It seems to have been with us a long, long time, whatever “it” may be. Researchers such as Jacques Vallée suggest humankind’s dance with the strange, including odd sights in the sky, is virtually inherent to our existence. The unknown and misunderstood apparently manifested in tales of fairies, trolls and, of course, aliens and their flying machines.
Are such stories due to overactive imaginations and hoaxes, or do some of them actually represent brushes with truly interesting phenomena? Perhaps each of those is true, as well as combinations thereof, at different times.
The popular John Keel contemplated similar notions as Vallée, reporting that early European settlers in America interpreted lights moving across night skies as witches on broomsticks carrying lanterns. Intriguing as it all may be, a reasonable argument could be made that the extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH) is just as indicative of deeply held yet questionable beliefs.
One of the few items most members of the UFO community agree upon is that the modern-day era of UFOs took significant shape during the mid-20th Century. Reports of what came to be known as foo fighters, ghost rockets and flying saucers ushered in an age of assumptions that the earth was being visited by extraterrestrials. Despite wide acceptance and adamant proclamations, validation of an alien presence remains as elusive as ever.
Among the most damning aspects of the ETH is its overwhelming lack of direct evidence. It also doesn’t account for details of interesting cases such as the Mothman saga or reports of high strangeness where it is nonetheless boldly evident.
A lack of verification of visiting aliens does not necessarily translate into a lack of phenomena worthy of investigation. It may just mean the ETH is wrong, at least for the vast majority of cases to which it is typically applied, if not all of them. It is entirely possible we’ve jumped the gun in suggesting and drawing conclusions, as did our superstitious forefathers who were convinced the covert spread of witchcraft and its suspected satanic nature were responsible for misfortune and misunderstood phenomena throughout their communities. Parallels could certainly be drawn.
In order to view more recent circumstances in sharper focus, let’s consider how assumptions evolved. Let’s also take a look at some challenges that consistently hinder a search for truth. We’ll consider what we, as community members, can do to encourage best practices, and we’ll explore how integrating such information into our perspectives and research leads to a healthier, more functional community and reframes the debate.
Hoaxers have been a significant and constant wrench in the gears ever since the early days of ufology. In some instances, it was Uncle Sam failing to be entirely forthright about activities in the UFO arena.
The late-1940s were a time of tremendous flux and reorganization within the U.S. intelligence community. Whatever spy games and deception operations were afoot, the morphing of the Office of Strategic Services into the Central Intelligence Agency coincided with notable UFO cases of the era.
The former International Director of MUFON, James Carrion, demonstrated via official declassified documents that the 1946—1947 ghost rockets saga conclusively involved elements of deception. His research additionally showed that a classified operation, Project Seal, was actually shelved prior to being misrepresented as a continuing effort to develop an airborne weapon more powerful than the atomic bomb. The apparent propaganda campaign happened literally right alongside the UFO-related events of the summer of 1947 to the extent that one paper carried the “news” of the supposed airborne super weapon on the same page as a story about the Kenneth Arnold sighting. Such events should be considered worthy of deeper study.
As of this writing, Carrion’s growing list of intriguing circumstances include the work of Col. Carl Goldbranson, a high-level career intelligence officer whose specific area of expertise was planning and implementing deception operations. Interestingly, the colonel was corresponding with the FBI about flying saucers during what became that famous summer of ‘47, representing what we now know to be a link between deception planners and official UFO investigations.
Whatever the reasons for such incidents, they deserve consideration. They may also be the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
Researchers noted the potential significance of such documents as a 1950 RAND (Research and Development) Corporation report compiled for the Air Force and titled, The Exploitation of Superstitions for Purposes of Psychological Warfare. Similarly, the activities have been widely noted of such skilled deception artists as British Maj. Jasper Maskelyne and an American officer by the name of Edward G. Lansdale. Maskelyne was a professional magician who proved to be remarkably successful at creating advantageous battlefield grand illusions during World War II. Lansdale was an advertising executive turned CIA man who applied his marketing skills to the exploitation of beliefs surrounding such topics as vampires and soothsayers. He is well known for his deception activities in Southeast Asia. According to the Journal of the American Folklore Society:
The Filipino army had not been able to evict a squadron of Huks from the area of a garrison town. A combat psychological warfare squad was brought in and, under Lansdale’s direction, planted stories among town residents of an asuang or vampire living on the hill where the Huks were based. A famous local soothsayer, they said, had predicted that men with evil in their hearts would become its victim. After giving the stories time to circulate, the squad set up an ambush on a trail used by the Huks and, when a patrol came by, snatched the last man. They punctured his neck with two holes, held the body upside down until it was drained of blood, and put it back on the trail. The next day the entire Huk squadron moved out of the area.
Such darkly fascinating stories are numerous and span several divisions of the U.S. intelligence community and its allies. It could therefore be considered potentially significant that USAF Project Grudge concluded, “Planned release of unusual aerial objects coupled with the release of related psychological propaganda could cause mass hysteria.”
The August, 1949, Grudge report went on to recommend, “That psychological Warfare Division and other governmental agencies interested in psychological warfare be informed of the results of this study.”
“THE FUTURE LEADS TO THE PAST” by Jack Brewer is an extract from his contribution to UFOs: Reframing the Debate edited by Robbie Graham.