I went to the Pentagon the next morning. I didn't expect to learn much, but I wanted to make sure we weren't tangling with security.
I'd worked with Al Scholin and Orville Splitt, in the. magazine section of Public Relations, and I thought they'd tell me as much as anyone. When I walked in, I sprang it on them cold.
"What's the chance of seeing your Project 'Saucer' files?"
Al Scholin took it more or less dead-pan. Splitt looked at me a moment and then grinned.
"Don't tell me you believe the things are real?"
"Maybe," I said. "How about clearing me with Project 'Saucer'?"
Al shook his head. "It's still classified secret."
"Look, Don," said Splitt, "why do you want to fool with that saucer business? There's nothing to it."
"That's a big change from what the Air Force was saying in 1947," I told him.
He shrugged that off. "The Air Force has spent two years checking into it. Everybody from Symington down will tell you the saucers are bunk."
"That's not what Project 'Saucer' says in that April report."
"That report was made up a long time ago," said Splitt. "They just got around to releasing it."
"Then they've got all the answers now?"
"They know there's nothing to it," Splitt repeated.
"In that case," I said, "Project 'Saucer' shouldn't object to my seeing their files and pictures."
"That one taken at Harmon Field, Newfoundland, for a starter."
"Oh, that thing," said Splitt. "It wasn't anything- just a shadow on a cloud. Somebody's been kidding you."
"If it's just a cloud shadow, why can't I see it?"
Splitt was getting a little nettled.
"Look, you know how long it takes to declassify stuff. They just haven't got around to it. Take my word for it, the flying saucers are bunk. I went around with Sid Shallett on some of his interviews. What he's got in the Post is absolute gospel."
"It's funny about that April twenty-seventh report," I said, "the way it contradicts the Post."
"I tell you that was an old report-"
"I wouldn't say that," Al Scholin put in. "The Air Force doesn't claim it has all the answers. But they've proved a lot of the reports were hoaxes or mistakes."
"Just the same," I said, "the Air Force is on record, as of April twenty-seventh, that it's serious enough for everybody to be vigilant. And they admit most of the things in the important cases, are still unidentified. Including the saucer Mantell was chasing."
"That business at Godman Field was some kind of hallucination," insisted Splitt.
"I suppose all those pilots and Godman Field officers were hypnotized? Not to mention several thousand people at Madisonville and Fort Knox?"
"Take it easy, you guys," said Al Scholin. "You've both got a right to your opinions."
"Oh sure," said Splitt. He looked at me, with his grin back. "I don't care if you think they're men from Mars."
"Let's not go off the deep end," I said. "Tell me this: Did Shallett get to see any secret files at Wright Field?"
"Then he had to take the Air Force word for every thing?"
"Not entirely. We set up some interviews for him."
"One more thing - and don't get mad. If it's all bunk, why haven't they closed Project 'Saucer'?"
"How do I know? Probably no one wants to take the responsibility."
"Then somebody high up must not think it's bunk," I said.
Splitt laughed. "Have it your own way."
Before I left, I told them I was working with True.
"I want to be on record," I said, "as having told you
this. If there's any security involved - if you tell me it's something you're working on - naturally I'd lay off."
Al Scholin said emphatically, "1t's not an Air Force device, if that's what you mean."
"Some people think it's Russian."
"If it is, I don't know it," said Al, "and neither does the Air Force."
After I left the magazine section, I tried several officers I knew. Two of them agreed with Splitt. The third didn't.
"I've been told it's all bunk," he said, "but you get the feeling they've trying to convince themselves. They act like people near a haunted house. They'll swear it isn't haunted - but they won't go near it."
Later, I asked a security major for a copy of the Project "Saucer" report.
"We're out of copies right now," he said. "I'll send you one next week."
I asked him bluntly what he thought the saucers were,
"I doubt if anybody has the full answer," he said seriously. "There's been some hysteria - also a few mistakes. But many reports have been made by reliable pilots, including our own. You can't laugh those off."
As I drove home, I thought over what I'd heard. All I had learned was that the Air Force seemed divided. But that could be a smoke screen In less than twenty-four hours, I received my first suspicious tip. It was about ten A.M, when my phone rang.
"Mr. Keyhoe? This is John Steele," said the voice at the other end. (Because of the peculiar role he played, then and later, I have not used his real name.) "I'm a former Air Force Intelligence officer. I was in the European theater during the war."
I waited. He hesitated a moment.
"I heard you're working on the flying-saucer problem," he said quickly. "I may have some information ~ that would interest you."
"Mind telling me who told you I was on it?" I asked.
"No one, directly. I just happened to hear it mentioned at the Press Club. Frankly, I've been curious about the flying saucers ever since '45"'
That startled me, but I didn't tell him so.
Do you have any idea what they are?" Mr. Steele said.
