The History Channel, and some UFO skeptics, have been talking about the Arthur Kent hosted special, Roswell: Final Declassification since it first aired in 2002 and has been repeated a number of times recently. They have suggested that this documentary went a long way in ending the Roswell UFO crash controversy, because, according to Kent, "The History Channel has gained exclusive access to top secret files that have been recently declassified and for the first time on television our program reveals the content of those files and the government’s own research and conclusions about the most famous UFO case of the century."
Kent continued telling the audience that "Until this day the public had been denied access to these files..." and that this would be a "look at the records generated by the researchers at the center of the story."
It would have been quite the expose if anything in that opening had been true. It was not.
The access granted to the History Channel was not exclusive and I had been working with people at the National Archives for months trying to obtain those files. Almost none of the files had ever been classified as Top Secret, and none of them had been recently declassified. The program revealed very little of what was in the files, most of which had been supplied to the Air Force in the 1990s by private UFO investigators on both sides of the controversial Roswell UFO crash question.
I suppose I should confess that I am largely responsible for this disaster of a television documentary. More than seven years ago I began a quest to get at some of the documentation created by the Air Force during their highly publicized investigation into the Roswell case. I filed a Freedom of Information request with the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force asking for that documentation.
Specifically, I asked for "all minutes, reports, memos, documents or notes relating to the investigation, discussions, or interviews conducted by the Air Force through SAF/AAZD [the specific office symbol of the staff who conducted the investigation] of the so-called Roswell Incident beginning in 1992. I am also searching for any records, memos, letters, minutes of meetings that related to the Roswell case as it was discussed in the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force, Shelia E. Widnall and relating to the investigation of the Roswell case. I would like copies of the minutes of meetings and other documents between Ms. Widnall and Colonel Richard Weaver, SAF/AAZD up to and including his instructions concerning his interview with Lieutenant Colonel Sheridan Cavitt. I would like all information relating to communications among the SAF, Colonel Weaver, Captain James McAndrew and other who participated in the research to include their instructions in the manner in which they were to conduct the investigation."
In other words, I was trying to identify the information I wanted in the most specific terms possible because I knew that those dealing with FOIA requests sometimes suggested that vague information inhibited their search. I had once asked for a specific document, giving the precise title, date of creation, and agency which had created it only to be told my information was too vague for a proper search.
The Secretary of the Air Force’s response was to tell me the official policy on UFOs and Roswell. I filed a second request, telling them that I had no interest in their official policy and had asked for nothing relating to UFOs. I wanted specific documentation concerning meetings that took place, instructions given, memos and letters that had been written in connection with their investigation of the Roswell case.
Their second response told me that everything that been sent to the Government Printing Office.
This I knew wasn’t true. Why would the Secretary of the Air Force send internal memos to the Government Printing Office? I went through the motions of sending a FOIA to the printing office and received a price list of their various UFO and Roswell related reports in return. I went back to the Secretary of the Air Force, with copies of the documents from the Government Printing Office proving that the information I had requested was not there. Now I was told the records I wanted had been sent to the Air Force Archives at Maxwell Air Force Base.
That made some sense, and I sent off a request to the Air Force Archives. They denied they had the records. A second request was sent, this time with a copy of the latest response from the Secretary of the Air Force telling me that the records had been sent on to Maxwell. Now the officer in charge of the Air Force Historical Research Agency, (AFHRA), wrote back saying, "Unfortunately, we do not have the information you are seeking. All remaining items related to the SAF/AAZD’s investigation are in the process of being shipped to the National Archives. Although these items were held briefly in our building, they were never organized and accessioned. Therefore, they were never officially part of our holdings. You may contact the National Archives..."
Of course, I wrote to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and was told "Such records are not in the custody of Modern Military Records at the National Archives. In fact we have virtually no records of such a recent date. We suggest that you contact the Air Force Records Officer, Department of the Air Force (AFCIC)..."
We had now come full circle. I was being sent back to where I had begun the search. In four and a half years of trying to locate the material, I was right back where I had started in 1997.