Wednesday, December 20, 2017

UFO-Pentagon Story Reflects Fundamental Problems

Mainstream news outlets jumped into the deep end of Billy Cox's Great Taboo. The New York Times, Politico and The Washington Post are among those reporting to have confirmed that Luis Elizondo, a career intelligence officer formerly with the Defense Department and currently of Team DeLonge, headed a UFO investigation project as claimed. The Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program, reportedly operational from no less than 2007 to 2012, was financed through black funding which included money funneled to Bigelow Aerospace, owned by longtime UFO enthusiast and controversial philanthropist Robert Bigelow. The remarkable circumstances published included the claim, "Under Mr. Bigelow’s direction, the company modified buildings in Las Vegas for the storage of metal alloys and other materials that Mr. Elizondo and program contractors said had been recovered from unidentified aerial phenomena."

If you're interested in UFOs, you are justified in sitting up and taking note. If you've been pulling for DeLonge, congratulations. A little chest beating is in order. The current revelations don't excuse his wild and unsupported claims about an alien presence, but he apparently has, in fact, been in contact with an intelligence community member who actually had something to say, or at least more to say than the average self-proclaimed insider. 

That stated, questions involve how and why it was orchestrated. It is imperative to proceed cautiously and critically. I encourage trying to refrain from premature conclusions and confirmation bias.

While some long frustrated ufology activists have indeed succeeded in making some noise, it is important to remember a well executed public relations campaign does not an established fact make. It is imperative the reporters and key players produce materials fully supporting their claims else risk driving yet another stake of cynicism squarely through the heart of open mindedness. In this post let's cautiously explore where these stories lead us, both past and present. 

Taxpayer Funds

For starters, let's consider the reported UFO hunting initiative was a taxpayer-supported program. I asked Sharon Weinberger via email if she cared to provide comment for this blog post. She is Executive Editor at Foreign Policy and author of the nonfiction book, Imaginary Weapons: A Journey Through the Pentagon's Scientific Underworld, as well as the recent bestseller, The Imagineers of War: The Untold Story of DARPA, the Pentagon Agency That Changed the World.

"As a long-time advocate of government transparency, I think the only thing I have to say at the moment is that such programs, if pursued, must be able to stand up to public scrutiny," Weinberger explained. "The fact that we didn't know about this program until long after it was over, even though it was unclassified, reflects a more fundamental problem at work here. Taxpayers deserve to know their money is being spent."

The reported distribution of funds under the direction of the Department of Defense potentially opens the circumstances up to FOIA inquiries. The news stories alone offer a substantial number of FOIA opportunities, including requesting for public verification and review the documents and communications provided to the reporters. Obviously, circumstances surrounding the alleged physical evidence stored in modified buildings per Bigelow's oversight should be scrutinized at length, among other items referenced.

Robert Bigelow
It was further reported via the Times, "Researchers also studied people who said they had experienced physical effects from encounters with the objects and examined them for any physiological changes." I encourage submitting FOIA requests on such research, who specifically did it, the exact funding trail involved, the resulting dissemination of data, and similar details. 

For instance, who were the "program contractors" collecting material recovered from unidentified aerial phenomena? With what organization(s), exactly? What were the specific circumstances?

