The CIA-UFO Relation

Last Updated on June 2, 2020 by

The message coming out of the CIA in recent months is that it’s very much a
“vanguard” operation. We know now that for more than a decade before
Ken Kesey’s “Acid Tests,” the Agency was buying LSD by the gallon and
testing it on unwitting “volunteers,” while at the same time
contemplating Extra-Sensory Perception (ESP) as an ideal means of secret
communication (covering its bases by having magicians reveal the secrets of
their trade, especially with regard to “mind-reading acts”). Hypnosis
was another plaything of the Agency, as was behavioral modification and a host
of other non-scheduled disciplines.

Assuming that this vanguardism was not an aberration, but typical of the
Agency’s foresight and supposed open-mindedness, we may wonder upon what
scientific and mystical frontiers they’re currently standing. Biofeedback? TM?
Pyramid power? Silva Mind Control? Has the Agency funded the study of more
paranormal phenomena — Kirlian photography, psychokinesis, dousing? Does the
CIA have a Tac Squad of black-magicians, alchemists bent on manipulating the
value of Russian gold reserves? Does it have its own psychics and astrologers
and, if so, what are their GS ratings?

I bring up all these things in light of a formerly secret CIA report that has
been quietly declassified: Report of Meetings of (the) Scientific Advisory Panel
on Unidentified Flying Objects, Convened by (the ) Office of Scientific
Intelligence, CIA, January 14-18, 1953. A notorious document within the
community of UFO buffs, its existence has long been known: indeed, a censored
version has been published in at least one book devoted to UFOlogy. What has not
been generally available, however, is the fact that the Report was prepared
under the auspices of the CIA. Indeed, it’s precisely that fact that has been
the censors’ target.

The significance if the CIA’s involvement in the UFO controversy is
substantial. And, if we can put aside our prejudices concerning the subject of
“flying saucers” — prejudices which, as we’ll see, have been shaped
by the Agency’s mass psychologists — we’ll find that the Report documents a
proposed course of action that constitutes a dangerous breach of the CIA’s
Charter forbidding domestic operations. The questions raised by the Report are
fundamental ones concerning the subservience of scientific objectivity to
“national security” goals, the manipulation of national myths, and the
use of psychological warfare tactics in peacetime against the very public whose
tax dollars support the Agency’s operations. And the questions are specific as
well. For instance: did the CIA place American UFO groups under surveillance, as
the Report panelists recommended? Were Arthur Godfrey and Walt Disney (and other
celebrities) used in a domestic psywar campaign to “debunk” UFOs — as
some panelists recommended? Does the CIA routinely, or only occasionally,
manipulate American “myths” — as the Report makes clear that it does?
Are the conclusions of scientific advisory panels to the CIA and other
government agencies arrived at via the scientific method or, as the Report
suggests, by political prescription? The “CIA-UFO conspiracy” is an
ideal case in point.

To understand the significance of the Report, it should be noted it was
produced at the very zenith of the Cold War. Rapid scientific advances in such
fields as nuclear energy and jet propulsion had ignited the imagination of the
public, while hostility toward China and Russia added an element of paranoia to
the country’s mood. At the same time, “flying saucers” were a
relatively new phenomenon in the sense that, while strange lights had been seen
in the skies for centuries, it was not until the late ’40s that they became a
subject of national speculation, a cause celebre.
Initial investigations of these early reports of bizarre aerial phenomena
suggested that most — 75% or so — could be attributed to natural causes poorly
observed, optical illusions, hoaxes, equipment malfunctions or other such banal
origins. But that left a significant number of sightings, films and artifacts
which could not be rationally explained and which, therefore, literally
constituted “Unidentified Flying Objects.” The nature of those objects
could be almost anything, but many suspected them to be intelligently-guided
aircraft — Russian, American, or Martian. (This was no exaggeration. According
to an article by Pentagon staffer Maj. David R. Carlson in The Aerospace
Historian [Winter, 1974], a Top Secret 1948 “Estimate of the
Situation,” prepared by the USAF Air Technical Intelligence Center,
concluded that UFOs were “interplanetary” in origin.) Amid this mix of
scientific progress, political paranoia, and seemingly impossible occurrences in
the air, the 1953 CIA Panel was convened.

