Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Air Force Character Assassination and On Bullshit

It seems that there are those out there who didn’t understand that when I mentioned “On Bullshit,” I was referring to a philosophical argument by a Princeton professor. They apparently didn’t read the article so that they didn’t understand that bullshit and lying were different and that with bullshit you could be telling the truth, part of the truth or none of the truth but the point seemed to be that the one slinging the BS just didn’t care. Such is the case with some Air Force explanations and investigations into UFOs and those who see them.

We’ve already talked about William Rhodes, the man who took those pictures in Phoenix, Arizona in July 1947. The Air Force had to know much more about the man than they let on, but focused their annoyance on his grandiosely named Panoramic Research Laboratory and that he said he had a Ph.D. They suggested he was a third-rate musician who lived off his wife’s earnings as a school teacher and wasn’t reliable as a witness.

Well, he did have a lab in his backyard and the letterhead said that he was the director of the Panoramic Research Laboratory. He did claim a Ph. D, which might have been the result of his work as a civilian in the Navy in World War II, according to what he said. (And in the fairness of full disclosure here, he apparently left that Navy position within weeks of the beginning of the war and no one seems to know why.)

It was also true that the only source of income found by the Air Force for him was his work as a musician and his wife did teach school. What they didn’t bother to mention, but should have been able to find easily, was that Rhodes held a number of patents, he was considered a genius by friends, and that he had something of an abrasive personality.

In the realm of bullshit, what we see here is the Air Force making much of those things that would discredit Rhodes as a source and never mentioning those things that would suggest there might be something to what he said. Their mission was to explain the pictures and that was exactly what they did, without regard to other pertinent facts or that Rhodes didn’t deserve the treatment he got.

Rhodes isn’t the only one subjected to this kind character assassination. Four soldiers at White Sands Proving Grounds (White Sands Missile Range today) faced the same sort of charges after they reported seeing a UFO on November 4, 1957. The Air Force noted they were all young, between 17 and 21, though the youngest was really 18 (though that is not much different) and that one of them was “ingenuous, naïve and impressionable,” which isn’t all that bad, though it calls his reliability into question, which was the point.

According to the Air Force, three of the witnesses had been interviewed by the press prior to the Air Force investigation and this had an adverse effect on their reliability. The Air Force investigator, Captain Patrick Shere, made it clear that he believed that the press interest in the case had “magnified [it] out of all proportion to its importance…”

The Air Force noted, “Sources very young (18 20) impressionable & on duty in a lonely, isolated desert post. Interviewer agrees statements were magnified out of proportion.” Or, in other words, these young guys didn’t see what they thought they did because they were young, impressionable and out in the desert. Because of that, we don’t really have to do anything else to understand what they saw. Case dismissed.

No, that’s really not a complete character assassination, but for this discussion, it is BS. The facts of their ages, their assignments, and their educational backgrounds which were also mentioned, suggest that they were not reliable observers and if such is the case, then their observations can be dismissed as unreliable. No further investigation warranted.

James Stokes, who saw something in that area, meaning White Sands, the next day, that is November 5, 1957, was not so lucky.  The Air Force went after him for a variety of sins including claiming to be an engineer, failure to correctly estimate the number of stopped cars on the highway, disappearance of sunburn-like effects on his face, immediate contact with the media and other bits of trivia.

Stokes said he had seen an egg-shaped craft and that the close approach caused his radio to fade and his engine to stall. He got out of the stopped car and, along with several others, watched the object as it flew overhead. Once it was gone, he was able to start his car and continued his trip to El Paso, Texas. When he got there, he checked with his boss in Alamogordo to be sure that there were no restrictions on his reporting the sighting but since Stokes was off duty and not on the military reservation, his boss told him to go ahead.

This he did, calling Jim Lorenzen of APRO and telling him about the sighting. Coral Lorenzen called the local radio station and took Stokes there for an interview. So, contrary to the Air Force, Stokes hadn’t called the media first, but called his boss first and then Lorenzen. He never did call the media himself.

Stokes had also mentioned that once he returned home, he found a slight sunburn. According to the Lorenzens, and to Terry Clarke of radio station KALG, when Stokes arrived at the station, he had a slight reddening of the face. So, there are witnesses to this, and by Tuesday morning, and by the time the Captain Patrick O. Shere, the Air Force investigator arrived to officially interview him, the reddening was gone. Noted in the Air Force report was a handwritten, “Hospital shows no traces of sunburn as alleged by Stokes.”

The Air Force was also annoyed that Stokes was identified as an engineer, pointing out that he was only a technician. Although, and according to the Air Force, Stokes had two years of college, he was not an engineer. The trouble here is that even the officers at Holloman, including his boss, Major Ralph Everett, referred to him as an engineer.