Dr. Tyler Kokjohn holds a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and is a Professor of Microbiology at Midwestern University Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine. He has shown a willingness to address UFO-related topics in reasoned manners, applying his expertise to issues often debated within the community. In response to request for comment on the UFO-Pentagon news, the doctor provided the following:
Helene Cooper et al. have reported a remarkable story about an obscure Defense Department ‘black money’ project, the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (1).  This 5 year, multi-million dollar effort to investigate UFO reports was funded at the request of Senator Harry Reid supported by two (now deceased) Senate colleagues.  Financial support for the earmark program was terminated in 2012 when officials determined these funds should be directed to ‘higher priority issues’ (2).  Whether the work still continues somewhere within the Department of Defense is unclear (2).
This news story has exposed a secret treasure trove of information for follow-up investigations.  It appears most of the money was channeled to an aerospace research company owned by Robert Bigelow.  Researchers interviewed military personnel who reported UFO sightings and conducted medical examinations of subjects experiencing physical manifestations linked to UFO incidents.  In addition, Bigelow Aerospace customized buildings in Las Vegas to store metal and other materials recovered from UFO encounters.
The story by Cooper et al. (1) was solid journalism in that it provided information acquired from several persons with direct involvement in the events.  However, one facet of the reporting inadvertently reveals something odd; the scientist and engineer contacted for responses, although highly expert, did not appear to have direct knowledge of the work or to have been given access to any results/data.  Accordingly, their responses were generic doubts about the UFO subject, not specific critiques of the actual work itself.  This seems strange because Bigelow Aerospace solicited research proposals for the effort and hired people to conduct the work.  Somehow the people best able to comment regarding the scientific quality of the investigations and the significance of the results obtained were mostly overlooked.
For somewhere between 5-10 years, data and physical evidence gathered under the auspices of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program has been hidden from the public.  Perhaps the unclassified portions of the scientific work performed by Bigelow Aerospace will now be forthcoming to enable evaluations by independent experts.  This was a taxpayer-supported program and some extraordinary claims are being made about the findings in public.  It will be unfortunate if investigators are forced to resort to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to discover what was done in this program.  However, because it appears requests for research proposals/assistance were issued by Bigelow Aerospace, investigators may be able to pry loose some of the information if it becomes necessary.
The information provided in the New York Times story suggests that opinions as to what was discovered and its significance varied sharply.  Senator Reid felt that the findings were so momentous the program needed a higher level of security to restrict access.  A director’s summary alleged science fiction had become science fact and the U.S. could not defend itself against some of the technologies discovered.  It will be fascinating to see how Defense Department officials receiving such statements weighed them against the hard data to reach a decision that other priorities were more pressing.                          
Because some of the principals involved in overseeing the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program have been speaking about it openly and exploiting their experiences in a commercial venture, it seems unlikely any entity could now withhold all scientific results by claiming the information is classified.  Does Bigelow Aerospace hold physical evidence proving UFOs are real?  Do the data prove claims the phenomena did not originate from any country?  From a scientific perspective the most fascinating question is this - why would any organization with convincing, apparently unclassified, proof of UFO technologies and their origins keep it secret?  Maybe an independent scientific inspection of the evidence will confirm why secret earmark programs are not always good ideas.  Evaluating the scientific evidence in hand and comparing it to some remarkable claims promises to be a fascinating exercise.                   

(1)   Helene Cooper et al.  2017.  Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program, The New York Times, 16 December 2017.
(2)   David Morgan.  2017.  Does Pentagon Still Have a UFO Program?  The Answer Is a Bit Mysterious.  The New York Times via Reuters, 16 December 2017. 


In 2009 the Mutual UFO Network entered into an ill fated collaboration initiated by the then-newly launched Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies. The MUFON-BAASS venture was almost certainly a part of the now revealed Pentagon-funded Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program, if not the primary arm of the operation. At the time, MUFON attempted to coordinate widespread training for field investigators described as a rapid response team. The organization soon found itself marred in turmoil which included a large scale exodus of personnel. Public relations were extremely strained as revolving door leadership saw a run of four executive directors in as many years. A lack of organizational transparency was a common complaint, which included the public nonprofit corporation's failure to provide details of funding sources, so before we join the capital-D disclosure celebration, let's consider how the players conducted their affairs up to this point. 

James Carrion served as Executive Director of MUFON from 2006 to 2009. He is a former intelligence analyst and UFO writer/researcher who pursues forensic historic analysis. An excerpt from his 2011 blog post titled, Strange Bedfellows:

In response to request for comment for this post, Carrion provided the following contribution:
In the fall of 2008, Robert Bigelow approached MUFON with an extraordinary business proposal – a subcontract from a Bigelow subsidiary called Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies, LLC (BAASS) for MUFON UFO investigative services. The MUFON Board signed non-disclosure agreements and the negotiations began.
BAASS essentially wanted MUFON’s field investigators to conduct quality investigations of significant UFO cases, no expense spared, and then to feed those investigations to BAASS scientists. BAASS’ alleged goal for this endeavor was to acquire UFO super technology and then to file patents on this technology. The contract was signed in the spring of 2009 and ran for only a few months before the partnership withered and fell apart towards the end of the year.
Before, during and after this partnership, only one MUFON Board member, former MUFON International Director, John Schuessler, was ever made privy to the money source for the Bigelow subcontract. Now it is public knowledge, courtesy of investigative journalists, that this money came from a Pentagon black budget project.
What are we to make of this public disclosure of the Pentagon’s renewed forage into UFO investigation? If we look back in history when UFOs first hit the mass consciousness in 1947, the nascent U.S. Air Force investigated UFOs through a number of projects culminating in the last official investigation, Project Bluebook, which was killed off in 1969. That is, count it, 22 years of taxpayer dollars spent in the pursuit of “something” that was declared a non-threat to national security.
Fast forward to 2007 and the Pentagon’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP) – funded allegedly at the behest of a politician and a billionaire who had a common interest in the phenomenon. Are we expected to believe that the Pentagon let almost 40 years pass in-between its investigations before deciding that UFOs were a potential threat? Did the billions of dollars spent prior on air defense against a Soviet, Chinese or rogue nation nuclear attack, or tracking the most minute space junk, simply not detect these UFO threats beforehand?
And is black budget money given out freely at the whim of any politician who wants to study their eccentric interests? Is there a black project currently looking into uncovering Barack Obama’s “real” birth certificate, or whether Ted Cruz’s father was really involved in the JFK assassination or one that is trying to determine how hundreds of thousands of Americans donned an invisibility cloak at the 2017 Presidential inauguration?
And will the disclosure of AATIP just spawn countless other conspiracy theories, like perhaps AATIP is just a shade of gray and that other competing and unacknowledged UFO projects are hidden even deeper in the murky world of black projects?
Today when science is sadly under attack, previously accepted facts take second place to rumor, innuendo and fantasy, and where the alleged leader of the free world spins daily conspiracies and has a severe allergy to the truth, what are we really to make of the Pentagon investigating what it has consistently called a nothing burger? Even after the AATIP was disclosed, some of the data it collected or is still collecting remains classified. Does that mean the American public will AGAIN only get half of the truth?
The question that every American should be asking their elected officials is what did the 22 million taxpayer dollars, earmarked for this black budget UFO investigation project, really buy them and how soon can we the people examine the ENTIRE merchandise? Even more importantly for Congress to investigate is the decision making rationale that led up to this project and why almost 40 years lapsed before UFOs were declared objects non grata in American airspace.
What an in-depth Congressional investigation may reveal is a deeper truth – one that as Sir Winston Churchill once described the former Soviet Union – is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. In reality, we are all tired of enigmas, mysteries and riddles – what Americans really want, indeed what the whole world wants, is just the ultimate truth, whatever that may be.

The MUFON-BAASS train wreck was not the first time activities involving the nonprofit, Bigelow, and cash accountability came under fire. At the turn of the century news leaked of what would become known as the Carpenter Affair. It was soon confirmed that John Carpenter, while serving as MUFON Director of Abduction Research, secretly provided Robert Bigelow data from case files of some 140 "alien abductees" for a reported $14,000. 

John Carpenter is among those who confirmed what he termed the discreet sharing of data, which reportedly included copies of recordings of hypnosis sessions conducted with the individuals. Carpenter explained during a 2012 email exchange that he confidentially provided the data to Bigelow for review by Bigelow and colleagues at the now dissolved Bigelow-founded National Institute for Discovery Science. Personnel of the Institute included Col. John Alexander, who, according to John Velez via UFO UpDates List in 2000, confirmed what Velez termed the "file sale," as did MUFON then-Executive Director Walt Andrus and Bigelow himself.

An excerpt from my 2013 blog post, The Carpenter Affair: For the Record:

The 140 people in question, who had sought support from Carpenter and MUFON, were not informed of the arrangement between Carpenter and Bigelow. The specific details of the primary motives and agendas behind the circumstances remain unclear.

"We may never know," Elizabeth Chavez Carpenter, former wife of John Carpenter and one of the 140, reflected during a December, 2013, telephone conversation. 

A lack of accountability is disappointingly common within the UFO community. Its members, often eager for new and intriguing information, frequently fail to question the bookkeeping of the messenger if they support the message.

A 1996 AP article which explored Bigelow's interests in the Skinwalker Ranch reported that Bigelow declined to be interviewed, while NIDS employee John Alexander stated details would not be provided of how or why research was being conducted. The article further indicated former ranch owner Terry Sherman, employed by Bigelow to maintain the property, chose not to comment because Bigelow had him sign a nondisclosure agreement.

