Friday, May 13, 2022

UFO Activism and Congressional Hearings, 1960s Style

    Below is an excerpt from Chapter 10 of WAYWARD SONS: NICAP and the IC. The excerpt explores the efforts of Maj. Donald Keyhoe and his National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena to generate Congressional hearings on UFOs during the 1960s. There are many similarities to events happening in today's overlap of politics and UFO advocacy. While Keyhoe's efforts may have initially appeared successful, his lobbying may arguably serve as more of a cautionary tale than cause for celebration. 

    NICAP files contain reference to what the organization considered “educational work” conducted in 1962. During the first quarter of the year, “special material” was sent to 62 students and teachers for what was described as use in preparing term papers, science projects, research reports, and so on (NICAP_Educational_work.pdf, p1). Such material included “a bibliography, source material, back magazines, etc.” More shipments for the fall were reportedly being processed. 

Similar efforts to “educate” Congress were also undertaken, as indicated in a 1962 form letter apparently authored by Keyhoe (NICAP_Educational_work.pdf, p9)

We can observe Keyhoe's tactic of declaring UFOs represented a national security threat. This would hold obvious significance to elected officials and intelligence agencies. Perhaps, however, applying the term “UFO” to such potential threats was not as relevant as UFO proponents might prefer the public believe. Beyond groups like NICAP using the issue as a public relations ploy, it's not clear how the armed forces should do its job any differently if it called air incursions UFOs instead of radar returns. Similar circumstances may be observed today. 

Keyhoe previously ran into resistance on such matters. Rep. Joseph Karth, in a 1961 letter to Keyhoe, addressed Keyhoe's proposal for a Congressional hearing. Karth wrote (NICAP_Keyhoe_Karth.pdf, p3): 

Rep. Karth expressed disappointment in Keyhoe's apparent intention to focus on Air Force secrecy as compared to presenting substantial evidence of UFOs. It has since become an all too standard part of the ufologist tool kit to plead their cases based on the obstruction of evidence rather than its presentation. 

Furthermore, Karth suggested he questioned Keyhoe's arrogance and hypocrisy concerning national security and secrecy. The Congressman appeared perturbed Keyhoe seemed oblivious to the sensitivity of classified material, referring to it as “minor items,” while expecting to be granted the luxury of withholding information as he saw fit. This of course became a staple of the UFO genre, and it continues today. Such concealed details frequently obstruct fundamental aspects of the universally recognized fact-finding process. The double standards try the patience of the more discerning members of the community at large. Rep. Karth was apparently in the “put up or shut up” camp, and saw the irony in Keyhoe reserving the right to remain silent while demanding answers from men charged with protecting national security. 

Richard Hall
Nonetheless, as noted in the above 1962 letter penned by Keyhoe, The UFO Evidence was on its way. It was destined to be considered among NICAP and editor Richard Hall's most significant contributions to the study of UFOs. From a July 1, 1964 NICAP press release (NICAP_papers_mixed_years.pdf, pp32-33): 

    “A documentary report charging Air Force censorship of unidentified flying objects was submitted today to Congressman John McCormack, Speaker of the House, and Senator Mike Mansfield, Majority Leader. The report is based on a 7-year investigation by military and technical experts of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP). 

“The 184-page document, titled 'The UFO Evidence,' contains hundreds of verified UFO sightings by airline and military pilots, aerospace scientists and engineers, and other experienced observers. 

“NICAP, a private fact-finding organization, includes on its Board of Governors and Advisers: Army, Navy and Air Force officers, scientists, veteran pilots, and other specialists... 

“The charge of official secrecy was backed by a majority of the Board and Advisers, including Colonel J. Bryan III, USAFR (Ret); Admiral H. B. Knowles, USN (Ret); Dr. Leslie K. Kaeburn, biophysicist, University of Southern California; and Dr. C. P. Olivier, President of the American Meteor Society... 

“The NICAP Report covers approximately 750 cases selected from over 5000 on file. The documented cases include numerous reports by Air Force pilots, and incidents of UFOs which made close approaches to aircraft... According to NICAP, the large majority of these cases are totally unsolved. Although Air Force analysts claim to have explained some of the cases, NICAP says counter-to-fact answers have often been given to Members of Congress and the press... 

“After the current outbreak of UFO sightings, the Air Force admitted it had 910 unsolved cases out of 8128 - approximately 11%. Heretofore the Air Force had insisted it had solved all but 1 or 2%. The most recent unexplained sighting, according to the Air Force, is the April 24 observation by a police officer in Socorro, N.M., who saw an egg-shaped UFO take off from a gulley. Imprints and scorch marks were found at the site. 