But that isn’t the end of it. Stokes, who had been a GS-11 (a Government Service grade that is equivalent to a company grade officer in the military) was promoted and moved into the upper grades as a GS-12 only weeks after the event. His qualifications as an engineer seemed to be based on a combination of education and experience as applied by his employers and not a “resume” embellishment by Stokes. It seems he was employed as an engineer at Alamogordo rather than a technician.

On November 15, the Air Force issued a press release and in it suggested that the Stokes’ sighting was a hoax. Later they would decide, because this was high desert, that mirages were a possibility. Their official conclusion would become, “mirage and psychological,” which was their way of calling the sighting a hoax without using that word and that avoided branding Stokes a liar.

The Air Force was saying, in this case, you don’t have to believe Stokes because his first action was to call the radio station, he wasn’t an engineer, and we didn’t see the reddening of his skin. And they didn’t bother to correct their errors, or modify their statements about the case which would have been simple to discover had they actually cared about the truth rather than slinging BS.

Even worse was the treatment of First Lieutenant Joseph Long who reported that his car engine had been stalled while on the road in Nevada as I have noted in other writing. His report was described in the Project Blue Book files. It said:

He walked for several minutes until he was to within approximately fifty (50) feet from the nearest object. The objects appeared identical and about fifty (50) feet in diameter. They were disc-shaped, emitting their own source of light which caused them to blow brightly. They were equipped with a translucent dome in the center of the top which was obviously not of the same material as the rest of the craft. The entire body of the objects emitted the light, they did not seem to be dark on the underside. They were equipped with three (3) landing gears each that appeared hemispherical in shape, about two (2) feet in diameter, and some dark material. Source estimated the height of the objects from the ground level to the top of the dome to be about ten (10) to fifteen (15) feet. The objects were equipped with a ring around the outside that was darker than the rest of the craft and was apparently rotating. When SOURCE got to within fifty (50) feet of the nearest object, the hum, which had been steady the air over since he first observed the objects, increased in pitch to a degree where it almost hurt his ears, and the objects lifted off the ground. The protruding gears were retracted immediately after take-off, the objects rose about fifty (50) feet into the air and proceeded slowly (about ten mph) to the north, across the highway, contoured over some small hills about half (½) mile away, and disappeared behind those hills. As the object passed directly over SOURCE, he observed no evidence of any smoke, exhaust, trail, heat, disturbance of the ground or terrain, or any visible outlines of landing gear doors, or any other outlines or openings on the bottom. The total time of the sighting lasted about (20) minutes.
The solution of the Long sighting was handled in fashion similar to that of those others we’ve been talking about. According to a report dated February 11, 1958, and entitled “Analyst’s Comments Regarding Possible Reasons for Source Manufacturing Story, Captain George Gregory, then chief of Project Blue Book wrote:

…Officer has reserve status. Will be eligible for discharge in near future.

…His academic training and education appears to be speech, dramatics, etc. for TV work.

…It is assumed that upon completion of his prescribed “Reserve Tour” he will associate himself with TV work – either as a writer, editor commentator, etc.

…If he has kept his thumb on TV’s pulse, he knows the great public interest in “flying saucers” and “UFOs” – and the number of TV presentations on this subject.

…Interrogation brought out that he is familiar with names of prominent “saucer” and science fiction writers, authors which [sic] the average reader would not know. The arguments the Source gave on page 11 of IR [Intelligence Report] are almost word for word argument given by a number of these authors regarding “flying saucers” or their attempts to prove that they are not earth-made vehicles.

…SOURCE is therefore not considered to be unaware of the lucrative opportunity and the sensational interest in his suddenly appearing on a TV presentation as a commentator or observer (a la Kenneth Arnold), as a writer of a “flying saucer” eye-witness first person story, or as guest lecturer or star for Keyhoe, Davidson’s or other TV programs. He cannot be totally unaware that there would be no better way to enter his chosen civilian profession than with the dramatic announcement that he is only unimpeachable, completely reliable person, a qualified observer, an Air Force pilot to have seen and made an actually near contact with flying saucers – recently discharged from the service, etc. etc. ---

…Therefore there may be other motives for SOURCE manufacturing such a story, but on the basis of the above known facts, this is one motive that cannot be disregarded. Investigators broke a cardinal rule in handling this case…: although they went to great lengths and pains to interrogate source and obtain detailed statements and opinions, not a single check was made of all local facilities to determine if aircraft or operations were in the area at that time, as prescribed by par 5, AFR 200-2.

It is fairly clear from Gregory’s “analysis” that he has no respect for a “reserve officer,” and that Long’s college background, meaning his major area of study, suggests that Long might have invented the tale so that he would be able to find work in television after his discharge from the Air Force. Although Gregory writes about “known facts,” much of it is supposition on his part, based not on what Long might have said to the “interrogators” but because Gregory knew there are no “flying saucers” and therefore anything that suggested otherwise must be wrong. He postulated that Long would seek some kind of job in television and that Long might have hoped that this sighting would, if not secure a job outright, might put him in touch with the right people as he recounted the case for the newspapers, magazines, books and television. There is, however, no evidence that such was the case.

