In the last few days I have been fielding some inquiries about the Staff Sergeant Charles L. Moody abduction in August 1965. Moody had mentioned to Jim Lorenzen, then the International Director of the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization (APRO), that after his UFO encounter, he had gone to the news stand and bought a copy of Official UFO. I wondered what might have been in that issue and thought I could figure it out based on the date of the sighting, but the most likely candidate is Official UFO Volume 1, No. 2, which I don’t have and probably would have had a publication date of August 1975. It would have been on the news stand in late July, if the normal distribution procedure held true.
I mention all of this to explain how I happened to see Official UFO Volume 1, No. 4, dated November 1975. As I was putting the magazines away, I glanced at the cover which had a big headline in the middle of the cover that said, “Interview: Philip Klass Tells – “Why I Don’t Believe In UFOs.”
Okay, seeing an interview with Klass so early in his anti-UFO career seemed interesting. The interview was conducted by George Earley, who found himself at FORTFEST ’74 in Baltimore, and had an opportunity to sit down with Klass for several hours.
All that was fine, but not particularly helpful, and most of what Klass told Earley was the same thing that he would say time and again in articles, his SUN newsletter and his various books. One thing I did find interesting was his discussion of secret balloon projects.
Earley asked, “There have been numerous claims of CIA involvement in the ‘UFO coverup.’ Didn’t they suggest debunking UFO reports at one time?”
Klass said, “Yes, and I go into the reason for that in my new book [which is now, what, 38 years old]. Just briefly – about the time flying saucers were discovered (perhaps “invented” is a better word) [and I point out in my new book to be published later, Secrets in the Government Files… hey, everyone else promotes their work, why shouldn’t I? that the sightings began before the Arnold sighting] in the summer of 1947, the CIA and the USAF and the Navy were involved in a top-secret program involving giant, camera-carrying balloons. [That’s right, Klass is blaming balloons for UFO sightings made in 1947 in this 1975 interview]. They would be released from Western Europe; the westerly winds would carry them over the Communist Bloc countries – Soviet Union, Red China, etc. – snapping photographs all the way. Then, if the balloons arrived over Japan, we would send up a radio signal which would bring the camera down by parachute. We would recover the film. We would get a lot of pictures of Russian farms, but, hopefully, we would also get some pictures of Russian military installations, pictures that might indicate the Russians might be preparing to start World War III. This was 1947 – 48, remember.”
Well, our favorite topic here, Project Mogul was certainly underway in 1947, but they were experimenting with using microphones to detect nuclear explosions as opposed to photographing the Russian landscape, but Klass is referring to projects that actually existed including Moby Dick, Skyhook and Genetrix, to name just a few. And while most of them were operating, in a limited and experimental fashion in 1947, they didn’t actually get going until later.
Klass said, “They were experimenting. It began to become operational about 1949 or 1950. Because it was an intelligence gathering operation, the CIA was in overall charge. The Navy supplied the balloons while the USAF supplied the cameras, radio gear and the parachutes. The CIA knew we were flying balloons over Russia to photograph their military facilities, and now here we are getting flying saucer reports. Did this mean the Russians were doing the same thing – releasing reconnaissance spy balloons from Russia and Siberia to fly over the U.S. and photograph our military installations? In those days, back in the 1950s, where we had our missile sites, our air defense installations, our bomber bases was a very hush—hush operation.”
All well and good but the basic premise here is flawed. Klass is suggesting that these high altitude balloons being flown around were the genesis of the flying saucer reports and speculates that the Soviet Union might have been doing the same thing to us. Except the balloon operations here, in the United States, didn’t begin until after the Arnold sighting in June 1947, with the exception of Mogul, but those balloons were in New Mexico or on the east coast and numbered about a dozen. So, whatever Arnold saw, it wasn’t one of these balloons, and the follow up sightings reported around the country were not these balloons.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, balloons, weather and experimental, were responsible for some UFO sightings. Although I’m worried we’ll get into a big argument about it, I believe that Thomas Mantell was killed chasing a balloon, so it did happen. But the genesis of the UFO sightings, which actually began earlier than Arnold, was not caused by balloon research.
Earley asked about Skyhook, and cosmic ray balloons. Klass said, “Yes, the same type of balloons as used for that. And they flew at such very high altitudes – 100,000 feet or more – that they could not be shot down by ordinary fighter planes of that day. Of course this was a classified program, but what is [emphasis in original] a matter of record – and you can check on this – is that not all of those balloons made it to Japan. They developed leaks or came down for various reasons, and they came down in Russia and the Russians complained about ‘spy balloons’ in the United Nations. There are accounts in the New York Times about this. The U.S. delegate at the U.N. simply said that these were not spy balloons but scientific research balloons. So the CIA’s interest in flying saucers had nothing to do with the idea they were spaceships from another world; the possibility that they were Russian spy balloons similar to ours was what concerned them.”
Well, that might not be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but there is some truth in there. The Japanese, during the Second World War had succeeded in launching some 200 to 300 attacks on the United States using “balloon bombs.” Six people were killed in these attacks, and some forest fires were set, but given they had launched some 9000 of the balloon bombs, the results were small and the damage done was of little consequence. The tragedy was the deaths of the six people… which given the destruction rained down on England, Germany and Japan during the war pales in comparison.
Anyway, the timing seems to suggest that the balloon explanation offered here is a little more enthusiastic than the data warrant. But what is really interesting was that Klass was floating [pun intended] the idea of balloons before it was fashionable. Kind of like the old adage, “Let’s just send up a trial balloon ….”