“The NICAP report states ' is a reasonable hypothesis that the unexplained UFOs are real physical objects... artificial... under the control (piloted or remote) of living beings'... Many of the NICAP Board Members and Advisers have gone further, contending that the UFOs are extraterrestrial devices observing the earth. Among these are Col. J. Bryan III; Admiral H. B. Knowles; Prof. C. A. Maney; Dr. Leslie K. Kaeburn; and Capt. William B. Nash. 

“Verified cases in the report show speeds and maneuvers beyond the capabilities of any earth-made machines, often confirmed by radar... In addition to the massive U.S. evidence, NICAP reports dozens of foreign cases from trained observers which confirm the observations of high performance objects and lead to the same conclusion. 

“In order to reduce the dangers of accidental war caused by misidentification of UFOs on radar screens, and to educate the public to the realities, NICAP advocates a sweeping review of government policies on the subject by Congress. Speaker McCormack and Senator Mansfield have been asked to request UFO hearings. Many Members of Congress in recent years have gone on record in favor of open hearings... 

“In releasing the document, NICAP warned that crackpot groups might try to take advantage of it by claiming it supports their views. The Committee disowned any claims that UFOs proved any particular religious or philosophical views currently being expounded by UFO cults. NICAP stated it had not found verification of a single claim of communication with space men.” 

    NICAP would indeed eventually see its hopes come to fruition for a Congressional hearing on UFOs, but before that happened, CIA officers paid a visit to NICAP headquarters. A now publicly available CIA memo dated January 25, 1965, reflects Agency interest in obtaining materials, including UFO reports, from NICAP for delivery to its Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI). The memo further states OSI desired the information to assist in preparing a paper on UFOs. 

The CIA Contact Division met with Richard Hall on January 19, 1965, at which time he loaned the dispatched officers material and UFO reports for review. It was noted in the January 25 CIA document there was a strong feeling on the part of NICAP officials that the Air Force tended to downgrade the importance of UFO sightings. Hall apparently told the CIA officers there had been instances where the Air Force attempted to intimidate witnesses and get them to sign false statements. 

In closing, the report stated a security clearance was being requested on Hall. There are various accounts and anecdotes around the UFO community about Hall's interactions with intelligence agencies, often framed as Hall having a rather nonchalant attitude about them. A generally accepted consensus is Hall was never issued a security clearance and did not develop a significant relationship with the CIA, and I have not discovered any particular reasons to suppose otherwise. 

A now declassified OSI memo is dated January 26, 1965. You will note it was apparently composed the day after the above memo was written. The OSI memo was sent to the Director of Central Intelligence from OSI Assistant Director Donald F. Chamberlain. It was written in response to a request from DCI John McCone for an assessment on UFOs. The materials borrowed from NICAP contributed to findings reported by Chamberlain in the memo, according to the CIA

Chamberlain summarized some then-recent UFO reports, adding no evidence was revealed UFOs were of foreign origin or were a security threat to the United States. He clarified OSI monitored UFO reports, including those investigated by the Air Force, and concurred with Air Force conclusions. 

Ironically, while Keyhoe and his supporters were convinced an orchestrated UFO cover-up was being perpetrated by the CIA and Air Force, the two agencies were apparently actually in agreement there was not even a threat, at least not from unknown airborne objects. Threats of propaganda and espionage were another story, as suggested previously by the Robertson Panel. An argument could be made such concerns, and the resulting minimization of the topic for what may have been considered in at least some instances the public's own good, contributed significantly to the perception of official UFO secrecy. 

Similar might be said about the intelligence community's aversion to publicly addressing UFOs due to reasons that included its own manipulation of the topic in an offensive capacity. Uncle Sam obviously did not want to address his own covert use of the UFO subject. 

There was additional irony in the way UFO enthusiasts tended to interpret CIA interest in NICAP. For instance, NICAP and Keyhoe chose to withhold certain information because they did not want to divulge sources of reports and documents. They subsequently feared the CIA was snooping around to infiltrate their lines of communication. That may have been true to some extent, but not for the reasons NICAP chose to believe, which hinged upon the perception the CIA was scrambling to keep the existence of an extraterrestrial presence from becoming publicly revealed. 