Public trust of MUFON and its collaborators was substantially diminished due to a lack of accountability for the Ambient Monitoring Project. In 2008, long time MUFON and ufology staple Tom Deuley wrote in the MUFON UFO Journal how the approximately ten year-long effort was coming to fruition. Deuley explained funding was in hand to complete analysis already begun on data obtained from instruments placed in the homes of reported alien abductees. The idea was to monitor the environment and discern what, if anything, was physically taking place during alleged abductions. 

Much to the disappointment of a community eager to hear what happened, no conclusions were ever produced. Explanations were offered by a variety of involved parties as to why no final project report or even summary was published, all of which were inadequate, often contradictory to one another, and sorely lacking in professionalism.

The failed project involved a collaboration between some UFO organizations, including the Fund for UFO Research, which Deuley suggested in his 2008 article was a substantial influence. A review of the circumstances revealed, per the FUFOR website circa 1993, "the Fund joined with the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) and the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) to form the UFO Research Coalition to conduct major projects, at the suggestion of Las Vegas builder Robert Bigelow, who promised major funding." By 1994, it was further reported via the website, "disagreement over control of the UFO Research Coalition lead to a complete break with Robert Bigelow. Laurance Rockefeller appeared on the scene, ready to fund major projects through his intermediary, Mrs. Marie 'Bootsie' Gailbreath."

Further research and communications with men listed as members of boards of directors of the involved nonprofit corporations often produced the same inconsistent statements as made publicly, if not implying worse. A 2008 email inquiry to astrophysicist Dr. Richard Henry, listed at the time as a FUFOR board member on the org's website, resulted in the doctor responding he had not heard from FUFOR "in ages."

"Let me know if you find out anything!" he added.

Bottom Line

There is no substitute for an established fact, and facts cannot be established absent evidence available for public review. Some of the material supplied to those reporting on the UFO-Pentagon story, i.e., the DeLonge project, is relevant and offers some value as contributions to the UFO genre. The videos, for example, embody what, by definition, are UFOs. They deserve ample examination by qualified experts.

That stated, the public indeed has a valid complaint when taxpayer funds are used to obtain alleged materials that, as of this writing, are not readily available for review. The public also has a valid complaint when public nonprofit corporations, which enjoy tax benefits and offer tax deductions for donors, fail to adequately report their financial activities and agendas. 

What's more, some of the parties involved in the Pentagon saga have not only shown a willingness to avert from disclosing details of their activities, but an outright effort to conceal them. In doing so, the identities of funding entities have been concealed, financial reporting has been inadequate, and notification of the circumstances to involved parties has, at times, been nonexistent. 

Just because someone is an intelligence community asset doesn't make them inherently dishonest or nefarious. There are any number of people who assist the U.S. intelligence services in honorable manners. A primary point, as I see it, is that with all the half-truths, lack of accountability, and direct lies within the UFO community, it is impossible to discern the value of someone's claim if they don't produce the beef. Demand it or recognize the situation for what it often is: sizzle and no steak. It might also be unethical at times. The only way to know for sure is to actually find out, and you know what they say about fool me once...

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Intelligence Community Influence Is a Ufology Staple

Historian Aaron J. Gulyas is doing a podcast, The Saucer Life, and I recommend checking it out. Gulyas is a longtime researcher, writer, and presenter in the UFO community. He does good work and his podcast is entertaining, as well as full of intriguing, well sourced tidbits. The Nov. 26 episode, Encounter 206: And then the feds showed up..., addressed the type of circumstances often explored here at The UFO Trail.

The show focused on a chain of events involving the 1954 Detroit Flying Saucer Club. Gulyas cited declassified FBI documents he located at The Black Vault which indicate members of the Saucer Club became concerned about the potentially anti-American and subversive activities of other attendees. A concerned citizen contacted the FBI, touching off an investigation, a series of covert interactions surrounding FBI agents and club members, and, as Gulyas put it, an example of why government interest in flying saucers was really never about the saucers in some cases.

Points I find interesting about the saga include similarities between mid 20th century fear of communist aggression and current day Islamophobia. For instance, activities at least one Detroit Flying Saucer Club member felt warranted reporting to the FBI included the expression of anti-nuclear war sentiments and the promotion of peace. Not exactly treason, but apparently disturbing enough for a self-described patriotic American to call the feds.