The Panel, composed of seven highly prestigious scientists, (Dr. H. P.
Robertson, Chairman, California Institute of Technology; Dr. Luis W. Alvarez,
University of California; Dr. Lloyd Berkner, Associated Universities, Inc.; Dr.
Samuel Goudsmith, Brookhaven National Laboratories; Dr. Thornton Page, Office of
Research Operation, Johns Hopkins University; Dr. J. Allen Hynek, Ohio State
University; and Mr. Frederick C. Durant, Arthur D. Little, Inc.), was attended
by the upper echelon of the Agency’s Office of Scientific Intelligence, and
apparently reported directly to Allen Dulles, Director of Central Intelligence (DCI).
(That the Panel reported to the DCI is a fact, though it’s not known for certain
who was DCI at the time of the Report’s completion. Gen. Walter Bedell Smith
retired as DCI on Feb. 9, 1953; Dulles served as Acting Director from then until
Feb. 26, when his appointment as DCI was confirmed.)

The CIA made it clear from the start, however, that its interest in UFOs was
operational rather than academic. While several days were spent studying films
of UFOs, reports by the Air Force and Battelle Institute, and listening to
numerous interviewees, the Agency had little interest in the subject per se.
For one thing, there was no evidence that the “saucers” represented a
security threat: they hadn’t bombed anything and, in the absence of hardware
indicating otherwise, they didn’t seem to be Russian. That they might be
extraterrestrial in origin was a possibility that might be raised, but only in
order to dismiss it. Nevertheless, there were dissenters among the Panelists,
and among the witnesses. According to the report:

It was interesting to note that none of the members of the Panel were loath
to accept that this earth might be visited by extraterrestrial intelligent
beings of some sort, some day. What they did not find was any evidence that
related the objects sighted to space travellers. Mr. Fournet, in his
presentation, showed how he had eliminated each of the known and probable causes
of sightings leaving him with ‘extraterrestrial’ as the only one remaining in
many cases. Fournet’s background as an aeronautical engineer and technical
intelligence officer (Project Officer, Bluebook for 15 months) could not be
slighted. However, the Panel could not accept any of the cases sighted by him
because they were raw, unevaluated reports. Terrestrial explanations of the
sightings were suggested in some cases and in others the time of the sighting
was so short as to cause suspicion of visual impressions.

Elsewhere, the Report discusses spectacular films of UFOs sighted over
Trementon, Utah, and the resultant briefing by representatives of the U.S.
Navy’s Photo Interpretation Laboratory (P.I.L.).

This team had expended (at Air Force request) approximately 1,000 man-hours
of professional and sub- professional time in the preparation of graph plots of
individual frames of the film, showing apparent and relative motion of objects
and variations in their light intensity. It was the opinion of P.I.L.
representatives that the objects sighted were not birds, balloons or aircraft;
were not reflections because there was no blinking while passing through 60
degrees of arc and were, therefore, ‘self-luminous.’ Plots of motion and
variation in light intensity of the objects were displayed. While Panel Members
were impressed by the evident enthusiasm, industry, and effort of the P.I.L.
team, they could not accept the conclusions reached…”

Despite the “enthusiasm” of the P.I.L. team (reading between the
lines, I come up with “They’re flying saucers, goddammit, look at
them!”), and in the absence of any evidence to back up what amounted to
their dogmatic skepticism, the panel concluded that if further extensive tests
were conducted (which they would not be),”…the results of such tests
would probably lead to creditable explanations of value in an educational or
training program.” In other words, “If we broke our necks trying, we
might be able to convince people that these things, whatever they are, are
something other than what they would seem to be.”
The conclusions reached by the P.I.L. team, after exhaustive efforts, were
unacceptable simply because they didn’t conform to the (untested) hypotheses of
the CIA panelists. The panelists therefore decided that the objects filmed over
Utah must be seagulls or “pillow-balloons” or airplanes or camera
tricks or something.

It was this attitude, reflecting CIA policy on the matter, that led the Air
Force Bluebook project (analyzing UFO reports) to be dubbed “The Society
for the Explanation of the Uninvestigated.”