"No, I've just begun checking. But I'd be glad to hear what you've got."
"I may be way off," said Steele. "But I've always wondered about the 'foo fighters' our pilots saw over Europe near the end of the war."
I thought for a second. "Wasn't that some kind of missile fired from the ground?"
"No. Intelligence never did get any real answer, so far as I know. They were some kind of circular gadgets, they actually chased our planes a number of times. We thought they were something the Nazis had invented - and I still think so."
"Then who's launching them now?"
"Well, it's obviously either Russia or us. If it is the Soviet - well, that's what's worried me. I don't think it should be treated like a joke, the way some people in Pentagon take it."
I stared at the phone, trying to figure him out.
"I'd like to talk it over with you," I said. "Maybe you've got something."
"I've given you about all I know," Steele answered. "There was an Intelligence report you might try to see - the Eighth Air Force files should have it."
"Wait a minute," I said. "Give me your number, in case I find anything."
He gave it to me without apparent hesitation. I thanked him and hung up, still wondering.
If it was an attempt at a plant, it was certainly crude. The mention of his former Air Force connection would be enough to arouse suspicion. unless he counted on his apparent frankness to offset it.
And what about the Press Club angle? That would indicate Steele was a newspaperman. Could this be merely an attempt to pump me and get a lead on True's investigation? But that would be just as crude as the other idea. Of course, he might be sincere. But regardless of his motives, it looked bad. And who had told him about me?
I thought about that for a minute. Then I picked up the phone and dialed Jack Daly's number.
"Jack, do you know anyone named John Steele?" I asked him. "I think he's a newspaperman."
"Nobody I know," said Jack. "Why, what's up?"
I explained, and added, "I thought maybe you knew him, and he'd heard about it from you."
"Hell, no," said Jack. "You ought to know I wouldn't leak any tip like that."
"It wouldn't be a tip - I don't know anything about this deal yet. By the way, when you were on the Star did you handle anything on 'foo fighters'?"
"No, that was after I left there. Bill Shippen would have covered that, anyway."
I told him I would look it up in the Star's morgue. Jack said he would meet me there at three o'clock; in the meantime he would see what he could find out about Steele.
Jack was a little late, and I went over the Star's file on the foo
fighters. Most of the facts were covered in a story dated July 6, 1947, which
had been inspired by the outbreak of the saucer scare. I copied it for later
I read the last paragraph twice. This looked like a strong lead to the answer, in spite of the Air Force denials. There was another, less pleasant possibility. The Russians could have seized the device and developed it secretly, using Nazi scientists to help them. Perhaps the Nazis had been close to an atomic engine, even if they did fail to produce the bomb.
Jack Daly came in while I was reading the story again.
"I got the dope on Steele," he said. "He does pieces for a small syndicate, and I found out he was in the Air Force. I think he was a captain. People who know him say he's O.K.- a straight shooter."
"That still wouldn't keep him from giving me a fake tip, if somebody told him it was the right thing to do."
"Maybe not," said Jack, "but why would they want to plant this foo-fighter idea?"
I showed him the clipping. He read it over and shook his head.
"That's a lot different from disks three hundred feet in diameter."
"If we got the principle - or Russia did - building big ones might not be too hard."
"I still can't swallow it," said Jack. "These things have been seen all over the world. How could they control them that far away - and be sure they wouldn't crash, where somebody could get a look and dope out the secret?"
We argued it back and forth without getting anywhere.
"I'd give a lot to know Steele's angle," I said, "If you hear anything more on him, give me a buzz."
Jack nodded. "I'll see what I can do. But I can't dig too hard, or he'll hear about it."
On the way out, I found a phone booth and called Splitt.
"Foo fighters?" he said. "Sure, I remember those stories. You think those are your flying saucers?"
I could hear him snicker.
"Just checking angles," I said. "Didn't the Eighth Air Force investigate the foo fighters?"
"Yes, and they found nothing to back up the pilots' yarns. Just war nerves, apparently."
"How about a look at the Intelligence report?" I asked.
"Wait a minute." Splitt was gone for twice that time, then he came back. "Sorry, it's classified."
"If all this stuff is bunk, why keep the lid on it?" I demanded. I was getting sore again.
"Look, Don," said Splitt, "I don't make the rules."
"Sure, I know - sorry," I said. I had a notion to ask him if he knew John Steele, but hung up instead. There was no use in banging my head against the Air Force wall.
The next day I decided to analyze the Mantell case, from beginning to end. It looked like the key to one angle: the question of an Air Force secret missile. Unless there was some slip-up, so that Mantell and his pilots had been ordered to chase the disk by mistake, then it would be cold murder.
I couldn't believe any Air Force officer would give such an order, no matter how tremendous the secret to be hidden.
But I was going to find out, if possible.