In a manner of speaking, NICAP activities and subsequent CIA responses served as a self-fulfilling prophecy for NICAP. Intelligence community actions often seemed to be interpreted to confirm what UFO investigators chose to subjectively believe, and that largely continues to be the case in the UFO genre today. 

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Gordon Lore
    Gordon Lore explained it was during this point in time he began working at NICAP. In his book Flying Saucers from Beyond the Earth, Lore stated he had taken a job as a writer-editor in Washington, D.C. In addition to writing, the future NICAP assistant director was also a musician who played the guitar at night at a local coffee house. 

Richard Hall was in attendance during one of Lore's performances in the summer of 1965, Lore wrote. He accompanied Hall and a group of friends back to Hall's apartment where they hung out and Lore entertained some more. Lore told Hall about his interest in UFOs, and was hired to join NICAP by the end of the night. He soon submitted his resignation at what he described as a subsidiary of U.S. News and World Report and was on his way to work with Keyhoe, Hall and NICAP.

“It was to become a dream job,” Lore wrote, “mixed with more than a little anxiety about keeping the organization afloat during the next five years.” 

In 1966 a series of dramatic UFO sightings began in Michigan. The widely reported events included dozens of witnesses, as well as police officers giving chase to whatever they were seeing in the sky. Renowned UFO investigator J. Allen Hynek infamously suggested swamp gas as a feasible explanation. 

Then-House Minority Leader and future-President Gerald Ford took interest. As an elected official of Michigan, he was among those supporting calls for a Congressional hearing on UFOs. The House Armed Services Committee soon conducted just such a hearing, although it was relatively brief. While there wasn't much in the way of substantial information getting revealed, a chain of events was by that point in motion that would forever shape the timeline of UFO World. 

The Air Force announced a forthcoming independent review of Project Blue Book and related UFO evidence. It was titled the University of Colorado Scientific Study of UFOs, conducted by what was known as the Condon Committee due to the lead researcher, physicist Dr. Edward U. Condon. 

Richard Hall described events of 1966 and how they influenced NICAP in his previously referenced 1994 paper, The Quest For The Truth About UFOs: A Personal Perspective On The Role Of NICAP. With a little help from the UFOs, Hall explained, NICAP was thrust further than ever into the media spotlight. As a result of all the buzz, NICAP was deluged with mail, routinely receiving hundreds of letters a day. Public interest in UFOs, and subsequently NICAP, produced a degree of financial stability previously unknown to the organization. 

Don Berliner reported that by early 1967 NICAP grew to some 14,000 members. The Committee then employed nine full-time staff, which, Berliner noted, was more than could be said for the Blue Book payroll. 

Hall wrote that NICAP worked diligently to provide Dr. Condon and his staff with the best evidence possible to assist in compiling its report. NICAP understandably saw the UFO study undertaken at the University of Colorado as significant, or, as Hall put it, that their dreams were coming true. The help was enrolled of Dr. James E. McDonald, an outspoken UFO proponent and atmospheric physicist at the University of Arizona. Many UFO proponents probably fully anticipated a desirable outcome, at least initially, because they sincerely believed the evidence did indicate an abundance of interplanetary craft. Intelligence agencies and other scientists, not so much. 

In his 1973 book, Aliens From Space, Maj. Keyhoe stated NICAP eventually compiled some 9,300 UFO cases, 2,000 of which he suggested were top notch. I guess he was suggesting there were aliens all over the place. Perhaps it did not occur to Keyhoe that overwhelming Condon and the public in endless stories might not be as effective a tactic as he hoped. 

Hall wrote NICAP “worked on a massive project of copying files for the Colorado scientists.” This went on for over the course of a year and included “hundreds of strong cases,” as well as NICAP subcommittees sending Condon new reports perceived as potentially important. 

Keyhoe further wrote that almost right away Condon and the project administrator, Robert J. Low, began indicating to the press they did not anticipate arriving at conclusions supporting anything overly significant about UFOs. The two were quoted as speaking favorably about Air Force investigative efforts, as well as suggesting the government should get out of the UFO business. Such positions were of course in conflict with stances held by NICAP. 

In spite of the statements, Keyhoe and NICAP tried to stay the course. That might have particularly been due to repeated assurances received from Condon and Low the study would be conducted objectively, according to the writings of Keyhoe and Lore. Dr. Condon and Robert Low reportedly minimized the significance of their published remarks when asked about them by Keyhoe. 

