In March, the French National Space Agency announced, to much public fanfare, that it would release all of its UFO files. Following the French lead, Great Britain’s Ministry of Defense soon stated it would do the same. According to the British newspaper The Guardian, the government was planning to make public its own “X-files” on all UFO sightings since 1967. The disclosure is also supposed to include previously unreleased files on the 1980 Rendlesham Forest incident. (Also know as “Britain’s Roswell,” the Rendlesham Forest Incident refers to a series of reported sightings of unexplained lights and objects in the sky, and the alleged landing of an extraterrestrial spacecraft, in December 1980, near Suffolk.) Of the documents due for release, many are eyewitness accounts from civilian pilots and military personnel covering many such incidents. Most reports were compiled and maintained by the DI55, a secretive intelligence unit within the Ministry of Defense.
Even after a gesture of such seeming good will, however, many UFO researchers remain very skeptical about the value of the information said to be forthcoming. And for good reason, they believe. Previous official promises of full disclosure have led to only more outraged cries of controversy, conspiracy and coverup. The recent U.S. Air Force’s purported declassification of documents on Roswell, it is recalled, quickly degenerated into a conspiracy-charged debacle. To gauge the reaction of the UFO community at large to new government overtures we talked to prominent researcher Stanton Friedman.
Perhaps the world’s best known UFO researcher, Friedman has advanced degrees in Physics from the University of Chicago and almost two decades of professional experience as a nuclear physicist. Friedman has written books on the UFO phenomenon and was the first civilian investigator of the Roswell UFO incident. Since 1967, according to Wikipedia, he has spoken about UFOs at more than 600 colleges and universities and more than 100 professional groups in the USA, Canada, and 16 other countries. He currently lives in Canada.
For Friedman, the ‘newfound openness’ does NOT mean that new revelations can be expected. We wondered if he foresees any changes at all in current government secrecy policies—does he see these developments as of potentially historic import? We found him anything but optimistic about the prospects.
“The significance of the move has been considerably overstated,” he shrugged. “The French files were not Defense Department files; they were civilian files often compiled with the help of the local gendarmes.” The distinction between civilian and defense-related reports is crucial for Friedman, “The U.S. Project Blue Book files,” he explains, “have been available for review—about 13,000 cases in all—since the mid 1970s.” (Project Blue Book was one of a series of systematic studies of UFOs conducted by the U.S. Air Force. Started in 1952, it was the second revival of such a study. A termination order was given in December 1969, and all activity under its auspices ceased in January 1970.) Friedman elaborates, “I refer people to the very important memo by General Carroll Bolender (project head) dated October 20, 1969 in which he stated, ‘Moreover, reports of UFOs, which could affect national security, are made in accordance with JANAP-146 or Air Force Manual 55-11. These are not part of the Blue Book System.’ ” In other words, the really important stuff remained secret.
Friedman, of course, knows the material inside and out. There are few UFO-oriented documents, no matter how obscure, with which he is not familiar. He goes on to argue how the closing of Project Blue Book did not mean the Air Force was through with UFOs, just that it was through with those events which it deemed not important to national defense. “In the second paragraph of the memo,” he points out, “after noting that with the closure of Project Blue Book, the public won’t have a place to report sightings, General Bolender delivers a caveat to the ruling. ‘However, as already stated, reports of UFOs which could affect national security would continue to be handled through the standard Air Force procedures designed for this purpose.’ These reports have not been released. Blue Book was not on the distribution list for the work done under JANAP 146 or Air Force Manual 55-11, therefore those reports were excluded from release.”
The practical effect of all this is that any UFO encounter that the government considers a high security risk can be kept legally classified and buried under tons of bureaucracy beyond the reach of prying investigators. It is within the discretion of the military to decide which UFO sightings are to be investigated further and which of them it will dismiss, so, it seems the new document release plans have essentially changed nothing. Friedman concurs. “I managed to locate General Bolender and asked him about the (Blue Book) memo. He knew exactly what he was saying. Obviously, the most important sightings are those which could affect national security such as flights down the runways of SAC bases where nuclear weapons are being stored.”
