CHAPTER XIV

 

The Hidden Report

 

 

            When I went into the airport terminal, there was no sign of Riordan. He came in a few minutes later, as I was leaving the American Airlines counter. We went up to the deserted mezzanine and I told him about Colonel Odell’s migration answer.

            "Good Lord!" said Riordan. "Does the Air Force really believe that?"

            "I don't think so, but I'm puzzled at their letting Odell say it."

            Riordan skipped through the typescript, pausing at the key points.

            "It's fantastic," he muttered. "If an Intelligence colonel hadn't written it—" he stopped. "There's one sure thing. If any other race tried to muscle in here, there'd be one hell of a fight."

            "It would depend on their weapons—"

            'We'd fight, anyway," grated Riordan. "I can't see Americans—or the rest of the world, either—letting themselves be pushed off onto reservations like the Indians. They'd have to finish us off before they could settle here."

            "I still think one of the other answers is more likely. But even if it's true, it doesn't mean they've definitely decided on the earth. They may be considering some other planet. 

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They might have trouble with our atmosphere; if they find they can't adjust to it, they may give up. There could be a dozen reasons why they'd have trouble settling here."

            Riordan stared down at the crowded waiting room.

            "It could explain the long check-up—maybe why they haven't tried to contact us. But somehow I just can't believe it. You don't take it seriously, do you?"

            "I'd have to see some evidence first. Of course, this might fit Mars, if Lowell was right about its being a dying planet. The Martians may have developed space travel in the hope of saving the race. It's a possible answer, but even if they did select the earth, it might be years before they'd be able to start migration."

            "And if they tried it on a small scale, we could handle them. Also, we might have space ships by then, maybe new weapons to hit them with. Of course, if the earth was their only chance, they might rush things." Riordan stopped, made a wry face. "Damn it, I still say it's fantastic-Intelligence colonel or not."

            The loud-speakers broke in, announcing my plane's departure. Riordan went down to the gate with me.

            "The thing that bothers me," I said, "is the Air Force clearing the script."

            "Maybe it was a fluke," said Riordan. "Could be it was passed by some Review officer who doesn't believe in the saucers, so he thought it wasn't important. He could've figured that taking off the colonel's rank was enough to protect the Air Force."

            "He'd have to be pretty dumb not to see what could happen."

            "Sure, but that could explain its getting cleared. It's still a hellish idea." Riordan gave me a crooked grin. "Even though I don't believe it, I wish I hadn't heard it."

            As the Convair roared off the runway, I glanced at some of the passengers, trying to imagine how they would take Odell's suggestion. Judging from Riordan's reaction, most of them would shrug it off as some scare-writer's brainstorm. 

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What difference it would make if they knew his Air Force background, I could only guess. Some might call it pure fantasy; Riordan had at first, and he'd seen all the saucer evidence. Even so, releasing the story now seemed to me a curious action.

            The airliner droned past Baltimore, and I looked down at the sprawling city. Would this and other great American cities be coveted by that unknown space race? Would they offer the homes, industries, food these mysterious beings required? Or would their needs be totally different? Even if they closely resembled us in form, they might have developed a civilization so strange that ours would be utterly useless to them . . .

            That night at my hotel I read the reports Al had cleared. Only one of them added any new angle. On February 6, near Rosalia, Washington, a saucer had circled a B-36 bomber. During this maneuver the pilot saw a white light blink at two-second intervals. Before he had time to blink his own lights in answer, the machine swiftly turned south and disappeared.

            The other reports followed the usual pattern. On the night of February 1 an Air Force jet pilot had spotted several glowing saucers near Terre Haute, Indiana. Later he saw the same group, or a similar one, as he came into St. Louis. Three days later a Weather Bureau observer at Yuma had tracked two discs with his theodolite. On February 11 there had been two widely separated sightings. One disc had paced an Air Force C-119 en route from Tunis to Tripoli. The other had led a Marine Corps jet pilot a wild chase over Virginia.