My purpose here, however, and I hasten to point it out, is not to convince
anyone that UFOs are anything other than what the acronym implies —
“unidentified.” My intention is, instead, to emphasize the absence of
scientific certainty prevailing at the time, the lack of objectivity exhibited
at most of the meetings, and the palpable intention of the panelists to dismiss,
virtually out of hand, any evidence that challenged existing orthodoxy. In any
case, since the CIA and the majority of panelists had discounted the UFOs as
phenomenal figments, it might be thought that this would have ended the matter.
But that isn’t how things work at CIA headquarters.

The panel concluded that while UFOs didn’t constitute”…a direct
physical threat to national security…the continued emphasis on the reporting
of these phenomena does, in these parlous times, result in a threat to the
orderly functioning of the protective organs of the body politic.”

Specifically,”…panel members were in agreement with O/SI [Office of
Scientific Intelligence, CIA]…that dangers might well exist resulting from:

a. Misidentification of actual enemy artifacts by defense personnel.

b. Overloading of emergency reporting channels with ‘false’ information…

c. Subjectivity of public to mass hysteria and greater vulnerability to
possible enemy psychological warfare.”

The Report then goes on to point out that the first two of these
“dangers” are “not the concern of CIA,” but rather that of
the Air Defense Command (ADC). What the CIA is concerned about, however, is the
third “danger.” As the Report makes clear, the Agency feared that the
“myth of UFOs” might lead to an “inappropriate” response by
the public in case of nuclear attack or an invasion of the U.S. by air. (Just
what the Agency had in mind in this regard is uncertain: one supposes they
feared Russia’s surrounding its MIGs with phosphorescent papier mache, thereby
posing as flying saucers, and landing in suburbia with demands that they be
taken to our leader.) That they worried about Russia’s manipulation of the
saucer myth, however, is explicit in the Report. “The Panel noted that the
general absence of Russian propaganda based on a subject with so many obvious
possibilities for exploitation might indicate a possible Russian official
policy.” Note the reasoning: it seems to say that because Russia
demonstrated no interest in the saucer myth, it must therefore be fascinated by
it. Obviously the commies were covering up.

In the face, or apparition, of Marxist manipulation of the UFO controversy,
the Panel decided that “a broad education program must be undertaken”
and “that it should have two major aims: training and ‘debunking’.”

“The training aim,” continues the Report, “would result in
proper recognition of unusually illuminated objects (e.g.,
balloons, aircraft reflections) as well as natural phenomena (meteors,
fireballs, mirages, noctilucent clouds)…This training should result in a
marked reduction in reports caused by misidentification and resultant

“The ‘debunking’ aim,” the Report went on, “would result in
reduction in public interest in ‘flying saucers’ which today evokes a strong
psychological response.
This education could be accomplished by mass media such as television, motion
pictures, and popular articles. Basis of such education would be actual case
histories which had been puzzling at first but later explained…Such a program
should tend to reduce the current gullibility of the public and consequently
their susceptibility to clever hostile propaganda.”


Members of the Panel had various suggestions related to the planning of such
an educational program. It was felt strongly that psychologists familiar with
mass psychology should advise on the nature and extent of the program. In this
connection, Dr. Hadley Cantril (Princeton University) was suggested. Cantril
authored ‘Invasion from Mars’ (a study in the psychology of panic, written about
the famous Orson Welles broadcasts in 1938), and has since performed advanced
laboratory studies in the field of perception…Also, perhaps an advertising
expert would be helpful. Arthur Godfrey was mentioned as possibly a valuable
channel of communication reaching a mass audience of certain levels…The Jam
Handy Co. which made World War II training films (motion picture and slide
strips) was also suggested, as well as Walt Disney, Inc. animated cartoons. Dr.
Hynek suggested that amateur astronomers in the U.S. might be a potential source
of enthusiastic talent ‘to spread the gospel.’ It was believed that business
clubs, high schools, colleges, and television stations would all be pleased to
cooperate in the showing of documentary type motion pictures if prepared in an
interesting manner.

You can see the scenario: CIA officers and flag-crazed astronomers huddle in
secret to fathom the insidious meaning of Russian disinterest in flying saucers.
In front of them are movie screens over which play the images of UFOs hovering
in Utah — and, for the purposes of comparison, films of seagulls flapping
through the air. In another room, Allen Dulles sits meditating on Korea’s place
in the cosmos, waiting to hear if UFOs are imaginary or real (and, if real, to
learn the ideology of their occupants). It’s ludicrous.

And yet, even setting aside the rape of scientific objectivity in the
supposed best interests of national security, there’s something dangerous here
as well.

That is, the manipulation of domestic “myths” by secret agencies of
the federal government, agencies which consider the use of celebrities and
mass-psychologists in a peacetime campaign for “right-thinking,” is
the first step toward psychiatric facism. (It was precisely this kind of
activity that led to the persecution of the Jews under the Axis, the evolution
of occult pseudo-sciences in Nazi Germany, and the propagation of official myths
about Aryan supremacy; they were politically useful ideas.)

It’s absurd, of course, to make a categorical comparison between the CIA’s
planned “debunking” of flying saucers with the myth-manipulations of
the Nazis. Even if the CIA plans were put into effect, their target was a
seemingly innocuous one, and the ridiculing of “flying saucer nuts”
relatively mild and harmless. Still, it is a dangerous policy and, as other
reports indicate, it wouldn’t be the first time the CIA indulged in such
manipulations (more of which later). The question is: were the recommendations
of the CIA panelists put into effect? In the absence of a credible statement
from the CIA, we can only judge by what happened. Prior to the panel’s being
convened, judging by the open-mindedness of its expert witnesses, the subject
was given serious study. Subsequently, however, the Air Force embarked on a
campaign that precisely conformed to the recommendations of the CIA group.
UFO-buffs have long argued that the Air Force was carrying out a policy of
cover-up, but few guessed that the policy originated with the CIA.

The history of the Bluebook project from 1953 to its termination in 1969 is
one of self-defeat and the waste of tax revenues. As Hynek points out in his
book, The UFO Experience, not even the most basic steps were taken. “By and
large,” he writes, “Bluebook data were poor in content, and even
worse, they were maintained in virtually unusable form. With access to modern
electronic data processing techniques, Bluebook maintained its data entirely
unprocessed. Cases were filed by date alone, and not even a rudimentary
cross-indexing was attempted. Had the data been put in a machine readable form,
the computer could have been used to seek patterns in the reports, to compare
the elements of one report with those of another…Since all the thousands of
cases were recorded only chronologically, even so simple a matter as tabulating
sightings from different geographical locations, from different types of
witnesses, etc. was impossible…A
proposal for elementary computerization of the data…was summarily turned
down.” In addition, Bluebook tended not to “investigate”
sightings until they achieved notoriety in the press; its staff was invariably
too small, and its status inevitably low.

The Air Force, in other words, carried out an essential aspect of the CIA’s
proposed dirty work: the pseudo-scientific “debunking” of the UFOs.
That the debunking was unsuccessful is obvious from two polls taken by the
Gallup organization. In 1947, 90% of the U.S. public had heard about UFOs; in
1966, 96% had heard of them. What’s more, a 1966 Gallup poll indicated that more
than five million Americans had witnessed a UFO; in 1973, another Gallup poll
showed that 15 million had seen one or more UFOs. Whatever it is they think
they’ve seen, it is as Hynek says: “Through the years there [has] been a
stubborn, unyielding residue of ‘incredible reports from credible people.'”

If we could be certain that this was the only instance in which the CIA set
out to manipulate national myths, it could be dismissed as an aberration, a
temporary crankishness on the part of the Agency. But there’s no way to be
certain of that. The CIA’s early involvement in the practice, and its apparent
success in bringing about the ridicule of witnesses and buffs, raises the
possibility that other American “myths” have been similarly
manipulated (perhaps with more success). To what extent, if any, have CIA
scientists intervened in ESP researches, and toward what end? To what extent, if
any, have “assassination buffs” been lampooned by campaigns hatched in
the Directory of De- mythification?

It’s not just that the Agency violated its Charter against domestic
operations at an early age.
The 1953 meetings also raised the specter — concretely — of placing people
under surveillance on the grounds that they held scientific or cultural views
that differed from the Agency’s own. Quoting from the 1953 Report:

The Panel took cognizance of the existence of such groups as the ‘Civilian
Flying Saucer Investigators’ (Los Angeles) and the ‘Aerial Phenomena Research
Organization’ (Wisconsin). It was believed that such organizations should be
watched because of their great influence on mass thinking if widespread
sightings should occur. the apparent responsibility and the possible use of such
groups for subversive purposes should be kept in mind.

While some justification can be made for “watching” political
groups and individuals deemed dangerous to society, there can be no innocent
grounds for monitoring persons who hold minority views on astronomical

Although there’s no way, short of subpoena, to determine if the CIA has
exploited other “myths” at home, it is well-known that they’ve done so
abroad. In the Philippines, for instance, an indigenous vampire myth flourishes.
To capitalize on that myth, CIA counter-insurgency experts instructed Filipino
troops under their command to fake vampirism following battle encounters with
the Huks. When time permitted, the enemy dead were strung upside-down from the
limbs of trees, and their jugulars pierced with small incisions. Found days
later by their comrades, their bodies drained of blood and with what seemed to
be “teeth-marks” on their necks, the dead were presumed to have fallen
victim of immortal enemies (i.e.,
the “living dead”). This same tactic was, reportedly, tried in
Vietnam, but it met with no success since the Vietnamese wouldn’t know a vampire
from a Fig Newton. They merely thought Americans peculiarly savage for killing
people in such a barbaric way.

What the Vietnamese did have, however, was a belief in hexes associated with
“the evil eye.”
To exploit that myth, some Special Forces troops were instructed to remove the
eyes of dead enemy soldiers — to gouge them out, as it were — and place them
on the backs of the enemy dead. This anomaly, when encountered by the Viet Cong
or NVA, was expected to freak them out and, reportedly, it did. Even more
bizarre, though, was the Americans’ way of “making do.” Soldiers
disgusted at the prospect of disfiguring the dead, or simply pressed for time,
resorted to tossing copies of the CBS “eye” logo on the backs of dead
NVA and Viet Cong. While not quite so effective as the real thing, the practice
was said to have had some impact.

This isn’t to say that the CIA gives an automatic go-ahead to every proposal
for the exploitation of myth. Some proposals are so outlandish that even the
Agency is flabbergasted by them. For instance, a witness before Sen. Frank
Church’s Select Committee on Intelligence described a plan concocted by General
Edward Lansdale for the overthrow of Fidel Castro. “I’ll give you one
example of Lansdale’s perspicacity,” the witness said. “He had a
wonderful plan for getting rid of Castro. The plan consisted of spreading the
word that the Second Coming of Christ was imminent and that Christ was against
Castro, (who) was the Anti-Christ. And you would spread this word around Cuba,
and then on whatever date it was, that there would be a manifestation of this
thing. And at that time — this is absolutely true — and at that time just over
the horizon there would be an American submarine which would surface off of Cuba
and send up some starshells (flares). And this would be the manifestation of the
Second Coming and Castro would be overthrown…Well, some wag called this
operation — and somebody dubbed this — Elimination by Illumination.”

It’s entirely possible, of course, that we’ll never know what the CIA’s been
up to all these years, at home or abroad. Indeed, even an understanding of
exactly what happened with the UFO experience becomes increasingly unlikely.
Currently, what UFOlogists regard as the coup de grace “of the longest
cover-up” is taking place at Maxwell Air Force Base.
It’s there that nearly 30 years of UFO sightings and research have been kept.

Throughout most of that time, interested researchers were given virtually
free access to the available records. Now, however, those records are being
given by the Air Force to the National Archives with the stipulation that the
identities of witnesses and officials mentioned in the reports be deleted.
Excising all proper names from the tens of thousands of pages accumulated over
three decades is a monumental, time-consuming and expensive task that would seem
to have no purpose but to diminish the historical and scientific value of the
records. As John Taylor, an official at the National Archives, pointed out:
“It’s just a waste of money. For years, anyone who wanted to look at those
records, with all the names left in, just had to visit Maxwell Air Base.
Now, all of a sudden, they want the names removed. It doesn’t make sense: it’s
too late to protect anyone’s privacy. All they’re going to do is damage the
historical record, and spend a small fortune doing it.”

A spokeswoman for Dr. Hynek’s Center for UFO Studies also deplored the
removal of the names, but for somewhat different reasons. “The reports of
sightings will still be valuable…What
disturbs us so much more is the Air Force’s deleting the names of officials who
were involved in the various projects, scientists who rendered opinions on
sightings, and others who attended military and governmental meetings on the
subject. Suddenly, all that’s going to be a blank. There’ll be no way to know
who was responsible for what. It’s the last stage of the cover-up. It completes