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Richard Smoley's Blog

The UFO conundrum

Yes, he was joking. Yes, he was laughing. All the same, these are very strange jokes for a sitting president to make.

I refer to a conversation between President Obama and Jimmy Kimmel on Kimmel’s talk show about UFOs. This took place in March 2015. (See the link in the column to the left.)

As for revealing the alien presence, Obama said, “The aliens won’t let it happen. You’d reveal all their secrets, and they exercise strict control over us,” he added. “I can't reveal anything.”

Kimmel said he had asked President Clinton about the same thing and Clinton said he had found nothing. Obama’s reply: “That’s what we’re instructed to say.”

As UFO researcher Michael Salla commented, “The fact that he said aliens exert strict control over us — no president has ever said that before, even as a joke.”

Actually, as jokes go, it’s not all that funny.

Hints of UFO disclosures continue to pop up. In 2010, John Podesta wrote: “The time to pull the curtain back on this subject is long overdue. . . . The American people — and people around the world — want to know, and they can handle the truth” (emphasis Podesta’s). This was part of a foreword to Leslie Kean’s compelling book UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record (New York: Harmony, 2010). I’ve found Kean’s book to be valuable and eye-opening presentation of evidence on this subject.

And who is John Podesta? Well, today he has a job as Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager. (If you want to find out more about the relationship between Hillary and the UFO phenomenon, see the Mother Jones article on the link to the left.)

Then there is a widely broadcast statement from Dmitri Medvedev, prime minister of Russia, made in 2012, also indicating knowledge of UFOs (link at left).

These tantalizing hints suggest that it’s time to try to think in a balanced and reasonable way about UFOs. Because there has been very few attempts to do this anywhere. The mainstream media dismiss any such talk as the jabberings of “crackpots,” “conspiracists,” and the like, while the alternative media have often been credulous and sensationalistic. To my mind, neither side, taken on its own, has any great credibility.

Personally I have no experience of UFO sightings or alien encounters. This does not strike me as a huge misfortune, since most of these encounters have been rather unpleasant for the contactees.

From publicly available evidence, all I can conclude is that there is something to the UFO phenomenon — something, that is, beyond misidentified weather balloons and the ravings of schizophrenics. I don’t know what the truth is, and I strongly doubt that the truth — if it is known to anyone, individually or collectively — has been disclosed in anything but the most piecemeal fashion.

In any case, many prominent figures besides Medvedev have said they have some knowledge of UFOs. Here are some remarks by Wilfried de Brouwer, a major general in the Belgian Air Force who had been assigned to investigate a number of widely reported UFO sightings over Belgium in 1989–90:

“The truth is that the Air Force could not determine the origin of the objects witnessed by thousands of people. It is not easy to admit that the authorities in charge of air defense and airspace management are not capable of finding an acceptable explanation, but, in my opinion, this is better than issuing false explanations. The Belgian government was honest and acknowledged publicly that it could not explain the many sightings” (Kean, 39–40).

Parviz Jafari, a retired general in the Iranian Air Force, also went on the record about a UFO encounter. On September 18, 1976, he recounts, “citizens were frightened by the circling of an unknown object over Tehran at a low altitude,” described as “a bright object flashing colored lights, and changing positions at about 6,000 feet up. It also appeared to be changing shapes.”

Jafari, a squadron commander at the time, was ordered to go up in a plane to approach the object. It was “flashing with intense red, green, orange, and blue lights so bright that I was not able to see its body.” Jafari attempted to fire a missile at it, but his equipment would not work. The same happened when his plane was approached by a smaller, round object. In the end, he came back down.

The Iranians discussed this matter with the Americans (in 1976 Iran and America were still allies), and, says Jafari, “the U.S. government took this information very seriously.” A detailed report for the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency was later made public under the Freedom of Information Act. (Jafari’s account is published in Kean, 86–92.)

Or perhaps you’d prefer testimony from France. Jean-Jacques Velasco was in charge of the French government’s UFO agency (didn’t you know they had one?) from 1983 to 2004. His verdict: “It is possible to show, using data from established cases officially listed throughout the world, that UFOs — material objects — exist and are distinct from any ordinary phenomena. These cases are few, but their extraordinary characteristics and physical effects demonstrate this fact without ambiguity. On the basis of well-established cases, the existence of UFOs is without question” (Kean, 128–29).

Another case: Sergeant James Penniston of the U.S. Air Force, who approached a UFO that had landed near an American Air Force base in England in 1980. (He was on duty at the time.) In fact he touched the craft. “It was warm to the touch,” he said. “The surface was smooth, like glass, but it had the quality of metal, and I felt a constant low voltage running through my hand and moving to my mid-forearm” (Kean, 180–81).

It is getting very difficult to say that there is no evidence for the existence of UFOs, or even that the matter requires further investigation (a frequent cop-out). Of course it does require further investigation, but to find out what they are rather than whether they exist.

There are also the abductees. Alien abduction first entered mainstream consciousness in 1987, when Whitley Strieber published his best-selling first-person account of abduction entitled Communion. Strieber’s book, in which he faces constant intrusions into his bedroom, among other things, is one of the most disturbing I’ve ever read — far more so than any horror movie, because you know the horror story is fictional whereas you at least have to consider the possibility that Strieber’s story is true.

But perhaps the most persuasive discussion of alien abductions appears in Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens (New York: Scribners, 1994) a book by John Mack, M.D. Mack was a professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School, which is, I would imagine, just about as far into the medical establishment as you can get. He became interested in the abduction phenomenon after a 1989 conversation with famed UFO investigator Budd Hopkins. Hopkins told him about sessions of hypnotic regression with any number of people who, they believed, had been abducted.

Mack was struck by the fact that, among other things, the abductees’ reports showed remarkable similarities even though “these individuals were from many parts of the country and had not communicated with each other.”

Moreover, “psychological testing of abductees has not revealed evidence of mental or emotional disturbance that could account for their reported experiences.” (Mack, 15) Mack soon concluded: “I was dealing with a phenomenon that I felt could not be explained psychiatrically, but was simply not possible within the framework of the Western scientific worldview” (Mack, 18; his emphasis).

Mack decided to conduct his own hypnotic regressions. His book Abduction contains detailed accounts of thirteen of these. Their stories are not identical, but they are similar enough that in the end reading them starts to become somewhat boring: I felt as if I were hearing the same story over and over again, with only minor modifications. The stories are, it’s true, arranged so that the most negative and traumatic come first, while the later ones involve more positive feelings toward the aliens, even, in some cases, a belief that the abductee is somehow one of them.

Another strange revelation appears in The Day after Roswell (New York: Pocket Books, 1997) by retired Col. Philip J. Corso. Corso had been a well-connected figure in the military-industrial complex, serving, among other things, on the National Security Council under President Eisenhower, and most significantly for our purposes, chief of the Pentagon’s foreign technology desk in Army Research and Development in 1961.

Corso’s job was to monitor technologies that were being developed by foreign powers and to see if these could be adopted by the U.S. military. At one point he was given a cabinet containing files on the famed Roswell UFO crash of 1947, which also had bits of debris from the crashed vehicle. He showed some of these bits to military contractors and asked if they showed any possibilities for development. He did not say that they had come from Roswell; he said things like “This is something we think the French are working on.”

In this way, Corso claimed, rubbish from the crashed UFO in Roswell led to the development of such things as the laser, computer chips, and Kevlar.

Corso’s claims are astounding. Even if only a very small number of them are true, they completely reverse what we normally believe about the world — including geopolitics. He contends that the enormous nuclear arsenal developed by both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were not primarily directed at each other. Rather they were developed for possible use against an alien invasion (even though, as in the Cuban missile crisis, the superpowers did try to use them to gain advantages through brinksmanhip). Ronald Reagan promoted his famed Strategic Defense Initiative in the early 1980s for the same reason.

Some have attempted to debunk Corso’s account. I come across one, “The Day after Roswell: A Hoax?” by Brad Sparks (link at left). The arguments are based on facts that Sparks can, or claims he can, check, and he finds many of Corso’s details wrong.

Conceivably this is the case. But Sparks’s claims have to do with peripheral details (e.g., CIA operative Frank Wisner apparently committed suicide with his son’s shotgun, not by hanging himself, as Corso claims). They don’t actually touch the central narrative.

The Day after Roswell made a 2001 Guardian list of “top ten literary hoaxes” (link at left). But curiously, the only piece of evidence cited by this article is the fact that South Carolina senator Strom Thurmond wrote a foreword for the book and later withdrew it. No doubt Thurmond thought he was writing (or rather having an aide write: it is hard to imagine that he read the book itself) the typical foreword for the typical military memoir and reneged when he found out it was about UFOs. But this backtracking by one of the most benighted and reactionary American politicians of the twentieth century does not, to my mind, greatly impair Corso’s credibility.

In any case, The Day after Roswell fits badly on the list of literary hoaxes, most of which, such as Clifford Irving’s notorious biography of Howard Hughes, were written either for gain or self-aggrandizement or both.

Corso’s book, by contrast, is a memoir by a retired army intelligence officer in his eighties who was, as he must have known, close to death. (He died in 1998, a year after the book appeared.)

Maybe there is a bit of self-aggrandizement in some of Corso’s claims. But somehow I find it hard to dismiss his account entirely.

One could go on, but the conclusion is clear. A lot of evidence from a lot of different sources — a good number of them highly placed — suggests that there is more to the UFO phenomenon than the debunkers would allow us to believe.

You may be expecting me to come in at this point with a sententious call for the release of all UFO information held by the U.S. government, as John Podesta has. I won’t do this. In the first place, I have no idea of what this information might consist of. In the second place, it’s likely that it would unhinge some part of the populace. And unfortunately the news suggests that we’re already dealing with quite a few unhinged people as it is.

So, at least for the private citizen, I think the only thing to do is sit back and watch the UFO story unfold as it will.

Because if you don't know the whole story, you don't know how you'll react to the whole story.

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