The final straw came for Keyhoe when he learned of what came to be known as the “Trick Memo.” It was a leaked Condon Committee memo written by Robert Low in which he described an operating strategy for the UFO study. The committee would consist of scientists, Low explained, who could not possibly prove a negative result, even though they might indeed publish an impressive body of evidence suggesting there was nothing extraordinary about UFO observations. Low then added, “The trick would be... to describe the project so that, to the public, it would appear a totally objective study, but, to the scientific community, would present the image of nonbelievers trying their best to be objective but having an almost zero expectation of finding a saucer...” (Lore, Gordon. 2018. Flying Saucers from Beyond the Earth. BearManor Media. (p124))

Keyhoe and his organization, when they got wind of the memo, responded with an April 30, 1968 press release, “NICAP Calls Colorado UFO Project Failure” (NICAP_incorporation_papers.pdf, p31). The release stated NICAP sent a report to the president of the United States, containing evidence of “grave deficiencies” in the University of Colorado UFO project. It was further stated NICAP broke relations with the project after 17 months of cooperation. Reasons listed for the break included Condon had never conducted a field investigation of a UFO sighting or interviewed responsible witnesses, although named as chief principal investigator. 

“Dr. Condon summarily discharged two Project scientists,” the news release continued, “for revealing written proposals by Project Coordinator Robert J. Low that the Colorado Project be represented to the public as 'totally objective', when in fact it would be constituted almost entirely of non-believers, with 'an almost zero expectation of finding a saucer'.” 

It was further alleged Condon and Low “both refused, in writing, to answer NICAP questions as to whether the Project was being conducted in a biased and negative manner.” Condon, it was asserted, “refused to guarantee he would examine any of the hundreds of NICAP-investigated UFO reports, submitted at the Project's request.” 

Keyhoe and NICAP took measures to prepare for public response to what was clearly going to be, from their perspectives, an unfavorable report from Condon. Their efforts included a second Congressional hearing, organized by NICAP supporter Rep. J. Edward Roush, an Indiana Congressman who chaired the House Committee on Science and Aeronautics. He held the Symposium on Unidentified Flying Objects on July 29, 1968. 

While a few qualified scientists and NICAP representatives attended and provided testimony, the event was limited in scope. It did, however, mark the historic occasion of a second Congressional hearing on UFOs. 

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    The Condon Report was published in January 1969. The general conclusion stated nothing had come from the study of UFOs that added to scientific knowledge. It was additionally reported, “Careful consideration of the record as it is available to us leads us to conclude that further extensive study of UFOs probably cannot be justified in the expectation that science will be advanced thereby.” 

The issue was addressed in the document as to what, if anything, the federal government should do about UFO reports received from the general public. “We are inclined to think that nothing should be done with them in the expectation that they are going to contribute to the advance of science,” the Condon Committee wrote. 

If the implications were not clear enough as to what the group collectively recommended about operating government UFO research projects outside normal military channels, it explicitly clarified its stance. “It is our impression that the defense function could be performed within the framework established for intelligence and surveillance operations without the continuance of a special unit such as Project Blue Book, but this is a question for defense specialists rather than research scientists.” 

The Condon Committee made its position clear: The study of UFOs was producing nothing of scientific value and Blue Book should be discontinued. 

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    The report, eagerly anticipated by the public, was now actually published. Gordon Lore wrote a memo to the NICAP office in the aftermath. The January 27, 1969, memo declared the organization and the UFO subject were facing perhaps their most critical period. Refuting the Condon Report was crucial and would require cooperation and hard work on the part of NICAP, Lore suggested (NICAP_Condon_reaction.pdf, p1). Time would show the goal was not to be achieved. 

Challenges included quarrels among the staff and a declining membership. If the negative Condon Report wasn't bad enough, it had now been over two full years since the Michigan sightings. People were tired of waiting for answers, or at least the answers they wanted to hear. What's more, a growing number of NICAP supporters' patience was wearing thin about attacking the Air Force. 

As explored earlier, it is difficult to tackle the UFO subject without drawing lines in the political sand. This was not only true in Keyhoe's day, but was the case for years to come. As I write this, current news cycles are more likely to include statements about UFOs from Pentagon spokespersons, Senators, and bureaucrats than from scientists. We should take that into deep consideration when forming our assessments. We might also question what practical contribution Congress might even make to the topic of UFOs. In hindsight, much of it seemed to be performative and in pursuit of a mixed bag of agendas. 

