There was a big subculture buzz in Washington, D.C., a year ago this week when a group called the Disclosure Project launched a bid to end government secrecy surrounding unidentified flying objects. The goal: Open congressional hearings. The hook was to invite 20 witnesses, some bolstered with government documents, with testimony so compelling the media couldn’t possibly freeze it out.
No doubt, some of the panelists who showed up at the National Press Club offered detailed glimpses into the national-security ramifications of the phenomenon. Retired Air Force Capt. Bob Salas, for instance, revealed how UFOs had knocked 10 Minuteman nukes off-line at their Strategic Air Command silos in Montana in 1967. Former Federal Aviation Administration chief of Accidents and Investigations John Callahan showcased photocopies of incident reports seized by the CIA concerning a half-hour jetliner/UFO encounter off Alaska in 1986.
The ensuing failure of the national media to respond came as no surprise to a couple of journalists who’ve spent years monitoring these dynamics. What most Americans fail to understand, contend Terry Hansen and Patrick Huyghe, is that when it comes to national security issues, the facade of big-media outfits as combative public watchdogs has always been fragile. Throw UFOs into the mix and that facade becomes a myth.
From the World War II-era recruitment of Scripps-Howard executive editor John Sorrels and publishing magnate John Knight by the U.S. Office of Censorship to The New York Times’ quashing its own field reports about the 1954 CIA coup in Guatemala, Hansen’s The Missing Times: News Media Complicity in the UFO Cover-up chronicles repeated patterns of sometimes avid collusion with conventional covert operations. That such duplicity should extend to UFOs shouldn’t be terribly surprising, and yet, it is.
Take, for instance, a correspondence discovered at the Smithsonian Institution in 1997 between former members of the CIA-sponsored Robertson Panel. Formed in 1953 to marginalize UFOs after a vexing volume of reports began receiving media attention, the panel recommended smearing witnesses as a way to stanch the flow.
In 1966, shortly after a “CBS Reports” investigation on UFOs portrayed witnesses as delusional or unreliable, Robertson panelist Thorton Page wrote former group secretary Fred Durant that he “helped organize the CBS TV show around the Robertson Panel conclusions.” The host of that show: Walter Cronkite, aka The Most Trusted Man In America.
From his home in Bainbridge Island, Wash., Hansen says formulaic thinking still permeates the old-guard media. “Th(e Disclosure Project) was a remarkable story, with men at a high level breaking their security oaths,” Hansen says. “Local and regional media around the country treated it as a straightforward item, but the national networks, PBS, they virtually ignored it.
“This story could be covered right now. ’60 Minutes’ could blow the lid off it by interviewing retired airline pilots who aren’t afraid to talk about incidents and near-misses. But the major media is waiting for the green light from the White House or the Pentagon.”
However, Patrick Huyghe, author of The Swamp Gas Times: My Two Decades on the UFO Beat, says news-gatherers may eventually have to confront the phenomenon, whether they want to or not. He cites the July 15 UFO reports near Carteret, N.J., as a potential scenario.
Shortly after midnight, FAA radar at nearby Newark International Airport began tracking more than a dozen airborne lights that appeared to fly in shifting formations. Motorists on the New Jersey Turnpike pulled over to watch the air show; more than 100 witnesses were identified. A Freedom of Information Act request by the National Institute for Discovery Science in Las Vegas discovered none of the objects on the radar scopes had transponders.
“Now, imagine if something like that had happened over a major metropolitan area two months later, after 9/11, when we were all on a heightened state of alert,” says Huyghe from his home in New York. “At least during the Cold War, the Soviets never struck us on American soil. The terrorists have demonstrated their capacity to do just that. When we have another Carteret-type incident, can the media afford to throw it off and say, ‘Oh, it’s just UFOs’? I don’t think so.”
Even in that event, Hansen suspects the security apparatus would remain intractable:
“It may just come down to the fact that they don’t know what’s going on, that maybe this is happening and they can’t do anything about it. But that’s an unacceptable public position when you’re trying to project an image of being in control. We found out on Sept. 11 they’re not.”