Also of interest was a central figure, Laura Mundo, who conducted a campaign to promote the film The Day the Earth Stood Still. We might reasonably assume her support of predominant themes in the movie - namely, aliens, universal peace and disarmament - primarily fueled her interest in the film, pending substantial reasons to suspect otherwise.

It's an intriguing side plot that the CIA in all likelihood substantially influenced the production of The Day the Earth Stood Still. As writer/researcher Robbie Graham pointed out, verified propaganda specialists were employed on the set as a production chief and a script writer, among other significant circumstances (see Graham's book Silver Screen Saucers and paper The CIA, the Movie Mogul, and 'The Day the Earth Stood Still'). 

This presents any number of interesting scenarios, including Mundo becoming indirectly influenced by intelligence agencies conducting projects using the UFO topic as a tool. She was neither the first nor the last to be ensnared in the cloak and dagger activities of such agencies, seemingly at least sometimes unaware of the actions and objectives of one another. The Saucer Life might lead us to revisit some related circumstances.

Intelligence and UFO Communities

As we have previously explored, investigation of espionage has been much more relevant to the UFO community than its disproportionately low amount of attention suggests. Espionage and counterespionage operations have significantly shaped UFO-related beliefs, inadvertently or otherwise, of any number of community members, some of them more directly and noticeably than others. This is often without so much as a smattering of discussion. What's more, the involvement of intelligence personnel in ufology is not only nothing new, but a staple. If we were to make a Venn diagram of the intelligence and UFO communities - particularly ufology's high profile members - the much larger circle of the former would significantly overlap the latter.

The birth of the modern era of UFOs was fathered by the intelligence community. The ghost rockets, Kenneth Arnold story, Roswell saga and more are saturated with IC involvement and verifiable instances of under the table activities. 

The contactee movement, which, as Gulyas reports, included Laura Mundo's support of George Adamski, was itself saturated with intel implications as well. To omit the involvement of the IC in an exploration of the contactee era would render an incomplete assessment. As a matter of fact, many ufology circumstances from the times involved intelligence agencies, as Gulyas is exploring at The Saucer Life. The cases are many and frequent. 

The USAF Office of Special Investigations became a regular player in the UFO genre, and the FBI always was. Career CIA and NSA personnel substantially contributed to the evolving fantastic story lines and subplots, ranging from sitting on boards of directors of UFO organizations to making sensational yet unsubstantiated claims themselves. The list goes on.

The covertly CIA-sponsored Robertson Panel suggested to the Agency in 1953 that UFO "organizations should be watched because of their potentially great influence on mass thinking if widespread sightings should occur. The apparent irresponsibility and the possible use of such groups for subversive purposes should be kept in mind."

View the full transcript of the Jan. 30, 1954 CIA cable
via the State Department
Far from above such subversive actions itself, the CIA recommended in 1954 to operatives in Guatemala to consider fabricating a story about flying saucers. The objective was to distract public attention from Agency sponsorship of a coup in the Central American nation.

It began that way in ufology in the mid 20th century, and it really hasn't changed a whole lot since. "Disclosure activists" are indeed continuing to hang their hopes on the cryptic statements of intelligence personnel, arguably reading between the lines exactly what they desire to find. What's more, the much discussed Tom DeLonge identifies himself as willing and able to sort IC fact from fiction and inform us of what he "knows" about the alien presence. Actual substance is disappointingly - and quite noticeably - absent from his disclosures.

I can understand when UFO enthusiasts aren't interested in the intelligence community. I really can. I realize many people want to hear about unexplained phenomena. It's interesting, and very few of us ever picked up our first UFO book or attended our first conference to learn about the significance of espionage in the UFO community. There are indeed any number of intriguing UFO cases with well presented research surrounding them. It's reasonable to find them of interest.

It is nonetheless equally true that the mid 20th century to present era of UFOs includes substantial activity of the intelligence community. The reasons are many, and the objectives, whatever they all may be, are different from one situation to the next. The fallout is relevant. Whether we choose to find it more interesting to stock our bookshelves with reports of unusual phenomena, or the social circumstances surrounding them, may at times be considered comparable to viewing an optical illusion, the kind in which we see either a vase or two faces opposite one another, depending on perspective. It might sometimes be worth remembering that the entire disorienting illusion was created by an artist in the first place. 


Further reading: