UFOS AND GOVERNMENT
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS & 1957
In the American Experience, the UFO Phenomenon had displayed itself almost entirely as a mystery of the air, of flight, and seemingly, of technology. It remained at a “proper” distance. There were very few claims of landings. There were very few claims of “entities,” other than those by the non-believable “contactees.” There were very few of what we call today “close encounters” of any kind. In Europe and in Latin America, that had been different, especially in 1954. But that was far away and one could, even if one were in the military, say that these stories were merely stories. For the United States, the UFO Phenomenon was just something in the air, something possibly threatening, but until now “no threat to national security.” Although citizens saw and reported UFOs, they did so at-a-distance, and so, despite the UFO writers and organizations, were only distantly involved. Unidentified flying objects were military business. Citizens just sometimes accidentally saw UFOs because they were (distantly) there. If one ignored the world experience (and an assessment of Project Blue Book files shows that, with the exception of cases by U.S. military personnel in areas like Korea, American intelligence practically did), then one could sit in the Pentagon and rationalize that, whatever this was, it was far away and harmless. Not all intelligence operatives felt so relaxed about the issue, but it made one’s life simpler, thinking about defense and the Soviets, if one did. Without the Close Encounters it was a lot easier to push the UFO bugaboo away. In 1957, the phenomenon would change that. Fortunately for the intelligence community, the change would only be temporary..
Nineteen hundred and fifty seven was the year of ICBM launches and, finally, Sputnik.1 No one in
the public really believed that the Soviets were ahead of us in military technology until then a
dangerous situation, yes, but ahead, no. With Sputnik orbiting and our “response,” Vanguard, flopping in plain sight on the launching pads, the public was nervous in the extreme. But Sputnik I was only a little metal ball, the commentators said. In November, the Soviets launched Sputnik II: one thousand pounds of metal and a dog inside. The citizenry was on the edge of panic. Coincident to that panic, in early November the UFOs engaged the country in a series of close encounters never yet seen in the United States, providing another major stress that the military did not need. The small band of UFO debunkers at Wright-Patterson and the Pentagon would have to handle that matter on their own; the Big American War Machine had Sputniks and ICBMs on their minds. To cope, Eisenhower asked for a "monster" of a Department of Defense budget.14 Far from Ike’s having to fight for the budget, Congress increased it even more. While politicians and strategists sweated, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Washington, and California got rich. Quietly, the technology and intelligence communities created the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA, later DARPA) inspired in 1957 by Sputnik, and formed in 1958, to secretly produce the advanced weapons systems of the later century and to “prevent technological surprise.” UFOs did not qualify as a “technological surprise,” although Sputniks, Soviet ICBMs, and, if they should occur, Soviet flying disks would. It was an interesting psychology: the thing we knew but could not be, versus the thing that was not, but we feared could be. But Sputnik and its ICBM dwarfed them both.
Perhaps the terrible realities associated with Soviet technology simply made anything else an
irritating distraction best handled by ignoring it. The practical military certainly seemed to cope with UFOs that way. Only if it could be shown that there was some serious threat present would any action, any expense or application of manpower, be even evaluated, let alone approved.2 As it was, the UFO phenomenon presented only two such defensible threats: it could still contribute to, or be simulated to create, dangerous panic;3 and the manipulation of flying saucers “nuts,” scam-artists, and cultists could be used to spread anti-American, pro-Communism, and unhelpful anti-war, anti-bomb messages throughout the public. These were threats that the intelligence community understood, and the militarist war-makers could leave them to it, and hopefully be bothered no more by it. The “hysteria” problem remained Blue Book’s and a small part of the Pentagon’s job. The “propaganda and spy” problem was the FBI’s and the CIA’s. A few people like Allen Hynek naively thought that UFOs were a neat scientific puzzle to be solved. Hynek never got it. Much later, near the end of Blue Book, then chief officer Colonel Hector Quintanilla exasperatedly told an interviewer that Hynek would casually drop by, engage in small talk for hours, and waste military time while there was work to be done.5 Far from not being serious about UFOs, Blue Book was deadly serious about preventing dangerous excitement and enthusiasm about the subject. It just was not the kind of seriousness certain portions of the citizenry wanted.
1 Jack Manno, Arming the Heavens.
2 Blue Book microfilms, (especially George Gregory, memorandum, “For the Office of the Scientific Advisor,” 1 August 1957). This and associated documents indicate that ADC’s 4602nd AISS was to cut back seriously on field investigations for Blue Book, due to lack of funding.
3 At least three instances of panic or near-panic occurred in 1957 alone (Canada, ADC, and Portland). See end of this chapter.
4 The Soviet Union had begun to accuse the U.S. of using flying saucers as part of a propaganda war against them (reported from Pravda in UFO Investigator 1 (2); 15, August-September 1957), and the U.S. continued to believe that the U.S.S.R. was possibly using UFOs and UFO “cultists” in psychological warfare ways. It is widely known that many UFO figures, both cultists and legitimate researchers, were visited by intelligence operatives early in their careers. Richard Hall, while still a Tulane University student, had his newsletter collected and filed (Blue Book microfilm, see date: 31 May 1957). When NICAP was reformed (under Donald Keyhoe), two CIA experts were ousted. (See Lawrence Fawcett and Barry Greenwood. Clear Intent, 1984.) Monitoring of contactees like George Adamski and George Van Tassel must have been even more constant. For an unusual speculative view of this (allegedly based on FOIA’d documents, not seen), see: Nick Redfern, “Operation Espionage,” The Anomalist 12: pp. 46-73, 2006.
5 Hector Quintanilla, “Project Blue Book’s Last Years,” in Hilary Evans and Dennis Stacy (eds.), UFOs, 1947-1997, 1997.
14 Email response to the term "massive" used to describe Isenhower's budget request.