I was talking with Don Ecker the other day. He has been involved in UFO research for a long time and was the Research Director for UFO magazine in the 90s. He also organized a conference or symposium for Disney that was held in coordination with UFO. This “UFO Summit” was a first for Disney. It was apparently held to promote Tomorrowland’s “Alien Encounter” attraction.
There were two separate panels of experts invited to the Summit. In the first week were George Knapp, Zecharia Sitchen, Russ Estes, Vicki Ecker, Vern Marsh, Laurie Angelone, Dawn Wells and Yvonne Smith. Up for the second week were Don Schmitt, Jesse Marcel, Jr., Terry Stone, Debbie Steinke, Budd Hopkins, Barry Taff, Cliff Stone, Bruce Cornet, Stan McDaniel, and William Bramley. It was during the second week that Disney also arranged for a NASA presentation.
Thinking about this over the years, Don told me he was bothered by the lack of an audience for the various panel discussions and wondered if there wasn’t a nefarious reason for this. He suggested, and it makes sense, that some government agency that wanted information on what the various UFO researchers knew and the avenues of investigation they were following, would sponsor just such a symposium. The participants would be there to answer any questions, provide insight into their expertise and the direction of their research, and it would all seem to be benign.
The link here is that the CIA sponsored Robertson Panel of January 1953 that had suggested a debunking campaign to defuse interest in UFOs, and suggested that Disney would be one avenue for that debunking. Someone had to be footing the bill for the travel expenses, hotel reservations, meals, and other, ancillary expenses at this symposium. There seemed to be no upside of Disney after the investment of tens of thousands of dollars. The documentary that came out of all this aired on TV twice. Once at three in the afternoon and then sometime later, at two or three in the morning.
Of course, the excuse here would be that the panels were assembled to promote the Alien Encounters attraction, but you do have to wonder about the suggestion for that promotion. UFO devoted a single page to it in their March/April 1995 issue. There was nothing in the short article to suggest anything important had been revealed in the various panel discussions and it seems that the promotional aspect of it failed. There wasn’t any wide spread interest in the attraction and later reviews suggested it wasn’t a top-notch effort by Disney. It had to be retooled and rethought before it was publicly unveiled.
I remember little about that adventure. We had access to the park with the passes we had been issued and I used mine to ride the train a couple of times. We did have a big dinner one night that was quite pricey, but, of course, we didn’t pay for it. It was part of the whole package. I believe that George Knapp and Russ Estes continued the celebration that night. I had been invited along but frankly, I was tired and just wanted to go to bed.
But the point here is the theory that the real purpose was to bring in the UFO experts and grill them about their work, their evidence, and what plans they had for the future. Throw in the link between the CIA and Disney, as shown by some of the documentation that has been declassified over the years, and the theory is not all that unreasonable.
This was also at the time that the Air Force was investigating the Roswell UFO crash. I was going to say, “reinvestigate,” but that might be a stretch. We don’t know exactly how deep the original investigation was given what we have learned about the events of 1947. That the government, meaning various agencies and organizations, has played fast and loose with the facts, suggests this Disney adventure is somewhat suspicious.
Of course, to be fair, it should be noted that the Alien Encounter attraction might have been the results of the growing interest in UFOs and alien encounters. Disney apparently spent millions to bring the attraction to life, so the money spent bringing UFO experts to Orlando for the panel discussions would not have been that much of an expense when compared to everything else.
Still, those of us with a conspiracy mindset, do have to wonder why there was so little promotion of the panel discussions, so little was devoted to the documentary that grew out of those discussions, and if the government just didn’t use Disney to disguise their investigations without revealing their hand in the project. Sort of an everybody wins… Disney opened an attraction that was originally popular, the government learned more about the private research going on, and a dozen or so of us got a nice, expenses paid vacation out of the deal.