            The last ATIC report was dated February 13, when three discs, in echelon formation, had maneuvered near Carlstrom Field, Texas. During the visual sighting the UFO blips had been picked up by a B-36 radar man.

            I put the reports away. Possibly the rest of the 42 cases held clues to the meaning of this new cycle. There were none in these six, unless the blinking light had been some kind of signal.

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            Next morning I took Odell's script over to True. Ken Purdy was out of town, so I showed it to John DuBarry.

            "It's a startling idea," he said. "But I'm afraid of it, the way they've released it. Without Odell's rank, we'd be accused of printing a scare story by some wild-eyed author. And frankly I don't understand the setup. What's going on down there?"

            I told him about the battle over the Utah film and the new spurt in sightings.

            "This thing must be driving them crazy," DuBarry said. "Clearing this Odell story baffles me, and it could have been a slip-up. Anyway, even if the Air Force asked us to run it, with Odell's rank and Intelligence connection, things are moving too fast. Before we could get it into print, the Utah film showing will break the whole business wide open."

            "That's about how I figured it, but Chop asked me to find out."

            After what DuBarry had said, I decided not to show the script to any other editors. There was too much mystery about it.

            For two days after my return from New York, I heard nothing from the Pentagon. Finally I called Chop, but a PIO told me he was in a conference. I left word for him to call, and a little later the phone rang. But instead of Al, it was Henry Brennard, the man who had tipped me off to the Utah pictures.

            "Did you hear about yesterday's blow-up over the saucers?"

            "No," I said, "what happened?"

            "There's been a rush of new sightings—"

            "I know that. Chop told me."

            "Well, most of them have been kept quiet. Then one hit the papers—a huge disc over Lake Erie. It's worried some of the Pentagon crowd. They're afraid it's the beginning of another scare like the one last summer. Then on top of it an Intelligence colonel got an article cleared—"

            "You mean the Odell piece? They let me see it." 

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            "That set off another row," said Brennard. "Some of the Air Force people are sore that Review passed it. They're afraid now that it might be tied up with that AP story from the International Medical Conference."

            "I missed that," I said. "What was it?"

            "It said they were on the track of a way to prolong life so people would live indefinitely—hundreds of years, any­way. The AP had a statement by Colonel J. E. Ash—he used to be head of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. He said the earth would be so crowded we'd have to start colonies on other planets."

            "Oh-oh," I said.

            "Yes—it's bad. If Odell’s piece gets published, some smart newspaperman would be sure to remember what Ash said and tie the two together. It's another argument for slamming the lid down on saucer stuff."

            "You mean they've done that?"

            "No, but the Central Intelligence Agency recommended it," said Brennard. "At least that's what I heard."

            "How did the CIA get into this?" I asked.

            "The Air Force gave some of their top men a secret briefing. The CIA people advised them to put out a new report, debunking the saucers the way they did in '49— tell the public the project was ended, and then carry it on underground. It'd probably be top secret."

            "They'd never get away with it—not with all they've let out now."

            "I don't think they'll even try. Some of the Intelligence boys were mad as the devil at CIA for even suggesting it. Well, that's the picture. I thought you'd like to know—it's turned into a knockdown fight."

            I had barely put down the phone when it rang again. This time it was Al.

            "I've resigned," he said bluntly. "You'd better come in and meet my relief."

            "What the devil happened?" I exclaimed. 

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            "This hasn't anything to do with the saucers," Al said quickly.

            "Look, I heard there was a big row over the Utah film—" "I don't want to talk about that now," Al broke in. "Come out to my place tonight and I’ll tell you what I can."

            Then he hung up.

            When I saw Al that night, he told me that two Air Force groups were deadlocked over the secret film.

            "But I'd resigned before that," he said. "I'm going out to California—I've been wanting to get into private industry."

            He could see I didn't believe him.

            "It's the truth," he insisted. "I might have put it off a while—they wanted me to stay on. But the way this thing's worked out, I'm glad I'm going."

            "How does the Utah deal stand now?"

