Saturday, December 29, 2012

Philip Klass and the FBI

A while back we discussed Phil Klass’ habit of writing to the employers of those who thought they had seen a UFO, or who investigated them, or just disagreed with him. He seemed outraged that there were people who didn’t accept everything he said, and took great offense at that. He would express his disappointment with those by creating a little trouble for them.

A few skeptics who visit here thought I was being overly harsh and a little unfair to Klass. They thought several examples were needed. But even with some acts I thought were over the top, those skeptics thought Klass had done nothing wrong. With Klass it seems to have been an on-going thing.

While going through the FBI files that dealt with UFOs, I came across a series of letters that Klass had sent to them. Apparently Klass was offended by an article written by Dr. J. Allen Hynek that had appeared in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. It was an article that didn’t actually advocate any particular position but suggested that UFO sightings reported to law enforcement entities would be of interest to those at Hynek’s new Center for UFO studies. It provided a way for law enforcement to respond to the concerns of the citizens without having to actually do anything. A sort of win - win. Law enforcement cleared the report and the CUFOS received it for further investigation, if necessary.

According to a Memorandum dated February 21, 1975, Mr. Heim, reported that Klass had called the editor of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. According to that document, Klass, “In strong terms laced with sarcasm, he derided our publication of the article by Dr. J. Allen Hynek, ‘The UFO Mystery,’ in the February, 1975, issue of the LEB. Klass suggested that by publishing this article, the FBI had given its endorsement to a hoax (that UFOs are extra-terrestrial in origin) and to a fraud (Dr. J. Allen Hynek).”

Importantly, according to the memorandum, “Mr. Klass was politely reminded that nowhere in Dr. Hynek’s article appearing in the Bulletin, or in numerous other of his writings which were examined by us, does Hynek suggest UFOs are extra-terrestrial in origin…” (Remember, this is 1975, about the time he was establishing CUFOS).

A letter dated June 14, 1975, written to then FBI Director Clarence Kelly, Klass renewed his assault. He wrote, “The enclosed photo-copy of a headline and feature story in the recent issue of ‘The National Tattler’ is a portent of the sort of ‘FBI endorsement’ for the flying-saucer myth that you can expect to see, repeatedly, as a result of an article about UFOs carried by the February issue of The Law Enforcement Bulletin.” While his source for this claim of FBI endorsement outrage is The National Tattler, hardly the pinnacle of journalistic excellence, that didn’t matter all that much to Klass, he quoted it anyway.

Klass added, “That article was written by Dr. J. Allen Hynek, the spiritual leader of the vocal group of ‘believers’ and ‘kooks’ who claim we are being visited by extraterrestrial spaceships. And while the FBI did not endorse Hynek’s views per se, the decision to publish his article and to alert law enforcement agencies as to what to do ‘if they land,’ has embroiled the agency for all time.”

The telephone call then, was not enough to slander Dr. Hynek. When he didn’t receive the response he wanted, he renewed his attack, but toned down the rhetoric in the written communication. He just claimed that Hynek was the “spiritual leader” of, what to Klass, would be the other side. But he had learned that the FBI had not endorsed the opinion that some UFOs were alien craft merely that they approved of the idea of the UFO reports being relayed to a non-governmental agency to investigate. Hynek had offered the various law enforcement agencies an alternative to telling the public to call the Air Force or the local college authorities if they felt a need to make a report.

I am not sure what so annoyed Klass about this. Hynek asked for the various law enforcement agencies to relay the reports to the Center. I don’t know why Klass would object to this. It wasn’t as if he was attempting to force his belief structure on anyone. He was merely asking for information. Klass was actually attempting to somehow inhibit that flow.

There is nothing wrong with Klass contacting the FBI to respond to their publication of Hynek’s article. There is nothing wrong with Klass offering to write a rebuttal piece giving his opinions about the reality, or lack thereof, of UFOs. There is nothing wrong with Klass writing, “I would welcome the opportunity to present the other side of the UFO issue in The Law Enforcement Bulletin, and to thereby help remove the earlier seeming FBI endorsement of flying saucers.”

