Michael Swords  

 UFOs and Government: Special Report 14

We shall begin with a problem mentioned in the last chapter (UFOs and Government) that was left on the Air Force doorstep by Congressman John Moss, when he wrote to Secretary of the Air Force Donald Quarles. Moss asked why the ballyhooed Blue Book 14 report was so hard to access. Was the Air Force, as some charged, hiding something? This question put the Air Force in an immediate bind from which it took more than a year to extricate itself. The Air Force could not afford to be accused of a cover-up (they knew that NICAP was ready to leap at that), and they had no money to publish a mass printing. The original report by Battelle was about 300 pages. They distilled this to less than 100 pages when they printed the formal document in 1955. Conversation between ATIC and the Pentagon concluded that there was no solution except to fund a large reprinting of Blue Book 14, tell Secretary Quarles about it, and draft a letter for him to send to Congressman Moss. That was more expensive than they liked, but at least it solved the immediate problem. The longer range issue was: should the Blue Book 14 report be reproduced as is, or should some addendum be attached (with textual polishing) to make the report as useful as possible? That addendum and polishing took another year.

The available documents say many things of interest, especially when read in the context in which they were created. They present a Project Blue Book entirely fixated on problems resident in the public rather than those resident in the phenomenon. It was as if, for Blue Book, the phenomenon had disappeared.

To accomplish the upgraded publication of Blue Book 14, a special coordination group was set up between ATIC and the Pentagon. The main individual on the Pentagon side was Major James F. Byrne, who would serve as contact point for whatever the Pentagon "Press Desk" released to the public and also provide a link in the chain of information to specific congressional offices. On ATIC's end, Captain George Gregory, then-chief officer of Blue Book, would be a focus-point, but as a scientific advisor, A. Francis Arcier played a large role as well. As the months went on, these three men plus two others, Colonel James Boland and Major Lawrence Tacker, would crystallize into a regularly meeting "fire suppressant" anti-Keyhoe group. For the moment, however, Byrne, Gregory, and Arcier were only worried about Blue Book 14's required publicly-accessible release. Initially, Byrne and an associate, Mr. L. A. Sanderson, were invited to ATIC so that, as Arcier said it, Captain Gregory could "conduct this indoctrination."

Byrne seemed happy with the resultant plan. In May 1957 he wrote to Pentagon higher-ups that publication of Blue Book 14 alongside an updated Air Force Regulation 200-2 (reworded to eliminate language that might provoke suspicion or misinterpretation by the public), "should do much toward the relief of [Air Force Intelligence] AFOIN in the UFO Program ... In every instance where by inference the Air Force might appear critical of, or attempt to deceive the public, the text has been removed or altered."9 Byrne also noted that "The subject of U.S. persons using the UFO hysteria for personal gain has been informally brought to the attention of the FBI. Documented cases where illicit or deceptive devices or methods are used by individuals to arouse public interest in UFOs should be made available to the FBI."

By July, the polishing of the original Blue Book 14 and the writing of the new addendum were well along. In the rewritten "Preface," Captain Gregory said that its goals were to make the subject more understandable, to inform the reader discreetly that the Air Force is well aware that there have been detractors of the Air Force and the Report, and to "leave the impression of 'good faith' towards the public."1 All of that can be viewed as completely appropriate, but, given what we have seen of the attitude of the times, there is a hint of less-than-frank-openness in these words.

The wording of the draft document for the new preface shows very careful consideration. The specter of Keyhoe and the rest of the UFO community, ready to pounce at any hint of cover-up or information manipulation, haunts the language used. Gregory, in his margins, explains his strategies to head off these expected attacks and predicts UFO organization attacks if certain phrases are not included. At one point Gregory notes that the confession of an Air Force error (in the statistical use of the Chi Square method) will make them look good."

The second, and longer, addition to the new Blue Book 14 report consisted of material bringing the subject up-to-date (from mid-1955 to 1957). The big message was: reports are up but unknowns are down. This was because of "improvement in reporting, investigating, and analytical techniques." The inaccuracy in this wording is striking. The rise in reports was said to be due to publicity (particularly certain books) and organizations, clubs, and societies. That claim was a half-truth. Early on, students of the field realized that publicity (particularly of impressive cases) stimulated people to report old sightings about which they had been reluctant to speak. But publicity did not typically produce new case claims. When people told others (about having seen the phenomenon), it did have a social component. Ed Ruppelt had noted this in 1952 as we have seen. The Air Force of 1957, however, did not see an advantage in mentioning this distinction. Instead, Gregory and Arcier composed both a page of writing and a highly debatable, if not meaningless, chart of UFO reports (with about two dozen peaks and dates of four magazine articles and two instances of press publication) that attempted to correlate publicity to sightings. The magazine articles, one would assume, would have spawned bursts of UFO claims. There is no graphical evidence that they did. The press coverage, by definition, must come after the sightings it is coveringa point seemingly opaque to the ATIC people, who had a viewpoint to sell. This is not to say that one could not make a study of publicity (of the proper type, like Keyhoe or Ruppelt books, or the movie UFO), then do the difficult job of plotting post-publication (i.e. new) reports vs. a background level (i.e. of ordinary publicity) of reports, and then see if such a hypothesis were true, but Gregory and Arcier did nothing of the sort. In an otherwise good strategic effort, it was a surprisingly sloppy blot on their work.

The argument that UFO publicity caused more UFO sightings allowed Gregory and Arcier to complain about the growth of the civilian organizations and their newsletters. They also complained that civilian organizations pulled in cases to themselves and away from the Air Force, and, having described such cases "with occasional lack of restraint," then the Air Force was badgered by inquiries on these too-old-to-investigate cases, and was unjustly criticized for having no answers. Indeed, it is a sad and unfair picture painted by Gregory. The Air Force is doing the best it can but, due to the "personal impressions and interpretations" inserted into reports by the witnesses, the lack of controlled conditions, and the consequent low quality of the reports, "it is doubtful that the number of unknowns will ever be reduced to zero."