            "They're arguing over the statement." Al gave me a mirthless smile. "One group wants to say the objects might have been balloons or light reflections from gulls' wings."

            "You're kidding!" I said incredulously.

            Al shook his head.

            "But the analysis!" I said. "Those speeds and maneuvers proved the things couldn't be birds or balloons—or even jets. Both ATIC and the Navy agreed on that"

            "Yes—but the statement doesn't have to go into that."

            I stared at him.

            "You mean all the analysis conclusions would be left out?"

            "It's not decided yet," Al said evasively. "They—some of the people—are talking about running other pictures along with the Utah film."

            "Pictures of what?"

            "Balloons and gulls. You know, with the sun reflecting from them."

            "You call that a fair deal?" I demanded.

            Al's face got a little red.

            "It's not my suggestion—don't get mad at me." Then he  

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added, soberly, "And don't get the idea that the officers who suggested it are just trying to fool the public. They honestly think they're right—that it's better to keep the thing quiet and not stir up people."

            "It's a dangerous gamble, Al. If something happened suddenly and nobody was prepared—"

            He nodded. "I know. But it isn't settled—we may win yet.

            "You're still in on the fight?" I said, surprised.

            "Yes, my resignation doesn't take effect for a few days." Al squashed out his cigarette. "There's one thing they've lost sight of, in all these arguments. The country's top newspapermen and commentators will be invited to that showing. They're no fools—they're bound to see through a setup like that."

            I thought it over a moment.

            "You're dead right. They'll want to know why the big build-up over nothing."

            "Absolutely. They'll want to know why we've got them in for this special showing, if the Utah film is just pictures of balloons or birds. The film was shot in July, and they’ll ask what we've been doing with it all this time. Even if we don't mention the ATIC and Navy analysis, they’ll smell a mouse. Before it was over, the Air Force would be in a real jam."

            "You going to tell them that?"

            "Yes, I think somebody ought to warn them." Al gave me a dry grin. "Maybe I'm a fool for sticking my neck out but I'll give it a try."

            As I was leaving, he told me the final decision would probably be made by the next afternoon.

            "If you want to, come in about 4. I'd rather not discuss it on the phone."

            When I went in to the Pentagon, next day, Al was not at his desk. It was almost an hour before he came back.

            "Is it settled?" I asked quickly.

            He gave me a grim look. 

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            "It's settled, all right—the whole thing's killed."

            "They're going to keep the film secret?"

            "There won't be any public showing—you can take it from there."

            "How'd it happen?" I said.

            "After they saw my point, it boiled down to telling all or nothing. So it's nothing."

            Al sat down and looked dully at the floor.

            "It's not right," I muttered.

            "The other side thinks it is," Al said. "They think it's the wisest decision. But some of the Intelligence people are pretty sore. They don't think the public's getting a fair shake."

            "I don't either. And the more I think about it—Al, I'm going to break this story!"

            "There's nothing to stop you—you got the facts cleared. And plenty of our people will be glad to see it come out, so long as you don't give the whole Air Force a black eye."

            "Don't worry. I know it's only a small group that blocked this."

            Anger over the decision, I found, went far beyond Air Force Intelligence. Next day I received an unsigned note on plain paper, urging me to tell the Utah film story. I recognized the handwriting of a Defense official who knew I was writing a book. Like Al, he asked me not to blast the entire Air Force. Then he added an acid comment:

            "There are some human ostriches in the Air Force, and outside as well, who stick their heads in the sand and refuse to accept the most positive evidence. It is no accident that these people haven't correlated the saucer sightings—they obviously fear it will prove facts they don't want to face. But there is a definite pattern, with clues which eventually will give us the final answer."

            The tone of his letter didn't surprise me. After the licking the "A" group had taken, they were bound to be bitter. What their defeat would do to the clearance policy, I  

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could only guess. The lid might go down again on all ATIC cases. But I didn't need any more sighting reports— the evidence I had was enough to prove the main points.

