The "supergroup" which met at the home of George and Margo Earley on January 26,1968. From left: Dr. Thornton Page, Dr. David L. Morgan, John G. Fuller, Richard Hoagland, and Dr. James E. McDonald.
The dinner guests that evening were what Earley calls "the supergroup." They included McDonald, Thorton Page and David L.Morgan, Ph.D., who was doing post-doctoral research at Yale in an obscure branch of physics. A couple of years later, Morgan transferred to Livermore Labs in California and as far as Earley knows, was never seen again in the UFO community.
Richard Hoagland, who at the time was assistant curator in a Hartford planetarium, was the fourth member of the "supergroup." He had great interest and space research but was not officially a NICAP*CONN member. The fifth member was John Fuller, the prominent journalist who had written several articles in top newsstand magazines on the subject of UFOs and two books, Incident at Exeter and Interrupted Journey.
Earley didn't have a complete NICAP*CONN meeting that night. The super-group, himself, his wife Margo, and their two growing sons were the only ones present. "My boys sat there kind of goggle-eyed, because they knew "Dad" was involved in UFOs, and we had all these big names," he says.
During the next few hours, the UFO problem was discussed energetically. At one point, Earley snapped a picture of the super-group, and McDonald was caught for posterity, deep in thought, perhaps even unaware of the camera.
"It was basically a bull session," says Earley. "Page talked a little about his experiences with the Robertson Panel, and Jim quizzed him on that."
McDonald had been waiting all day to quiz Page. He respected his contributions to science and wanted him as an ally in the UFO battle. Although he did not actively pursue the UFO question, he at least seemed more interested than most scientists. McDonald appreciated this, but he also wanted to try to figure out why a scientist who'd had a superb chance to protest the Air Force's handling of the problem back in 1953 had held back the way he did. He turned toward Page. "There evidently weren't any believers at the Robertson Panel. What were you doing there, Thornton?"
Page laughed. "That panel never had any real interest in the subject, Jim," he confided. "We only met for four days, eight sessions. How much research can you do in that amount of time?"
"What about your CIA 'hosts'?" McDonald pursued. "Didn't they object to your just skimming over the surface?"
"Object?" grinned Page. "Nobody objected. Not the Air Force, not the CIA, and as far as the other four on the panel were concerned, what did they care?"
"And what about you, Thornton," asked McDonald. "Didn't you care?"
"To tell the truth, Jim," said Page, "until you entered the field publicly, I thought it was a fringe subject, misidentifications, mass hysteria, whatever. You've changed all that."
"I'm trying to do my part," said McDonald, looking grim. "But one man, one group, can't do it alone. It's an interdisciplinary problem. It's going to take a number of good scientists, working from slightly different viewpoints, to get any kind of handle on it."
Page starting joking about his Astronomy 101 class at Wesleyan, which he'd set up for business majors who couldn't be easily trapped into taking science courses. The name of the course was "Observing UFOs." He'd invited George Earley down to Wesleyan a few times, to talk about NICAP and UFOs. "It's basically a science course on how to learn to observe, how to derive data by interviewing, that sort of thing. But it sucks students in by using the UFO title."
"So it really isn't about UFOs?" queried McDonald.
"It is when George here comes down to speak to the class," said Page. "I'm willing to give him a chance to have his say."
"Is he using you to see how well the class would ask hard questions of a UFO 'believer'?" asked McDonald, turning to Earley.
"I don't mind," replied Barley. "We get the word out wherever we can."
McDonald continued to ask Page piercing questions about the Robertson Panel. "In my opinion, that panel set back UFO research 20 years," he said. "Five of the finest scientific minds in the country, each one a specialist who could have attacked the problem from the most puzzling aspects UFOs present us! Dr. Robertson, a mathematical physicist, a veteran of wartime intelligence missions, specializing in relativity and cosmology? Luis Alvarez, a nuclear physicist who co-invented the GCA system for tracking aircraft in fog and rain? Sam Goudsmit, discoverer of the theory of electron-spin? Lloyd Berkner, an expert on the ionosphere and terrestrial magnetism? And you, Thornton, an astronomer and an underwater weapons specialist.