Maj. Donald Keyhoe
In the case of Keyhoe, he seemed to have come to believe lobbying elected officials and leveling demands at intelligence agencies was UFO research. At the least, it appears he considered it the most likely way to produce substantial results. If his actions were indicative of his beliefs, and he truly thought he was pursuing the most productive path, he was simply wrong. He gave it a hell of a try, though, for what that may or may not be worth. 

Many at the time seemed to believe the Condon Report was part of an orchestrated cover-up to deny the reality of UFOs and ultimately the extraterrestrial presence the reported craft were often believed to indicate. More than a few still think so, at least among those in UFO circles who are aware of the Condon Committee. Frankly, I doubt many people could tell you why they believe the study was a sham, the idea just took on the quality of one of those “everybody knows” kind of things. 

I strongly suspect very few people could articulate such circumstances as the Trick Memo and offer specific reasons why they believe the Air Force and Condon Committee conspired to deceive the public and cancel Project Blue Book. In most circumstances, the primary reason for such beliefs seems to be because UFOs were not confirmed to be sensational, thus there must have been a government cover-up. 

Perhaps there actually were more deceptive motives at play. It's possible, for any number of reasons. It's also possible the Air Force came to conclude chasing UFOs was a waste of time much more often than not, and Condon and Low were subsequently identified as good candidates to arrive at such a conclusion. 

It's a reasonable likelihood Air Force officials sincerely found UFOs and the related controversies to be an unproductive drain of resources, and believed objective scientists would concur – as had often been the case up to that point. The powers that be may therefore have identified a somewhat “fixed” study as the best way out of the problem. It may not have been they were trying to rig the study as much as they were trying to ensure it did not fall under the care of overly enthusiastic saucer fanatics. 

It could even have been the intent, at least in part, for the Condon Committee to upstage NICAP, and create an alternative group of respected scientists and researchers. The alternative group would, of course, reach different conclusions than those promoted by NICAP. In the process, it would ease the Air Force burden of answering questions about UFOs and constantly finding itself in the crosshairs of Donald Keyhoe. 

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    Richard Hall did not seem to subscribe to conspiracies about the Condon Committee. That was the case even though he was admittedly bitter over circumstances surrounding his August 1969 final departure from NICAP. He described negotiations as long and contentious with Board members Col. Joseph Bryan III and Joseph B. Hartranft, Jr. Hall wrote the conflict was over back salary issues and stated the negotiations ultimately went nowhere. 

Hall extensively supplied information to the Condon Committee, as well, which stood to substantially increase his disappointment about the resulting report and overall circumstances. Nonetheless, he did not promote the Condon cover-up angle. 

“Was the Colorado UFO Project a conspiracy to debunk the subject?” Hall wrote in 1994. “Another 'front' operation to sweep the UFO problem under the rug? Many UFOlogists today write it off in that way, assuming that it must have been a put-up job from the start. However, there is a much simpler and all too-human explanation for what happened.” 

Condon and Low were simply not interested in UFOs, Hall suggested. Hall wrote that during one briefing he attended, Condon fell asleep. 

In another instance, Hall explained he personally hand-carried to Condon what he felt was an impressive and thick investigation report on a 1966 UFO case. When the Condon Report was later released, Hall was astonished to find no mention of it at all. 

“It had never occurred to me,” Hall explained, “that he would simply ignore it.” 

In his previously referenced 2018 book, Gordon Lore reflected, “Following the public release of the Condon Report, the prospects for NICAP continuing as a viable UFO organization quickly took a downward spiral. Adding fuel to the fire, unfortunately, was Keyhoe himself. Being an organizational and money manager was not his cup of tea. Some had even compared him to 'a second Townsend Brown.' 

“In a secret meeting on December 3, 1969, the NICAP Board with Colonel Joseph Bryan III presiding, fired both Keyhoe and myself. It soon became apparent that I had to be terminated as a convenient 'scapegoat.'” (Lore, Gordon. 2018. Flying Saucers from Beyond the Earth. BearManor Media. (p237)) 

And like that, the Keyhoe years were over. 

Staffer Stuart Nixon became director, and John “Jack” Acuff was soon appointed president. Ted Bloecher recalled the circumstances in a letter written to Richard Hall in approximately 1973. He was initially referencing his own business disagreement with Nixon, as compared to those concerning Keyhoe and Lore, when he wrote, “I have underestimated the lengths Stuart is capable of going to. But then, he's the one who fixed it so Major Keyhoe and Gordon Lore got axed. The shame of it is, I went along with it.” (NICAP_Bloecher_Report_1947.pdf, p5)

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