It was the language, the allegations and the name calling which is out of place. Reasonable people can reasonably disagree, but Klass wouldn’t leave it at that. He crossed a line, repeatedly, with his personal attacks and his shading of reality to suit his purposes. He was uninterested in debate; he was in a campaign to inflict his views on everyone else.

The point is that Klass did carry about a campaign against those with whom he disagreed. I know that I don’t attempt to suppress the opinions and beliefs of the skeptics who visit here (except when the insults become too personal) and welcome, for the most part, their view of the issues. But for a few, such as Klass, it wasn’t enough that he had what he believed to be the ultimate truth; everyone had to agree with that truth as well.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Different Perspective - The Return

I spent yesterday in my bunker just in case... Oh, okay, we had a blizzard and we had to dig out. So, I didn't go anywhere, was at home, but once midnight passed, I felt safe. Of course, the question was, midnight where?
Midnight in Japan?
Well, then I felt safe much earlier.
Or midnight in New Zealand?
Same thing.
But since the Mayan civilization was basically in the Central Time Zone, as determined by the United States (though they were in Central America) I suppose we were safe at midnight there.
And since this is now December 22, well, we're now safe...
Except for that damn asteroid that is supposed to hit sometime in the next, what, fifteen or twenty years unless we do something.
But all this is irrelevant now because we have dodged another doomsday bullet, just as we did not all that long ago when we entered the 21st century, or avoided Y2K (remember that?) or the big war predicted for 1999 and everything else.
Next up here... I believe I know what UFO crash Robert Willingham was talking about, but he wasn't there and it wasn't really a UFO.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The End of A Different Perspective

As you all know, tomorrow the world ends. I don't know if it will come in a collision with an invisible, undetected planet that will smash the Earth into dust, in a Cosmic Ray Burst that will strip the Ozone from the atmosphere allowing the sun to kill us slowly with radiation, in a swarm of meteors and asteroids, or if the Earth will respond with volcanoes, earthquakes and storms that will kill billions... the power grids will be down and the Internet gone. With that, this blog will fade away like everything else...
Or, if the world does not end tomorrow, well, then, we'll all be back on Saturday to await the next end of the world prediction. I suspect that George Noory is right.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Trent Photographs Reexamined

Through the years, I have often thought that the Trent photographs have only one of two possible conclusions. They are either of a craft that matched nothing in the inventories of various world air forces, or it was a hoax. It was something from another world or it was faked.

For those who need a little background, the Trents, Paul and Evelyn, photographed a UFO that hovered over their farm near McMinnville, Oregon, on May 11, 1950. According to the story, Evelyn Trent was outside feeding the rabbits when she saw a large, slow moving, disk-shaped object traveling toward the northeast. She yelled for her husband who came out, saw the object and ran back in the house for their camera.
Trent took two pictures of the object. According to witness statements offered years later, he took a picture and then had to manually wind the film to take a second. The UFO began to accelerate at that point.

Evelyn Trent ran back into the house to call her in-laws, who lived a few hundred yards away. Her mother-in-law entered the house to answer the phone but her father-in-law would say that he did see the object but only caught a glimpse of it.
Although they had what might have been the first authentic pictures of a flying saucer, Paul Trent said they waited to finish the roll before having the film developed. If they were excited enough to burn up two frames of film, it would seem that they would want to develop the film quickly given what they had on that film.

Then, once the roll was finished and they had the pictures, they didn’t take them to the newspaper but instead allowed the local banker to put them in the window of the bank. That led, of course, to a reporter seeing them and getting them published in the local newspaper. Once the pictures were published, the Trents found themselves in the national spotlight. Life borrowed the negatives and printed them in the June 26, 1950 issue.