The case file, or rather the witness interrogation and statements were forwarded to a psychologist, who without benefit of speaking with Long wrote that:

Officer had a background and studies in Speech and related subjects for TV work.

Was familiar with names of well-known science fiction and “flying saucer” writers.

Advanced the same classic arguments of “saucer” believers that the objects were space ships, i.e. did not resemble any design known to him, etc.

He is a reserve officer, with the possibility that he may complete his tour of duty with the Air Force in the very near future, and would probably enter into TV work.

He just completed the very rigid USAF Survival Course at Stead AF Base the day before; left immediately, and drove all night enroute to Las Vegas.

Checks show no UFO’s or any report of unusual objects from radar, GOC, military and civil flight and other operations from that area. No reports from any other persons in the locality…

The case file was submitted to a well-known psychologist who had previously evaluated UFO sightings. His comments paralleled those of ATIC, but with recommendations that the officer be discreetly investigated with view of obtaining certain pertinent information to resolve the case. This would require the services of the OSI.

The damage and embarrassment to the Air Force would be incalculable, if, this officer allied himself with the host of “flying saucer” writers, experts, and others who barrage the Air Force with countless charges and accusations. In this instance, as matters now stand, the Air Force would have no effective rebuttal, or evidence to disprove any unfound charges.

What they had realized is that they couldn’t have an Air Force officer, even a reserve officer, saying that he had seen a landed alien craft. There wasn’t much they could do, but then he was only a lieutenant and would be off active duty soon. Rather than attempt to learn what he had seen, they decided that it was a hallucination that came about because he had just finished a rugged school and had been driving all night. These sorts of things happened all the time, as the psychologist noted in his report.

All of this points out a pattern in the Air Force that suggested that the best way to ridicule a case was to attack the witness credibility. If the source seemed to be unreliable, then anything he or she had to say could be dismissed. The facts for that dismissal didn’t have to be accurate. They just had to suggest there might be a problem with the witness’ reliability. That was enough.

In fact, there is an interesting article that was just published that seems to underscore all this. It explains how information is “massaged” to bring about a specific point of view, which is the point that I’m making here. Some information is simply left out of the reports so that a witness is deemed less than credible. Mark Chesney provided this link:

Additional information about this sort of propaganda, also provided by Mark, can be found at:

Say what you will about UFOs, this demonstrates that some of the information was manipulated to promote a specific point of view. It demonstrates that some of the attitudes about UFOs are based on faulty information. It suggests that maybe we should look at all this once again because we have been peppered in BS.


Don said...

Kevin: "Although Gregory writes about “known facts,” much of it is supposition on his part, based not on what Long might have said to the “interrogators” but because Gregory knew there are no “flying saucers” and therefore anything that suggested otherwise must be wrong."

Gregory's job was to support and promote the USAF opinion. From the end of Sign to Condon, those who were chosen to staff project saucer were adequate to that mission in that, at least at the beginning, Gregory, Fournet, Ruppelt, Hynek, Moody and the rest also believed the USAF opinion. Some changed their minds about it later. Some didn't.

Their mission wasn't to organize and conduct full investigations, but to mark the right check box on the forms.

"Bullshit" is an indicator of the 'attitude' of the PBB officers and men, and the screwy logic one sometimes sees in skeptics: If a lie is more plausible than the known facts, then the lie better approximates the truth.



Don said...

Cases with a high public profile, or cases in which 'topside' had made its interest known, don't fall into the category of administrative bullshit (to coin a phrase). They aren't routine.

There are several cases that involve witness and evidence tampering. The Rhodes case is one; so is Socorro. That obviously is orders of magnitude beyond selling some bs to the press. They are better called 'operations'.

In Socorro, the public profile is very high. But in Rhodes there is simply no public profile at all. Even Rhodes was unaware of all the effort being expended on blackening his reputation.

So, the bullshit factor is not simply a matter of controlling public impressions about ufos. The public or the press might not be the target at all. And it may not be a matter of lies or bullshit, but something else.



cda said...

The BS reflects a tiredness on the part of the USAF and other officialdom. There was a period, mainly under Ruppelt, when the AF took UFOs far more seriously than they did in later years. Afterwards their small bunch of investigators got disillusioned and gradually bored with the subject. They were getting nowhere.

What was the average time of 'UFO service' that each one served, I wonder?

It is probably true that had Kevin worked in Blue Book, certainly during the latter years, say the 1960-69 period, he would have got just as bored.

Then, a certain Condon committee delivered the 'coup de grace' and Ufology's death was inevitable, officially at least.