            Only one thing was missing—an Air Force report that the saucers came from space. Considering all the facts they had, it seemed almost certain there must be such a report. But the chance of finding out now was about one in a thousand.

            Then it suddenly occurred to me that Brennard might have a lead. When I phoned him, I found he already knew about the Utah film decision.

            "I'm not surprised," he said. "I never really thought they'd let that out."

            "It'll be out, all right," I told him. "I got it cleared."

            "How the devil did you finagle that?" Brennard exclaimed.

            "I just asked for it and Chop OK'd it."

            "I’ll bet somebody higher up told him to, so the public would get the story if the showing was blocked."

            "Maybe, but if so he didn't let on."

            "With that and all the other cases," said Brennard, "you've certainly got proof the saucers are interplanetary."

            "Everything but an Air Force admission. I've got a hunch there's a secret report with that conclusion. Any leads?"

            Brennard hesitated.

            "I heard one thing, but it isn't absolute proof. A month or so ago an official I know was secretly briefed on the saucers. He used to think they were a joke. But after that briefing he told me he was convinced they were extraterrestrial."

            "That's the biggest break yet! The Intelligence officer must have said it was the Air Force conclusion."

            "It sounds like it, but it could be just his personal opinion."

            "Even so, that's still a break. I'm going to ask Chop about this before he leaves for the coast."

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            By a coincidence Al phoned just as I was about to dial his home number—he had already quit the government.

            "I've forgotten your street number," he said. "I've got something to mail you."

            "Hold it—I’ll be right out," I said. "I want to see you for a minute."

            When I saw Al, I told him what I'd heard about the briefing.

            "Doesn't this prove there's a secret report?" I asked.

            Al was silent so long I gave up.

            "I can't violate security," he said finally, "even if I am out of the service. But I can tell you this. Last fall there was a detailed analysis of all the evidence. I can say that because it wasn't classified when I saw it. After ruling out all other explanations, it came to a definite conclusion. I can't tell you what that conclusion was—by now it's probably top secret."

            It was maddening to get so close, only to have the door slammed. I made one last try.

            "Al, you've seen all the evidence. Will you tell me your conclusion—as a private citizen?"

            He gave me an odd look.

            "Maybe this will be even better." He took out the folded carbon of a letter. "This is what I was going to send you. It's our official answer to a letter from your book publishers. Those ATIC cases you outlined must have scared them."

            "But I told them the cases were cleared—"

            "They wanted an official OK, addressed to them. They got it, also a statement that the Air Force regarded Major Keyhoe as a responsible, accurate reporter—but here, read it yourself."

            I picked up from where he'd left off:

            "His long association and cooperation with the Air Force, in our study of unidentified flying objects, qualifies him as a leading authority on this investigation.

            "The Air Force and its investigative agency, Project 

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Bluebook are aware of Major Keyhoe's conclusion that the flying saucers are from another planet. The Air Force has never denied that this possibility exists. Some of the personnel believe that there may be some strange natural phenomena completely unknown to us, but that if the apparently controlled maneuvers reported by many competent observers are correct, then the only remaining explanation is the interplanetary answer."

            For a second I just stood there, staring at the last sentence.

            It was an official Air Force admission that the saucers came from space!

            There wasn't the slightest doubt that the saucers' maneuvers were controlled—and Air Force Intelligence knew it. Hundreds of veteran pilots, from Wing Commander Curtis Low on down, had sworn to that. And the simultaneous radar and visual tracking reports proved it beyond all question.

            I drew a long breath.

            "This does it, Al. I've waited four years for this."

            "I thought you'd be interested," he said dryly.

            "I guess I don't have to ask what you believe, now."

            "I've been convinced for a long time that the saucers are interplanetary. There's no other possible answer."

            "One more question," I said. "Do you have any idea what they're up to?"

            "No. And I'm positive no one in the Air Force knows for sure. It could be any of a dozen motives—including Odell's answer."

            Al paused and looked at me solemnly.

            "But one thing's absolutely certain. We're being watched by beings from outer space. You've been right from the very start."

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