Tuesday, September 21, 2021

UFO Three Card Monte: Menzel, Hillenkoetter & NICAP

Dr. Donald H. Menzel

    Dr. Donald H. Menzel (1901-1976) was a distinguished astronomer and astrophysicist. He was also an outspoken critic of UFOs as interplanetary vehicles. The scientist, whose rather extraordinary career path went through Princeton and Harvard, found no compelling reasons to believe UFO reports carried any particular significance to his fields of study.  

Menzel was often cited during the mid 20th century as an authority on UFO skepticism. In The UFO Evidence, a study of some 750 cases published in 1964 by the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena, Menzel was recommended as a source for counterviews. He was also cited as a leading yet skeptical scientist by Mike Wallace during a 1958 interview of NICAP head Maj. Donald Keyhoe.

When the infamous and unverified MJ-12 papers were introduced and amplified by Bill Moore and associates in 1984, Menzel was named as one of the twelve who were supposedly ultra secretly assigned to oversee retrievals of crashed flying saucers. Some researchers speculate Menzel's inclusion was a joke among the hoaxers of the documents.

Also named among the MJ-12 in 1984 was Adm. Roscoe Hillenkoetter. He was the first director of the CIA (1947-1950) and served as NICAP Chairman of the Board of Governors from 1957-1962. The admiral was an obvious choice for inclusion in the alleged MJ-12, as of course the Director of Central Intelligence would have been in the loop if an unearthly saucer and its inhabitants were dragged off of Mack Brazel's ranch in '47.

In the late 1950's and 1960's, Hillenkoetter numbered among many respected intelligence officers who provided NICAP with statements in strong support of UFOs as a significant issue. Some of those officers went as far as to specify they believed saucers represented an alien presence. A look into the former DCI's personal correspondence with Dr. Menzel, however, might lead one to suspect the issues were not as simple as often portrayed. That seems to especially have been the case among intelligence personnel and those in their professional and social circles. 

Mixed Messages

    Acting on info contained in an August 2020 email received from James Carrion, it was discovered a library was in possession of an archive of Menzel letters. Specifically, James shared a copy of a 1963 letter written from Hillenkoetter to Menzel, with a boilerplate message across the top which stated it was printed by the American Philosophical Society Library. Correspondence with the Society Library soon revealed it was the custodian of a Menzel collection, which included a folder titled "Hillenkoetter."   

Adm. Roscoe H. Hillenkoetter
The Library helpfully provided a pdf of the Hillenkoetter folder, containing ten pages of material exchanged between Menzel and Hillenkoetter from 1961-1965. The letters contain Menzel criticisms of NICAP, and what he clearly felt was the Committee's irresponsible framing of UFOs and questionable tactics undertaken.

"In my opinion," Menzel wrote Hillenkoetter in 1961, that rather than UFOs, "the congressional investigation should be of Keyhoe and NICAP..."

Hillenkoetter's letters did not offer significant resistance to Menzel's critical assertions. While the former DCI occasionally suggested he initially found flying saucers potentially interesting, he wrote to Menzel in 1963, "I resigned from NICAP about 20 months ago feeling that it had degenerated from an organization honestly trying to find out something definite about possible unknowns, into a body bickering about personalities."

In that same 1963 letter, Hillenkoetter wrote further, "Thank you very much for your book. To my mind, it was very well done and I enjoyed it and found it of great interest. I should say that you have effectively put to rest all surmises about flying saucers being from 'outer space'. You have done a thorough and praiseworthy job."

There are at least two significant points to be taken from this correspondence. One, it is abundantly clear these men shared no history of crashed saucer retrievals as continues to be cultivated by those endorsing MJ-12 unsubstantiated conspiracies. What's more, if Hillenkoetter had any relevant knowledge of UFOs, he sure didn't seem to have much conviction about it. Perhaps his knowledge of related deception operations was another story. 

The second point, and a leading contender for why Menzel saved these letters and they were eventually archived by the American Philosophical Society Library, is it became increasingly apparent to Menzel that Hillenkoetter portrayed his views differently to Keyhoe than he did to Menzel. Hillenkoetter was sending mixed messages, Menzel called him on it, and Menzel apparently wanted to save the receipts.

In a 1965 edition of NICAP's The UFO Investigator, the magazine cites and challenges Menzel statements made during an interview in which he asserted Hillenkoetter accepted his prosaic explanations for UFOs. The NICAP rebuttal included a copy of a 1965 letter to Keyhoe from Hillenkoetter, denying Menzel's claim, and published with the intention of supporting the credibility of UFOs in general and the admiral's ongoing endorsement of the NICAP UFO hunt. Hillenkoetter's letter indeed suggested he never lost faith in NICAP or saucers, and that he had not accepted Menzel's skeptical stance as correct. Moreover, the NICAP article suggested Menzel mischaracterized Hillenkoetter's position. 

Menzel sent a copy of the article to Hillenkoetter, along with a copy of the admiral's above referenced 1963 letter, reminding Hillenkoetter he did precisely what he denied to Keyhoe was the case. It might be considered noteworthy that Hillenkoetter continued to fan the flames of public cultivation of the UFO mystery in the process. It was apparently important to Menzel to save proof he was not mischaracterizing Hillenkoetter's statements, which, as the archived file demonstrates, he indeed was not.