"Do you have any idea how many 'underwater anomalies' are listed in Blue Book files?" he asked Page. "Aren't you curious about UFOs that are reported by groups of witnesses including men on Navy shipse - merging from, and diving into, lakes and oceans? And Lloyd Berkner, right there on the panel with you, and an expert on ionization. Would he be interested in knowing that a top scientist at JPL is hypothesizing that the Heflin photos possibly show that the UFO was surrounded by ionized air?" (
The others looked at each other, intrigued. "Maybe Phil Klass isn't that far off, after all," said McDonald. "A JPL computer-enhancement scientist talking about ionization surrounding the UFO in the Heflin photo, and Klass claiming that some UFOs are just big, long-lasting 'plasmas'? Maybe Phil needs to realize that there's something 'unidentified' inside his 'plasmas'!"
McDonald was not satisfied with Page's answers to his questions, but he realized he couldn't do anything more that night to straighten out the mystery of the Robertson Panel. There were plenty of other topics of conversation, such as Menzel's second book, co-authored with Lyle Boyd, in which the prominent astrophysicist had tried to convince his readers that UFOs were nothing more than a "modern myth." Then the discussion turned to the Condon Committee and the reality that Condon's approach was, to say the least, not scientifically vigorous. The subject of the "trick memo" came up rather casually, although most of the "supergroup" previously hadn't known about it. McDonald seized the chance and pulled his copy from his briefcase.
"Jim showed it to Fuller and the others," relates Earley. "Fuller leaped on it with great eagerness. 'I'm supposed to do another article on UFOs for Look Magazine,' he told McDonald. 'This would be just great!' The two of them put their heads together right there in my living room. And that was the genesis of Fuller's article on the Low memorandum, which appeared around May of 1968." It was now quite late, but for McDonald the evening had barely begun.
"Page and Hoagland and Morgan went home, and John and Jim sat and talked, well after midnight," relates Earley. "It finally boiled down to the fact that Jim had to go home early in the morning, so it was time for everybody to hit the sack." Earley said to John Fuller, "Why drive back down to the Coast?" Westport is a good two hours away. We've got room, we can put you up."
"No, no," replied Fuller. "Just let me sit down in your contour chair and relax a little bit. I've got to meet with my agent in New York tomorrow morning." He settled himself in a big contour chair in front of the fireplace, where Earley found him the next morning, sound asleep in his clothes.
John Fuller, with McDonald's help, took upon himself the responsibility of exposing Condon's fraud. When his article appeared in the May 14. 1968 issue of Look, it pulled no punches. Its title was "The Flying Saucer Fiasco" and the subtitle told the story: "The extraordinary story of the half-million-dollar 'trick' to make Americans believe the Condon Committee was conducting an objective investigation."
It took four and one-half months to hit the stands, however. In the meantime, four days after the meeting at Earley's Connecticut home, McDonald wrote a lengthy letter to Robert Low, outlining his charges that the project was being mishandled and giving a list of suggestions on how the project even at that late date, turn itself around. He included a long quote from Lowes's August 6, 1966, memo, including the damning phrase, "The trick would be... " McDonald's letter enraged Condon, who phoned Dr. Dick Kassander, lAP's Director, to protest that McDonald had encouraged one of his (Condon's) employees to "steal" a privileged document from the Committee's files for highly objectionable purposes. He insisted that McDonald be fired. Kassander suggested that Condon deal with McDonald directly.
McDonald had also contacted John Coleman of the NAS suggesting that the Academy set up an independent review panel of the Condon Committee, in order that scientists could be informed about Condon's negative actions, Low's memo, and the Committee's general neglect of many promising cases.
Ann Druffel, "Firestorm", 268-273