The Condon Committee investigated them in the late 1960s, and found no reason to reject them. The investigator for Condon, William Hartman, wrote, “Two inferences appear to be justified: 1)It is difficult to see any prior motivation for a fabrication of such a story, although after the fact, the witnesses did profit to the extent of a trip to New York; 2) it is unexpected that in this distinctly rural atmosphere, in 1950, one would encounter a fabrication involving sophisticated trick photography (e.g. a carefully retouched print).  The witnesses seemed unaffected by the incident, receiving only occasional inquires.”

So Hartmann, with the Condon Committee thought the pictures were authentic, meaning of some sort of unidentified physical object meaning an alien craft. This annoyed Philip Klass and he launched his own investigation. Klass consulted with Robert Sheaffer, who made his own analysis of the pictures. According to Klass, Sheaffer found a shadow under the eaves of the garage and that suggested that the pictures were taken, not in the evening, but early in the morning. If true, then that would suggest the pictures were faked. There would be no logical reason to lie about the timing unless there were some shenanigans going on.

I was never thrilled with that analysis. It seemed a little esoteric and seemed to be the kind of thing just thrown in by the skeptics to discredit the pictures. Just a little crack in the case, but one that many skeptics found persuasive. I was not in that camp. Others, who studied the pictures, argued that the shadows were not significant.

Sheaffer’s findings, however, when sent on to Hartmann, seemed to be enough for him to reevaluate his stand on the pictures. Klass wrote that Hartmann wrote, “I think Sheaffer’s work removes the McMinnville case from consideration as evidence of disklike [sic] artificial craft.”

In 1965, Lieutenant Colonel John P. Spaulding, responding to an inquiry from a civilian, W. C. Case, wrote, “The Air Force has no information on photographs of an unidentified flying object taken by Mr. and Mrs. Paul Trent of McMinnville, Oregon. In this regard, it should be noted that all photographs submitted in conjunction with UFO reports have been a misrepresentation of natural or conventional objects. The objects in these photographs have a positive identification.”

Which is their way of saying that there is no such thing as UFOs, meaning alien spacecraft. We can interpret the last sentence to say that we know nothing about the Trent photos but they have been positively identified. Or he might have meant that all UFOs in the photos submitted to the Air Force have been positively identified, which is not strictly true. But I digress…

Getting to the real point here, in a posting on his blog, Tony Bragalia (see has provided some evidence for a hoax that is more significant and more persuasive. Tony wrote, “Found clues point to a prank behind the most cherished UFO photographs in history. For over six decades the two images taken by Paul Trent of McMinnville, Oregon have continued to generate great debate about their authenticity. But investigation now indicates that the two Trent images were likely ones of invention.”

So what did Tony find that convinces him that the Trent photographs are faked? One of the things is “forced perspective,” which allows a photograph to present different objects in the same frame as if they are radically larger or smaller than they really are. Movies use it all the time to fool us into believing a human is giant-sized, or something else is tiny. To make his photograph work, meaning making it seem to show a large object in the distance, Trent was kneeling, rather than standing upright to produce the suggestion that the UFO is large and in the distance.

In a better bit of evidence, a friend of Trent’s wrote, on a copy of the photograph, “Paul I wish I could have been there shooting with you on this day in 1950. If it’s real, then whoa! But if you faked it, that’s even cooler. We can’t really fake stuff anymore. Years later if it’s all fake… or maybe it’s all real. Same difference. Thanks for this though. CM.” CM is not identified.

Tony also wrote, “This placement of photos in the window of a business reminds me of confessed UFO hoaxer and barber Ralph Ditter of Zanesville, OH. Ditter placed his UFO photos up in the window of his barbershop. Ditter too involved his child [See below and how Trent’s son was photographed on a ladder]. His little girl wanted to see a UFO. So Ditter “made one” using a toy wheel and captured it on camera for her.

