently settled on the notion that the objects, if that is what they could be called, were unusual but harmless. The New York Times published a story on foo fighters on January 2, 1945, under the title, "Balls of Fire Stalk U.S. Fighters in Night Assaults over Germany." The article suggested German "sky weapons" as the culprit. None of the American investigators knew that the Germans and Japanese had encountered the same unusual phenomena, and had explained them as secret Allied weapons.
Excerpted from UFOs and the National Security State by RICHARD M. DOLAN. Copyright © 2002 Richard M. Dolan. Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
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