FBI Files

    The FBI provided five files totaling over 200 pages in response to a Freedom of Information Act request on Donald Howard Menzel. Further inquiries to the Bureau resulted in identifying another three files potentially responsive and located at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). 

NARA subsequently confirmed Dr. Menzel is indeed the subject of each of the three files. The records total an estimated 550 pages and must be processed for release. The files are estimated to be available in 2024 at a projected cost of $440 for a reproduction, such as a pdf, or free to view in person.

The 200 pages released by the FBI thus far represent investigations ranging from the 1940's to the 1970's. The documents tell a Cold War story, often portrayed through FBI memos and statements obtained from confidential informants, of a scientist who spent his life subject to the surveillance of intelligence agencies. This was due to his involvement in such projects as the Atomic Energy Commission, where he was employed at Los Alamos, NM. 

He was also investigated extensively by the Office of Naval Intelligence, due at least in part to his work with "code matters" for the Boston Naval Reserve (see p6). This occurred during the late 1940's. 

Menzel was frequently the subject of security investigations to either clear him for inclusion in classified projects or revisit his political loyalty due to his chronic work with sensitive material. The same applied to many of his associates, including astronomer Dr. Harlow Shapley. Menzel and Shapley were employed together in the Harvard astronomy department in the 1940's.

FBI files on Menzel suggest his relationship with Shapley numbered among the Bureau's deepest concerns about his activities, warranted or not. Although the two strongly disagreed on many professional issues, Menzel defended Shapley's right to hold and express his opinions.

Interestingly, Shapley's take on extraterrestrials would later be published in NICAP literature. In a NICAP brochure within a section titled, "Published Statements on the Question of Other Worlds," the first entry reads, "Dr. Harlow Shapley, former Director of Harvard Observatory: 'We must now accept it as inevitable that there are other worlds with some kind of thinking beings.'" (see p35

After some 30 years of accumulated FBI investigation memos, the Bureau considered grooming Menzel as a double agent. His work frequently offered him the opportunity to travel abroad to international conferences, and he was no doubt a subject of investigation by adversarial intelligence agencies by the 1970's. Page one of a 1974 FBI memo to Director Hoover from the Boston Field Office, requesting "authority to recontact the subject as a potential security informant or double agent": (see p12)

Foreign adversaries were not the only forces the Bureau was potentially competing with for Menzel's attention. Two months following the above memo, a Boston Special Agent in Charge informed the director that Menzel indicated he was more than willing to discuss the Bureau's internal security responsibilities. Menzel was cooperative, the agent advised Hoover, but pointed out that he had been interviewed recently by the CIA about his trip to the People's Republic of China: (see p14)

The significance of Cold War culture and related spy networks looms large in a quest to better understand the UFO topic. The more clearly these dynamics are understood, the more accurately we might process the evolution of resulting belief systems and events taking place today. The omission of spy games is detrimental, and their inclusion in a functional assessment stands to connect a lot of dots.

Read about the above referenced circumstances and much more in my new book Wayward Sons: NICAP and the IC.

Related post:

The Birth of NICAP

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Identify What You Want

    We've all been there. You log into your favorite social media site and rapidly forget what you even liked about it. Snark is rampant, jokes aren't funny, and your intelligence is insulted by nonsense meant to be taken seriously. It can be difficult to remember what you hoped to get out of social media, and it can be even more difficult to keep in mind that not everyone shares your goal. Most may not, actually.

Identifying what we're doing on a social media site may be a good idea. If you're reading this blog and have a Twitter account, for instance, you may have hoped to find people discussing UFO stuff online. Maybe you hoped you'd learn something about UFOs, or share some of your ideas with others. 

Many hope to find like-minded people to talk about topics they find challenging to share with friends and family. Many such attempts result in a wide variety of online responses, ranging from over the top credulousness to caustic rebuttals. This is an inevitable part of social media interactions, and the sooner we accept it, the better. This doesn't mean we should accept abusive remarks, but neither should we expect emotionally safe behavior from dysfunctional keyboard warriors. Ya gotta step in some crap if ya wanna get to the barn.

We might take responsibility for seeking online interactions, and what type of interactions we're looking for. Are we looking for UFO contacts? What for, exactly? What do we expect to gain? What are we willing to contribute in return, and are we able to voice this?

I'm reminded of complications that frequently arise between UFO witnesses and investigators. Both parties often seem to think their intentions should be understood without having to state them. A more functional perspective might be that witnesses could intentionally identify what kind of assistance they are seeking, and investigators could be prepared to clarify what services they claim to offer.

Are we looking for a competent investigation, or are we seeking emotional support? The skills and resulting activities for providing such services could vary greatly. It would be helpful if we could accurately identify what we hope to gain from contacting a UFO organization or investigator, and questions we might ask to facilitate the process. 

Similar might be said for swimming around social media. We would be wise to know what we hope to gain and how we intend to achieve it. Understand the inherent risks of emotionally leading with the chin in public forums. Choose your support systems wisely, as well as sources you identify as offering quality information.

Be kind to yourself and expect to make mistakes. They're signs you're trying. And identify what you hope to achieve. Otherwise, you'll never achieve it.