Saturday, May 17, 2014

MUFON, GEIPAN and Transparency

The Mutual UFO Network has been conducting its annual campaign to advertise its upcoming symposium. As a variety of related promotional emails accumulate in my in-box, it seemed like a good time to take a look at what the annual event included last year and somewhat gauge its current relevance.

An announcement made at last year's symposium came to mind about a MUFON collaboration with GEIPAN, a French government agency that investigates unexplained aerial phenomena. Emails inquiring about the progression and current status of the reported partnership were subsequently sent May 1 to a few key MUFON personnel, including Communications Director Roger Marsh and Executive Director Jan Harzan. The email stated in part:
I am currently researching the collaboration between GEIPAN and the Mutual UFO Network as reported in July, 2013:
MUFON announces leadership change and alliance with French UFO agency (Video) –
I am considering publishing a blog post about the reported partnership and its development since it was announced.
Are there any reports or information available to the public about the GEIPAN-MUFON partnership? If so, how may I access such reports or updates?
Would MUFON please comment on the current status and progression of the relationship?
Any information or comments provided would be most appreciated.

Harzan did not respond. Marsh promptly replied that MUFON International Director David MacDonald would "be happy" to answer my questions about "this exciting relationship between our two organizations."

Image contained in a May 14 MUFON bulk email
promoting its upcoming annual symposium

I thanked Marsh for his assistance and again informed him that information about the progression and current status of the MUFON-GEIPAN collaboration would be most appreciated. He responded that he would look up the original release, which he suggested might provide some good background on the circumstances, and added, "I know it's an on-going relationship and I will try to see if someone in MUFON can give you some information on that."

I did not receive an original release or any further correspondence from the communications director, but May 6 an email from MacDonald arrived. MacDonald simply stated, "MUFON currently enjoys an informal collaboration with GEIPAN. This collaboration was agreed to and established in 2012."

I responded:
Thank you for your reply. I appreciate it.
Could you please describe the collaboration more specifically? For instance, are there any documents available for public review in which the apparent partnership is more clearly detailed?
A July, 2013, article written by Alejandro Rojas and titled, 'MUFON announces leadership change and alliance with French UFO agency', stated, "An international relationship that has been particularly exciting for MUFON has been the forging of formal relations with France’s GEIPAN."
Given your current description of the collaboration as "informal", perhaps you might empathize with why one might request more specific clarification.
Rojas also wrote, "MacDonald was able to visit France and meet with GEIPAN administrators and form a working relationship that allows the groups to share best practices and aide each other with investigations."
Could you please clarify amounts of resources invested in the collaboration? Are there any targeted outcomes and measurable results? Again, any related meeting minutes, specifications of the arrangement or similar documents available for public review would be most appreciated.

MacDonald emailed May 7, "No. All documents and details are proprietary and not available for public access. By agreement, any material not already published is to remain privately held."

I replied, "Can you please reasonably explain what MUFON does with GEIPAN or not?"

"I already have!" was MacDonald's response. "MUFON and GEIPAN operate on methods, technology, practices and collaborate on case studies."

"What kinds of technology, specifically?" I asked in what was the final message to date. "How, exactly, is the collaboration conducted? Could you describe an example, please, and supply a date of the last time such a collaboration took place?"

No further emails were received.


Xavier Passot, the head of GEIPAN, was emailed virtually the same message sent to MUFON May 1 inquiring about the reported collaboration. He explained that MUFON placed more relevance on the circumstances than he. 

"Thanks for your message," Passot wrote, "the announcement about the partnership between GEIPAN and MUFON has been a bit emphasized on the US side, to show a collaboration between a private US ufological association and the very official GEIPAN public institute."

While MUFON is not a private association, but a 501(c)3 nonprofit public charity corporation, the gist of Passot's statement was clear enough that MUFON promoted the collaboration as more significant and exciting than GEIPAN would describe it. As for MacDonald's claims that details are "proprietary and not available for public access," Passot apparently did not share MacDonald's interpretation.

"The core of the agreement is the following," Passot explained, "'MUFON will propose to the witnesses who reported to MUFON some UFO sighting cases above the French territory, to send their sighting report to GEIPAN for investigation. GEIPAN will communicate to MUFON the investigation report before publication on its website. GEIPAN recommends to the witnesses of UFO sighting cases above worldwide but Western Europe to send their sighting report to MUFON for investigation.'"

"This agreement is only a frame for a smooth partnership," Passot continued, "there is no formally approved committing agreement."

GEIPAN logo provided by Xavier Passot

The GEIPAN director further explained that MUFON France uses the GEIPAN methods of investigation, and that some GEIPAN investigators are also MUFON field investigators. "The MUFON France director, Jacques Patenet, is a former GEIPAN director," Passot wrote, "retired now, who keeps a fair and friendly relationship with GEIPAN."

In an email containing a few follow-up questions, I asked about the number of paid staff currently employed by GEIPAN, to which Passot replied there are two staff members and two contractors. He additionally confirmed my understanding that GEIPAN operates with the help of volunteers, explaining that the agency currently utilizes a base of 20, each of which is requested about twice a year to assist with investigations.

Passot suggested readers might increase their understandings of GEIPAN by browsing the FAQ page of its website. He also provided a pdf containing slides he presented at a UFO conference conducted by the Center for UFO Studies in Greensboro, NC, in June, 2013. The slides contain informative facts about the creation and evolution of GEIPAN, its mission and various items of interest. I uploaded the file to where it may be viewed

More about the French and international UFO communities can be learned by visiting UFO Scepticisme, a France-based online discussion forum that includes a section on GEIPAN. Members regularly discuss regional and global ufology-related issues, and kindly shared their views with me about GEIPAN. Additional resources on French and international UFO matters include Sceptiques vs. les Soucoupes Volantes, the blog of Gilles Fernandez, as well as the website of IPACO, a company with expertise in photo and video analysis.

U.S. Nonprofit Corporation Transparency

The contrasts were striking between the responses of Xavier Passot and those of David MacDonald (and the lack of response from Jan Harzan). Perhaps directors of the Mutual UFO Network are poorly informed of the standards of transparency and best practices recognized throughout the U.S. nonprofit industry. MUFON and many American UFO organizations are incorporated under Internal Revenue Service Code 501(c)3. As a result they enjoy tax exemption, offer potential donors attractive tax deductions and obtain substantial percentages of annual revenue through public support. However, there are recognized standards of transparency that those entrusted to manage nonprofit corporations have responsibilities of which to learn and adhere.

Consumer Reports advises the public to consult with watchdog groups including CharityWatch when considering financially supporting a charitable organization. In its criteria for rating whether or not an organization is worthy of your support, CharityWatch explained, "After selecting your favorite charities, you can call or write to them for a description of their mission, program activities and recent accomplishments... Insist that the descriptions of program activities be clear and quantifiable (for example, How many hungry were fed? or How much land was protected?) and coincide with the time period and categories of the financial statements."

MUFON would obviously rate very poorly if such criteria were applied to my recent inquiries put to its directors. Moreover, lawmakers in Oregon, California and Florida are scrutinizing operating guidelines for 501(c)3 corporations. Concerns were expressed about the financial activities of certain organizations, as well as whether or not their purported charitable programs can be verified and quantified. Legislators are expressing increasing concerns about whether or not the public is actually benefiting from activities reportedly conducted by organizations granted tax exemption. 

If recent interactions with MUFON are any indication, expect 501(c)3 corporations within ufology to either substantially improve their current methods of operations or prepare to accept consequences as such legislation evolves. Either way, as the public continues to become increasingly informed about the issues related to nonprofit industry standards, the trends will continue in declining membership and dwindling support among organizations chronically operating at substandard levels of service and transparency. To learn more about U.S. nonprofit corporation operating guidelines and reporting standards, and information you are entitled to request and expect to receive from such organizations, visit the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator and the Internal Revenue Service.


  1. Hello Jack,

    I think X. Passot well summerized to you what is the reality of the partnership with MUFON, and was really transparent about it. As you well discerned/analysed MUFON "embelished" a bit the thing... I only write it on the informations I have, of course, but it sounds very similar. Maybe other here [I mean in our French Forum] could confirmed?

    Many thanks for the links toward our forum & IPACO team one (as my blog)...

    Best Regards,


    1. You are welcome, Gilles. Thanks for your comments!

      Readers might find the comments posted by Superman at 'UFO Skepticisme' relevant and interesting (scroll down to reply #78):

  2. Excellent piece, Jack. I always like a bit of fact-checking over skeptical hectoring. UFO claims -- even PR claims! -- tend to fall apart under the least scrutiny.

    (By the way, your French is very polite and easy to read. The native French speakers have a syntactical compression I am not up to understanding, and they use verb forms I never saw in school. Living in Canada, a bilingual country, I regret my language education was so poor.)

    1. Thanks, Terry! Glad you find the piece interesting.

      About my French, it's all compliments of Google translator. I would be nearly lost without it.

      Thanks again for your comments and interest. I appreciate you following along and sharing your opinions both here and at Examiner.

  3. Another stellar example of the anagram for UFO Disclosure - Ludicrous Foes. AND, a stellar example of UFO blogging.

  4. Some readers might be interested to know that legislation just passed in Florida was praised by the watchdog group Charity Navigator and increases the responsibilities of nonprofit corporations in reporting their activities and finances. While UFO nonprofits collectively have a long way to go in order to rise to industry standards, such laws are an encouraging step. Read more at: