The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects - 05
The Dark Ages
The order of February 11, 1949, that changed the name of Project Sign to Project Grudge had not directed any change in the operating policy of the project. It had, in fact, pointed out that the project was to continue to investigate and evaluate reports of sightings of unidentified flying objects. In doing this, standard intelligence procedures would be used. This normally
means the unbiased evaluation of intelligence data. But it doesn't take a great deal of study of the old UFO files to see that standard intelligence procedures were no longer being used by Project Grudge. Everything was being evaluated on the premise that UFO's couldn't exist. No matter what you see or hear, don't believe it.
New people took over Project Grudge. ATIC's top intelligence specialists who had been so eager to work on Project Sign were no longer working on Project Grudge. Some of them had drastically and hurriedly changed their minds about UFO's when they thought that the Pentagon was no longer sympathetic to the UFO cause. They were now directing their talents toward more socially acceptable projects. Other charter members of Project Sign had been "purged." These were the people who had refused to change their original opinions about UFO's.
With the new name and the new personnel came the new objective, get rid of the UFO's. It was never specified this way in writing but it didn't take much effort to see that this was the goal of Project Grudge. This unwritten objective was reflected in every memo, report, and directive.
To reach their objective Project Grudge launched into a campaign that opened a new age in the history of the UFO. If a comparative age in world history can be chosen, the Dark Ages would be most appropriate. Webster's Dictionary defines the Dark Ages as a period of "intellectual stagnation."
To one who is intimately familiar with UFO history it is clear that Project Grudge had a two-phase program of UFO annihilation. The first phase consisted of explaining every UFO report. The second phase was to tell the public how the Air Force had solved all the sightings. This, Project Grudge reasoned, would put an end to UFO reports.
Phase one had been started by the people of Project Sign. They realized that a great many reports were caused by people seeing balloons or such astronomical bodies as planets, meteors, or stars. They also realized that before they could get to the heart of the UFO problems they had to sift out this type of report. To do this they had called on outside help. Air Weather Service had been asked to screen the reports and check those that sounded like balloons against their records of balloon flights. Dr. J. Allen Hynek, distinguished astrophysicist and head of Ohio State University's Astronomy Department, had been given a contract to sort out those reports that could be blamed on stars, planets, meteors, etc. By early March the Air Weather Service and Dr. Hynek had some positive identifications. According to the old records, with these solutions and those that Sign and Grudge had already found, about 50 per cent of the reported UFO's could now be positively identified as hoaxes, balloons,
planets, sundogs, etc. It was now time to start phase two, the publicity campaign.
For many months reporters and writers had been trying to reach behind the security wall and get the UFO story from the horse's mouth, but no luck. Some of them were still trying but they were having no success because they were making the mistake of letting it slip that they didn't believe that airline pilots, military pilots, scientists, and just all around solid citizens were having "hallucinations," perpetrating "hoaxes," or being deceived by the "misidentification of common objects." The people of Project Grudge weren't looking for this type of writer, they wanted a writer who would listen to them and write their story. As a public relations officer later told me, "We had a devil of a time. All of the writers who were after saucer stories had made their own investigations of sightings and we couldn't convince them they were wrong."
Before long, however, the right man came along. He was Sidney Shallet, a writer for The Saturday Evening Post. He seemed to have the prerequisites that were desired, so his visit to ATIC was cleared through the Pentagon. Harry Haberer, a crack Air Force public relations man, was assigned the job of seeing that Shallet got his story. I have heard many times, from both military personnel and civilians, that the Air Force told Shallet exactly what to say in his article—play down the UFO's—don't write anything that even hints that there might be something foreign in our skies. I don't believe that this is the case. I think that he just wrote the UFO story as it was told to him, told to him by Project Grudge.
Shallet's article, which appeared in two parts in the April 30 and May 7, 1949, issues of The Saturday Evening Post, is important in the history of the UFO and in understanding the UFO problem because it had considerable effect on public opinion. Many people had, with varying degrees of interest, been wondering about the UFO's for over a year and a half. Very few had any definite opinions one way or the other. The feeling seemed to be that the Air Force is working on the problem and when they get the answer we'll know. There had been a few brief, ambiguous press releases from the Air Force but these meant nothing. Consequently when Shallet's article appeared in the Post it was widely read. It contained facts, and the facts had come from Air Force Intelligence. This was the Air Force officially reporting on UFO's for the first time.
The article was typical of the many flying saucer stories that were to follow in the later years of UFO history, all written from material obtained from the Air Force. Shallet's article casually admitted that a few UFO sightings couldn't be explained, but the reader didn't have much chance to think about this fact because 99 per cent of the story was devoted
to the anti-saucer side of the problem. It was the typical negative approach. I know that the negative approach is typical of the way that material is handed out by the Air Force because I was continually being told to "tell them about the sighting reports we've solved—don't mention the unknowns." I was never ordered to tell this, but it was a strong suggestion and in the military when higher headquarters suggests, you do.
Shallet's article started out by psychologically conditioning the reader by using such phrases as "the great flying saucer scare," "rich, full-blown screwiness," "fearsome freaks," and so forth. By the time the reader gets to the meat of the article he feels like a rich, full-blown jerk for ever even thinking about UFO's.
He pointed out how the "furor" about UFO reports got so great that the Air Force was "forced" to investigate the reports reluctantly. He didn't mention that two months after the first UFO report ATIC had asked for Project Sign since they believed that UFO's did exist. Nor did it mention the once Top Secret Estimate of the Situation that also concluded that UFO's were real. In no way did the article reflect the excitement and anxiety of the age of Project Sign when secret conferences preceded and followed every trip to investigate a UFO report. This was the Air Force being "forced" into reluctantly investigating the UFO reports.
Laced through the story were the details of several UFO sightings; some new and some old, as far as the public was concerned. The original UFO report by Kenneth Arnold couldn't be explained. Arnold, however, had sold his story to Fate magazine and in the same issue of Fate were stories with such titles as "Behind the Etheric Veil" and "Invisible Beings Walk the Earth," suggesting that Arnold's story might fall into the same category. The sightings where the Air Force had the answer had detailed explanations. The ones that were unknowns were mentioned, but only in passing.
Many famous names were quoted. The late General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, then Chief of Staff of the Air Force, had seen a flying saucer but it was just a reflection on the windshield of his B-17. General Lauris Norstad's UFO was a reflection of a star on a cloud, and General Curtis E. Le May found out that one out of six UFO's was a balloon; Colonel McCoy, then chief of ATIC, had seen lots of UFO's. All were reflections from distant airplanes. In other words, nobody who is anybody in the Air Force believes in flying saucers.
Figures in the top echelons of the military had spoken.
A few hoaxes and crackpot reports rounded out Mr. Shallet's article.
The reaction to the article wasn't what the Air Force and ATIC expected. They had thought that the public would read the article and
toss it, and all thoughts of UFO's, into the trash can. But they didn't. Within a few days the frequency of UFO reports hit an all-time high. People, both military and civilian, evidently didn't much care what Generals Vandenberg, Norstad, Le May, or Colonel McCoy thought; they didn't believe what they were seeing were hallucinations, reflections, or balloons. What they were seeing were UFO's, whatever UFO's might be.
I heard many times from ex-Project Grudge people that Shallet had "crossed" them, he'd vaguely mentioned that there might be a case for the UFO. This made him pro-saucer.
A few days after the last installment of the Post article the Air Force gave out a long and detailed press release completely debunking UFO's, but this had no effect. It only seemed to add to the confusion.
The one thing that Shallet's article accomplished was to plant a seed of doubt in many people's minds. Was the Air Force telling the truth about UFO's? The public and a large percentage of the military didn't know what was going on behind ATIC's barbed-wire fence but they did know that a lot of reliable people had seen UFO's. Airline pilots are considered responsible people—airline pilots had seen UFO's. Experienced military pilots and ground officers are responsible people—they'd seen UFO's. Scientists, doctors, lawyers, merchants, and plain old Joe Doakes had seen UFO's, and their friends knew that they were responsible people. Somehow these facts and the tone of the Post article didn't quite jibe, and when things don't jibe, people get suspicious.
In those people who had a good idea of what was going on behind ATIC's barbed wire, the newspaper reporters and writers with the "usually reliable sources," the Post article planted a bigger seed of doubt. Why the sudden change in policy they wondered? If UFO's were so serious a few months ago, why the sudden debunking? Maybe Shallet's story was a put-up job for the Air Force. Maybe the security had been tightened. Their sources of information were reporting that many people in the military did not quite buy the Shallet article. The seed of doubt began to grow, and some of these writers began to start "independent investigations" to get the "true" story. Research takes time, so during the summer and fall of 1949 there wasn't much apparent UFO activity.
As the writers began to poke around for their own facts, Project Grudge lapsed more and more into a period of almost complete inactivity. Good UFO reports continued to come in at the rate of about ten per month but they weren't being verified or investigated. Most of them were being discarded. There are few, if any, UFO reports for the middle and latter part of 1949 in the ATIC files. Only the logbook, showing incoming reports, gives any idea of the activity of this period. The meager effort that was
being made was going into a report that evaluated old UFO reports, those received prior to the spring of 1949. Project Grudge thought that they were writing a final report on the UFO's.
From the small bits of correspondence and memos that were in the ATIC files, it was apparent that Project Grudge thought that the UFO was on its way out. Any writers inquiring about UFO activity were referred to the debunking press release given out just after the Post article had been published. There was no more to say. Project Grudge thought they were winning the UFO battle; the writers thought that they were covering up a terrific news story—the story that the Air Force knew what flying saucers were and weren't telling.
By late fall 1949 the material for several UFO stories had been collected by writers who had been traveling all over the United States talking to people who had seen UFO's. By early winter the material had been worked up into UFO stories. In December the presses began to roll. True magazine "scooped" the world with their story that UFO's were from outer space.
The True article, entitled, "The Flying Saucers Are Real," was written by Donald Keyhoe. The article opened with a hard punch. In the first paragraph Keyhoe concluded that after eight months of extensive research he had found evidence that the earth was being closely scrutinized by intelligent beings. Their vehicles were the so-called flying saucers. Then he proceeded to prove his point. His argument was built around the three classics: the Mantell, the Chiles-Whitted, and the Gorman incidents. He took each sighting, detailed the "facts," ripped the official Air Force conclusions to shreds, and presented his own analysis. He threw in a varied assortment of technical facts that gave the article a distinct, authoritative flavor. This, combined with the fact that True had the name for printing the truth, hit the reading public like an 8-inch howitzer. Hours after it appeared in subscribers’ mailboxes and on the newsstands, radio and TV commentators and newspapers were giving it a big play. UFO's were back in business, to stay. True was in business too. It is rumored among magazine publishers that Don Keyhoe's article in True was one of the most widely read and widely discussed magazine articles in history.
The Air Force had inadvertently helped Keyhoe—in fact, they made his story a success. He and several other writers had contacted the Air Force asking for information for their magazine articles. But, knowing that the articles were pro-saucer, the writers were unceremoniously sloughed off. Keyhoe carried his fight right to the top, to General Sory Smith, Director of the Office of Public Information, but still no dice—the Air Force wasn't divulging any more than they had already told. Keyhoe
construed this to mean tight security, the tightest type of security. Keyhoe had one more approach, however. He was an ex-Annapolis graduate, and among his classmates were such people as Admiral Delmar Fahrney, then a top figure in the Navy guided missile program and Admiral Calvin Bolster, the Director of the Office of Naval Research. He went to see them but they couldn't help him. He knew that this meant the real UFO story was big and that it could be only one thing—interplanetary spaceships or earthly weapons—and his contacts denied they were earthly weapons. He played this security angle in his True article and in a later book, and it gave the story the needed punch.
But the Air Force wasn't trying to cover up. It was just that they didn't want Keyhoe or any other saucer fans in their hair. They couldn't be bothered. They didn't believe in flying saucers and couldn't feature anybody else believing. Believing, to the people in ATIC in 1949, meant even raising the possibility that there might be something to the reports.
The Air Force had a plan to counter the Keyhoe article, or any other story that might appear. The plan originated at ATIC. It called for a general officer to hold a short press conference, flash his stars, and speak the magic words "hoaxes, hallucinations, and the misidentification of known objects," True, Keyhoe and the rest would go broke trying to peddle their magazines. The True article did come out, the general spoke, the public laughed, and Keyhoe and True got rich. Only the other magazines that had planned to run UFO stories, and that were scooped by True, lost out. Their stories were killed—they would have been an anti-climax to Keyhoe's potboiler.
The Air Force's short press conference was followed by a press release. On December 27, 1949, it was announced that Project Grudge had been closed out and the final report on UFO's would be released to the press in a few days. When it was released it caused widespread interest because, supposedly, this was all that the Air Force knew about UFO's. Once again, instead of throwing large amounts of cold water on the UFO's, it only caused more confusion.
The report was officially titled "Unidentified Flying Objects—Project Grudge," Technical Report No. 102-AC-49/15-100. But it was widely referred to as the Grudge Report.
The Grudge Report was a typical military report. There was the body of the report, which contained the short discussion, conclusions, and recommendations. Then there were several appendixes that were supposed to substantiate the conclusions and recommendations made in the report.
One of the appendixes was the final report of Dr. J. Allen Hynek, Project Grudge's contract astronomer. Dr. Hynek and his staff had studied
[paragraph continues] 237 of the best UFO reports. They had spent several months analyzing each report. By searching through astronomical journals and checking the location of various celestial bodies, they found that some UFO's could be explained. Of the 237 reports he and his staff examined, 32 per cent could be explained astronomically.
The Air Force Air Weather Service and the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratory had sifted the reports for UFO's that might have been balloons. These two organizations had data on the flights of both the regular weather balloons and the huge, high-flying skyhooks. They wrote off 12 per cent of the 237 UFO reports under study as balloons.
This left 56 per cent still unknown. By weeding out the hoaxes, the reports that were too nebulous to evaluate, and reports that could well be misidentified airplanes, Project Grudge disposed of another 33 per cent of the reports. This left 23 per cent that fell in the "unknown" category.
There were more appendixes. The Rand Corporation, one of the most unpublicized yet highly competent contractors to the Air Force, looked over the reports and made the statement, "We have found nothing which would seriously controvert simple rational explanations of the various phenomena in terms of balloons, conventional aircraft, planets, meteors, bits of paper, optical illusions, practical jokers, psychopathological reporters, and the like." But Rand's comment didn't help a great deal because they didn't come up with any solutions to any of the 23 per cent unknown.
The Psychology Branch of the Air Force's Aeromedical Laboratory took a pass at the psychological angles. They said, "there are sufficient psychological explanations for the reports of unidentified objects to provide plausible explanations for reports not otherwise explainable." They pointed out that some people have "spots in front of their eyes" due to minute solid particles that float about in the fluids of the eye and cast shadows on the retina. Then they pointed out that some people are just plain nuts. Many people who read the Grudge Report took these two points to mean that all UFO observers either had spots in front of their eyes or were nuts. They broke the reports down statistically. The people who wrote the report found that over 70 per cent of the people making sightings reported a light-colored object. (This I doubt, but that's what the report said.) They said a big point of these reports of light-colored objects was that any high-flying object will appear to be dark against the sky. For this reason the UFO's couldn't be real.
I suggest that the next time you are outdoors and see a bomber go over at high altitude you look at it closely. Unless it's painted a dark color it won't look dark.
The U.S. Weather Bureau wrote an extremely comprehensive and interesting report on all types of lightning. It was included in the Grudge Report but contained a note: "None of the recorded incidents appear to have been lightning."
There was one last appendix. It was entitled "Summary of the Evaluation of Remaining Reports." What the title meant was, We have 23 per cent of the reports that we can't explain but we have to explain them because we don't believe in flying saucers. This appendix contributed greatly to the usage of the analogy to the Dark Ages, the age of "intellectual stagnation."
This appendix was important—it was the meat of the whole report. Every UFO sighting had been carefully checked, and those with answers had been sifted out. Then the ones listed in "Summary of the Evaluation of Remaining Reports" should be the best UFO reports—the ones with no answers.
This was the appendix that the newsmen grabbed at when the Grudge Report was released. It contained the big story. But if you'll check back through old newspaper files you will hardly find a mention of the Grudge Report.
I was told that reporters just didn't believe it when I tried to find out why the Grudge Report hadn't been mentioned in the newspapers. I got the story from a newspaper correspondent in Washington whom I came to know pretty well and who kept me filled in on the latest UFO scuttlebutt being passed around the Washington press circles. He was one of those humans who had a brain like a filing cabinet; he could remember everything about everything. UFO's were a hobby of his. He remembered when the Grudge Report came out; in fact, he'd managed to get a copy of his own. He said the report had been quite impressive, but only in its ambiguousness, illogical reasoning, and very apparent effort to write off all UFO reports at any cost. He, personally, thought that it was a poor attempt to put out a "fake" report, full of misleading information, to cover up the real story. Others, he told me, just plainly and simply didn't know what to think—they were confused.
And they had every right to be confused.
As an example of the way that many of the better reports of the 1947-49 period were "evaluated" let's take the report of a pilot who tangled with a UFO near Washington, D.C., on the night of November 18, 1948.
At about 9:45 EST I noticed a light moving generally north to south over Andrews AFB. It appeared to be one continuous, glowing white light. I thought it was an aircraft with only one landing light so I moved
in closer to check, as I wanted to get into the landing pattern. I was well above landing traffic altitude at this time. As I neared the light I noticed that it was not another airplane. Just then it began to take violent evasive action so I tried to close on it. I made first contact at 2,700 feet over the field. I switched my navigation lights on and off but got no answer so I went in closer—but the light quickly flew up and over my airplane. I then tried to close again but the light turned. I tried to turn inside of its turn and, at the same time, get the light between the moon and me, but even with my flaps lowered I couldn't turn inside the light. I never did manage to get into a position where the light was silhouetted against the moon.
I chased the light up and down and around for about 10 minutes, then as a last resort I made a pass and turned on my landing lights. Just before the object made a final tight turn and headed for the coast I saw that it was a dark gray oval-shaped object, smaller than my T-6. I couldn't tell if the light was on the object or if the whole object had been glowing.
Two officers and a crew chief, a master sergeant, completely corroborated the pilot's report. They had been standing on the flight line and had witnessed the entire incident.
The Air Weather Service, who had been called in as experts on weather balloons, read this report. They said, "Definitely not a balloon." Dr. Hynek said, "No astronomical explanation." It wasn't another airplane and it wasn't a hallucination.
But Project Grudge had an answer, it was a weather balloon. There was no explanation as to why they had so glibly reversed the decision of the Air Weather Service.
There was an answer for every report.
From the 600 pages of appendixes, discussions of the appendixes, and careful studies of UFO reports, it was concluded that:
2. Reports of unidentified flying objects are the result of:
b. Individuals who fabricate such reports to perpetrate a hoax or seek publicity.
c. Psychopathological persons.
d. Misidentification of various conventional objects.
It was recommended that Project Grudge be "reduced in scope" and that only "those reports clearly indicating realistic technical applications" be sent to Grudge. There was a note below these recommendations. It said, "It is readily apparent that further study along present lines would only confirm the findings presented herein."
Somebody read the note and concurred because with the completion and approval of the Grudge Report, Project Grudge folded. People could
rant and rave, see flying saucers, pink elephants, sea serpents, or Harvey, but it was no concern of ATIC's.