 “And some say of the Trents that no money was ever sought for the photos. But in reality, in 1970, twenty years later and realizing their accrued value, the Trents insisted on having their negatives back from the McMinnville Register, which held them. According to Register Editor Philip Bladine, the Trents were not shy to note to him that ‘they had never been paid for the negatives and thus wanted them back.’”

It could be argued that the Trents realizing they hadn’t been paid for the negatives some twenty years later is irrelevant. Money, as a motive, didn’t seem to cross their minds until long after the fact and therefore is not a motive to create the hoax if that was the reason for it.

Tony points out that there is a picture of the Trent’s son up on a ladder, in the backyard where the UFO was photographed, and it seems as if he could have been involved in a scheme to create the pictures. Overhead wires seen in other pictures suggest that something could have been hung from them and forced perspective give them the appearance of something large and far away.

Trent told reporters that he did nothing with the pictures until encouraged to do so by friends. He said that he was a little afraid of the photographs because he thought he would get into trouble with the government. This answers one of the questions that has bothered skeptics.

Now, over at UFO Iconoclasts (see, there has been some discussion of Tony’s theories, and not everyone is on board. There is an argument that the pictures of the boy on the ladder was not on the film used by Trent, but was taken by a Life photographer sent to take some pictures of the area for the article they would publish.

Tony also wrote, “Kim Trent Spencer, the Trent’s granddaughter, told journalist Kelly Kennedy of the Oregonian something of missed importance- the Trents were repeaters. That is, they had multiple UFO “experiences.”

But this wasn’t something that has been ignored as Tony thought. In my book, Scientific Ufology (Hey, as I read various documents and comments around, I see people promoting their books… Why shouldn’t I?) I noted that the Trents were repeaters. I’m not sure of the significance… True, seeing a UFO would be a rare event but then so would be winning the lottery or being struck by lightning, yet there are people who had won several lottery jackpots and one unlucky man was struck by lightning five times.

So Tony provided some interesting evidence to suggest that the Trend photographs were faked. Debunkers, of course, know they were faked because there is no alien visitation and anything that suggests otherwise is faked. For the youngsters who wish to open new investigations into older cases, this is a good place to start. There are some legitimate questions about the photographs’ authenticity and in a case like this, there is always something new to be learned.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Geezers vs Youngsters