“Also qualifying for this caveat,” says Friedman, “would be multiple radar and visual observations of close encounters between military aircraft and UFOs. In the course of my lecturing in 18 countries I have heard seven different reports of more planes going up to chase UFOs than what came back down. In a new book Shoot Them Down by Frank Feschino Jr., for which I wrote the foreword and epilogue, it is made clear that military pilots in 1952 were ordered to shoot UFOs down if they didn’t land when instructed to do so. An unnamed Air Force General stated that jets had been scrambled hundreds of times over the course of years to deal with UFO-related incidents. It should be noted that the venerable newspaper, The New York Times between 1950 and 1955 noted more than 200 military plane crashes, and sometimes used terminology such as ‘disappeared’ and ‘disintegrated’ to describe the fate of the planes and pilots. Three of the crashes involved pilots who had survived over 100 combat missions in Korea where MIGs were shooting at them, only to come back to the USA and crash? That seems a little dubious. Having worked under security as a nuclear physicist for 14 years, I can certainly say that secrets are easy to keep.”
A particularly good example which makes Friedman’s point is the Condign report, the comprehensive British government study of a few years ago. Codenamed ‘Project Condign’, the report was the most highly classified UFO document ever released under the UK’s Freedom of Information Act. Before it was released, ‘Condign’ was rumored to contain significant information. Alas, such turned out not to be the case. “I was certainly not impressed,” Friedman says, “by what I read of the Condign report and expect that, likewise, the most highly classified UK or French UFO reports will not see the light of day.” Answering the question of whether there has been an official coverup of the truth about UFOs for the last 60 years, Friedman believes, is quite easy. “Not only from the perspective of what happened at Roswell in July 1947, but as demonstrated by the blacked out and whited out formerly TOP SECRET Code Word CIA and NSA UFO documents, which are more than 95% censored. I have been to twenty different Document Archives. There are loads of still-classified documents awaiting review.”
So, not surprisingly, the release of government UFO documents appears, to the UFO research community, to be little more than hyperbole and the latest iteration of a familiar and stale game of bureaucratic disinformation. But, for many, the important question still remains, why? What, they wonder, is the point of leading people to expect openness and disclosure, only to deliver essentially nothing? And if you’re a governmental agency, whether in the U.S., France, the U.K. or elsewhere, working on the assumption that UFO investigators are nothing more than a subculture of oddballs, what is the point of releasing any files at all? Why stir the pot in the first place? Answers to such questions remain illusive, to say the least.
At this point, most UFOlogists have concluded that the Freedom of Information Act, whether the U.S. or British version, is, in fact, nothing but a farce—another governmental illusion created to cloud the waters. When, as Friedman points out, a majority of the official documentation released has been thoroughly censored, why go to the trouble of providing the material in the first place? Other than to maintain the pretense of carrying out what many consider to be phony policies aimed at preserving the appearance of candor, it appears that little of actual substance ever sees the light of day. Indeed, for long-time UFO researchers, like Friedman, it all suggests a certain arrogance and level of disregard for the public whose taxes pay the salaries of those faceless bureaucrats laboring with black felt tip pens to obliterate anything which in their estimation might threaten hidden government interests.
Friedman has just completed a new book on the famous Betty and Barney Hill UFO abduction case of 1961. Entitled Captured!: The True Story of the World’s First Documented Alien Abduction, The Betty and Barney Hill UFO Experience, the book is coauthored with Betty’s niece Kathleen Marden and examines in detail the celebrated Zeta Reticuli star map drawn from Betty’s account. The book looks closely at the astronomical significance of the map, and rebuts the arguments of debunkers and skeptics. For more information on Stanton Friedman please check out his official web site: http://www.stantonfriedman.com/.
Michael Lohr is a professional journalist and freelance writer. His writings have appeared in numerous publications. His webpage can be found at: http://www.internet.is/artist/writer/michael_lohr.htm.