Monday, May 16, 2022

Pulp UFO Writers and the FBI

     Ray Palmer was an editor and distributor of pulp magazines during the mid 20th century. He got in my sights while I was researching and writing WAYWARD SONS: NICAP and the IC. Palmer distributed pulp fantasy and sci-fi on a wide scale and is considered to have significantly contributed to the public perception of flying saucers and conspiracies during his era. Suffice it to say Palmer was not overly concerned with accuracy in his magazines as compared to getting eyes on the pages.

Maj. Donald Keyhoe, who became the face of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena, was a widely published author before his run as the most high profile UFO activist of his time. His writing included contributions to the fantasy genre, as Palmer was popularizing. Keyhoe's work once made the cover of Weird Tales, pictured right. 

FBI records on Keyhoe indicate the Bureau was not a fan of his articles. A 1958 FBI memo on Keyhoe quotes Bureau Assistant Director Nichols as describing Keyhoe's writing as flamboyant and irresponsible. 

An example is cited of a 1941 piece co-authored by Keyhoe and published in Cosmopolitan. It apparently reported Adolph Hitler had a plan to seize the Merchant Marines and went on to assert the FBI possessed documents to that effect. The memo stated the assertion "was completely false." From the 1958 FBI memo:


There was no doubt media was a valuable tool in shaping public sentiment, and the FBI had keen interests in all phases of the process. That included Palmer and his distribution of pulp magazines, in addition to keeping an eye on what was coming out of the typewriter of Donald Keyhoe.

A 1953 report contained in an FBI file obtained on Ray Palmer lists five publications he operated at that point in time. Among them was Fate, with a reported circulation of 65,000. Several former publications were mentioned in the report as well, such as Amazing Stories, which gave rise to some of Palmer's most widely known sensations. 

The FBI file indicates an investigation was launched on Palmer in 1953 after the Bureau received a tip he was publishing Communist propaganda. Palmer would have seemingly been in a minority if he wasn't accused of Communist sympathizing, and the investigation found nothing of concern, at least not about Russians. There were other aspects of the resulting reports authored by Special Agents that caught my attention, however.

Not unlike the actions of Keyhoe, writers and opportunists numbered among those who worked the FBI into their narratives. One was a Paul Vest, published in Palmer's Mystic Magazine. This was the kind of thing that tended to get Director Hoover's attention, and in 1954 agents were dispatched to Palmer's location in Evanston, Illinois. They were equipped with instructions from Hoover to make it clear the FBI did "not appreciate having the name of the Bureau used in fantastic stories appearing in his publication to add credence to his stories and articles." 

The Vest piece was titled, catchily enough, "Venusians Walk Our Streets!". The author claimed in the story that FBI labs were in possession of a steel plate that just such a Venusian had marked with a half inch deep streak with no more effort than passing his fingernail over it. This also obviously suggested the Bureau was aware of said Venusians walking among the population. Hoover subsequently investigated to his satisfaction there were no FBI personnel at any such labs spreading stories as published and subsequently sent agents to make Palmer well aware of the fact. 

The creatively resourceful
Ray Palmer
In a memo dated July 22, 1954, a Special Agent in Charge at the Milwaukee Field Office advised Hoover contact was made with Ray Palmer. Palmer reportedly apologized for the misrepresentation of the Bureau and described it as an oversight on his part. This is where it gets a bit more interesting.

Palmer offered to publish a retraction, according to the FBI report, refuting Vest's claim about the FBI. Palmer further informed the agent he regularly supplied the CIA in Chicago with saucer reports mailed to him that he thought were most feasible, adding he was advised the Agency was interested in flying saucer reports. 

The FBI agent wrote Palmer explained, that in the next issue of Mystic Magazine, "he would be glad to insert an article agreeable to the Bureau." From the 1954 memo:


Was this Ray Palmer attempting to secure an advantageous relationship with the FBI? It could also be interpreted he was suggesting he already had such an arrangement with the CIA, and that perhaps the Bureau would find it mutually beneficial to be in the loop.

Whatever might be read between the lines, it was indicative of the niche Palmer carved out for himself, and a certain amount of power it wielded. It also signaled the beginnings of a tumultuous and unsteady alliance between certain writers and their intelligence agency contacts on the topic of UFOs. Those precarious relationships would persist to this very day.


See also:

UFO Activism and Congressional Hearings, 1960s Style

1 comment:

  1. I find it surprising that the FBI cared enough to contact Ray Palmer due to Vest's article. A retraction could have made conspiracy-minded people more interested. Håkan Blomqvist once wrote an interesting blog post "Who was Paul M. Vest?"