Back when I was in graduate school and preparing to write my dissertation, I learned that the first thing you did to prepare was make a search of the literature… well, the second thing, after you have figured out what you wanted to research. You looked to see what others had done before you, if someone had already accomplished what you wanted to, and how you might improve on both your idea and what had gone before.
 Apparently in UFO research, this is not the case.
I don’t know how many times we must revisit cases that seem to have been solved, that seem to have nothing to do with UFOs, or that are hoaxes. Every five years or so another crop of interested people show up and we begin all over again… and somehow the blame is pushed on the “Geezers.” We just haven’t made the case, whatever the case might be.
Take the Allende Letters, that group of correspondence between Carlos Allende or Carl Allen and Morris K. Jessup. Allende/Allen wrote about Jessup’s UFO books. Allende/Allen suggested a knowledge that was based on inside information and personal observation. Part of it was the so-called Philadelphia Experiment in which it is claimed that the US Navy teleported a ship in 1943. Ignore the fact that no documentation has ever surfaced to prove it. Ignore the fact that the allegedly teleported ship’s logs place it elsewhere at the time. Ignore the fact that there is nothing to support this claim except Allende’s allegation.
Allende/Allen arrived in Tucson, Arizona in the 1970s, apparently on his way to Mexico for cancer treatment. While in Tucson he met with Jim Lorenzen, then the International Director of APRO and signed a statement that the whole Philadelphia Experiment, the letters, and everything else associated with it was a hoax. Allende/Allen said he made it up because Jessup’s writing frightened him and he didn’t want Jessup to write anything more.
To me, that admission, by Allende/Allen ends the discussion. It is a hoax. It is an admitted hoax. They guy who started it said it was a hoax. What more do we need?
Remember, that was in the 1970s. I even did a magazine article about this in the 1970s. Robert Goerman, a UFO researcher interested in the Allende Letters found Allende’s family who told him, Goerman, that Allende was slightly unhinged… bright but unhinged. There was nothing to the story he told…
But then the youngsters enter the field, bringing their “fresh” perspective to it, and we begin again to hear about the value of the Allende Letters. We hear there might be something to them. We hear how they might be the key to solving the UFO mystery… and away we go again, covering the same ground because Allende/Allen’s admission of hoax was forced by the CIA and should therefore be ignored.
Or take the latest of the Aztec “re-investigations.” We have a new book that suggests that there might be something to the Aztec UFO crash. Once again, this is a case that should have been relegated to a footnote a long time ago. It is clear that Aztec is a hoax started by a con man, Silas Newton, who is probably laughing his ass off in his grave because there are still people who believe it.
Newton told the story to Frank Scully who made fun of it in his newspaper column in 1948, but a couple of years later Scully seemed to have changed his mind and suddenly began to believe the tale. He wrote a book about it that became a bestseller… and then J. P. Cahn wrote an expose about it that should have put the whole thing to rest… but didn’t.
In the 1970s Robert Spencer Carr said that he had found five witnesses to the Aztec crash and the case was revitalized… but even the reinvestigation failed to find much in the way of evidence. Carr relied on unidentified witnesses and rumor and we don’t know who his witnesses were or why he accepted what they said. There was nothing new… until the 1980s when William Steinman began his new investigation, “proving” there was something to the crash tale. Of course, Steinman offered little evidence of anything other than he is a fan of garage sales and that he had been to Aztec annoying the locals with his less than gracious manner.
But even with all these investigations and the failure to find anything substantial, Aztec is back. We’re told that the proof is now incontrovertible, but it is weak at best. Though we’re told to ignore Newton and his con man buddy Leo GeBauer, they are still tied to the case. We are treated to links between alleged witnesses and the event, but when we look deeper, we find the links broken. There is simply nothing there that hasn’t been discussed before, yet we’re supposed to roll over and accept this new data as if it is proof.
I could go on in this vein. We have arguments that maybe the contactees had something important to say, but in reality, they merely cluttered the UFO field with their nonsense making it easier to hide the truth, whatever that truth might be. We hear about great air wars between the aliens and our Air Force, but the evidence doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. We have phenomenon, such as crop circles linked to UFOs, but that really should be another field of research…(get it? Field?).
True, there are some things that do need to be reexamined. The Majorie Fish Star Map that was based on Betty Hill’s memory needs new work now that we have better information. Some of the stars she used are not where we had thought them to be and she excluded red dwarves because she didn’t think there was anything interesting to be found near them, not to mention there are so many of them. Fish’s work was great when she did it, but it is now badly out of date. Maybe a youngster who plays with computers could do the work in minutes rather than the months it took Fish.
The point is that we geezers have something to add, if only it is to direct the youngsters into areas that should be explored. We don’t really need to study the Allende Letters again. We have all we need to know about Aztec, and if Scott Ramsey really spent a half a million dollars on his research, I can think of better areas that he could have explored with that kind of money.
So rather than dismiss us all as failures, maybe some should look to what we have learned. It just might save someone a half million dollar mistake; years of research that will go nowhere, or help focus the spotlight on areas that could provide a breakthrough or two.
And rather than pit the geezers against the youngsters as some are attempting, maybe we should all work together. Why does it have to be an either or propostion?

Saturday, December 08, 2012

The Estimate of the Situation: A Different Perspective

While studying the legendary “Estimate of the Situation,” the document written in secret in 1948 by Air Force personnel in Dayton, Ohio, I came to understand some more about it. The Estimate, or EOTS as it has come to be called, was described by Ed Ruppelt, one time chief of Project Blue Book and Dewey Fournet, the Pentagon’s liaison for UFOs in the 1950s. They provided a limited listing of the cases included in it, and in today’s world, it is possible to access some of that information.

What struck me was the poor quality of some of the cases reviewed. Yes, the Arnold sighting that sort of began everything was in there. Today there are those who believe that Arnold was fooled by mirages, or by drops of water on the windshield, or snow blowing off the mountaintops, or by pelicans. None of the solutions is very satisfactory. The thing we don’t know is if the Johnson sighting, a prospector who was on the ground and seemed to have seen the objects about the same time as Arnold, was included in the report.
Many of the sightings that I have reviewed are not as strong as the Arnold case. Some are single witness and I believe were selected because they involved pilots or technically trained people. I would guess that those making the selections believed that pilots, especially fighter pilots, would be familiar with what was in the sky around them. Fighter pilots would have to make snap decisions about what they were seeing and their skills would have been honed during the war when a single mistake could kill them. Those selecting the cases respected the abilities of the pilots to quickly and accurately determine what they were seeing. Not too long before their lives would have depended on that ability.
And in the world of 1948, those with college degrees, especially those in the sciences or engineering would be given a higher credibility. The thinking was that these people had been exposed to a great many startling sights and would be able to identify a balloon, a celestial object, a weather phenomenon, when they saw it. If they reported something strange in the sky, then it probably did defy identification… which is not to say that it was an alien spacecraft.
At any rate, these seemed to be the sightings selected for the EOTS. Pilots, military officers, scientists, and technicians were those whose tales were taken, almost at face value. But when we look at the sightings today, they are very thin on evidence other than the observations of the witnesses. As but a single example taken this case from the Lake Meade area:

On 14 July 1947, 1st Lt Eric B Armstrong… departed Williams Field, Arizona at 1400 CST on 28 June in a P-51 for Portland, Oregon, by way of Medford, Oregon. At approximately 1515 CST on a course of 300 degrees, and a ground speed of 285, altitude 10,000 feet, approximately thirty miles northwest of Lake Meade, Nevada Lt. Armstrong sighted five or six white, circular objects at four o’clock, altitude approximately 6,000 feet, courses approximately 120 degrees and an estimated speed of 285 MPH. Lt. Armstrong said the objects were flying very smoothly and in a close formation. The estimated size of the white objects were approximately 36 inches in diameter. Lt. Armstrong stated that he is sure the white objects were not birds, since the rate of closure was very fast. Lt. Armstrong was certain that the white objects were not jets or conventional type aircraft since he has flown both types. 

This report is from a single witness and the UFOs described are only three feet in diameter. He said they weren’t birds, based on the rate of closure, which meant that they were coming at him faster than his speed and that of the birds would account for. He didn’t believe the objects were meteors and he didn’t think they were conventional aircraft. The Air Force eventually determined that Armstrong had seen a cluster of balloons.
I don’t know why those in Dayton were impressed with this sighting, unless there is something more about it than is in the Project Blue Book file. There is no physical evidence, no photographs, and no radar tracks, nothing other than the observations of the pilot.
As I said, this is an example of the sightings reported in the EOTS. There are no indications from either Ruppelt or Fournet that there was anything more. While the document might have been thick, and it might have contained dozens of sightings (177 by one estimate), without some sort of tangible evidence, I’m not surprised that General Vandenberg rejected it. Hell, I’m usually on board with those who think that some UFOs might represent alien craft, but from what I’ve seen of the EOTS and the reports contained in it, I wouldn’t have found the conclusion of spacecraft supported by the evidence either.
That is why it was rejected, I believe. Not because of a culture at the Pentagon that thought all UFOs could be explained in the mundane, but because, in the words of Jason Robards in All the President’s Men, “You don’t have it.”
Robards meant that the conclusions of the reporters were not supported by the evidence and with the EOTS we see the same thing. To make it worse, this failed attempt to impress those outside the halls of ATIC at Wright Field damaged their case beyond repair. It might have signaled the beginning of what Ruppelt would call the “Dark Ages,” when all UFOs were to be explained… period.