Sunday, November 23, 2014

American University Visits UFO Fantasyland

On the evening of November 12, 2014, a three-hour mini UFO symposium was held at American University in Washington, DC, featuring some of today's best-known "serious" UFOlogists. Many UFO proponents had great hopes that this event might result in "a crack in the wall" (journalist and UFO blogger Billy Cox' term) of supposed UFO suppression, and open the floodgates to allow "scientific" UFO studies everywhere. Cox writes,
[American University] international relations professor Patrick Jackson, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education at the School of International Service... has volunteered to sub for PBS science reporter Miles O’Brien (scheduling conflict) and moderate AU’s three-hour panel discussion “UFOs: Encounters by Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials.” This is a free public event extending from an honors colloquium taught by cinema professor John Weiskopf. The lineup includes USAF veteran Charles Halt (the Bentwaters incident), retired NASA scientist Richard Haines (National Aviation Reporting Center on Anomalous Phenomena founder), Roswell investigator Thomas Carey, and New York Times bestselling author Leslie Kean... “How often does an honors class take a serious look at UFOs? John Weiskopf is to be commended for making this happen,” states Kean. “American University is breaking ground here which could help encourage other universities to do the same. Many people and departments at AU are rallying around this event and they all take the subject seriously. I hope this will pave the way for the academic community to become more objective and rational about this subject.”
I wasn't there and there's no video to watch, so I must rely on the accounts of others, especially a report by Michelle Basch on the website of WTOP, the all-news radio station in Washington, DC:  "UFO experts say 'we are not alone.'  To judge from this, it looks like the presenters forgot that part about appearing "scientific," and spun a lot of wild tales.

Best-known of the speakers was Leslie Kean, author of the 2010 book, UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record. For those not familiar with the UFO literature, her book is superficially convincing, mainly because of what it ignores: all facts that go against her tidy little picture. To get an idea of what she left out, see my book review, "‘Unexplained’ Cases—Only If You Ignore All Explanations."

 Leslie Kean promoting the Costa Rica UFO photo of 1971 at AU. Credit: Michelle Basch, WTOP

In the photo above we see Kean presenting one of her "best" cases to the American University audience: the well-known Lago de Cote UFO photo from Costa Rica in 1971. Taken from a government mapping aircraft, the photo was analyzed by Dr. Richard Haines (who was on the panel) and Jacques Vallee, who wrote,
our analyses have suggested that an unidentified, opaque, aerial object was captured on film at a maximum distance of 10,000 feet. There are no visible means of lift or propulsion and no surface markings other than dark regions that appear to be nonrandom... There is no indication that the image is the product of a double exposure or a deliberate fabrication.
Costa Rica UFO, 1971
The problem with this UFO is that nobody saw it, it simply turned up on the film. The veteran UFOlogist and "psychic" Ray Stanford recently suggested that the object is a flashlight, and was "superimposed" on the film. He does not suggest how this was done, by whom, or why. Stanford has written and said a lot of weird things over the years, so until he provides a more convincing argument for this I'm not taking it too seriously. However, Bryan Bonner and Matt Baxter of the Rocky Mountain Paranormal Society have analyzed the photo, noting that
While the report [of Haines and Vallee] did look into the possibility of some type of debris on the film or its film plane back-plate was discussed and disregarded, they never looked at the camera itself.

The camera system has a very unique optic system that looks very similar to the object in the photograph.

Because there were no eyewitness reports from the ground or the members of the mapping team there is not much of a chance of this being an object of approximately 683 feet in size or even something that was an actual object of any size flying in the air beneath the plane.

The problem that report had with the object not creating a shadow is easily explainable if the image was created by the optics of the camera and not a physical object below the plane.

The object in the image appears to have been created by reflections of ambient light inside the optics of the camera system caused by a unique combination of the type of camera system, angle of the plane to the light, position of the sun and possibly the angle of the light coming from the surface of the water located beneath the plane.
In other words, this "UFO" is a lens flare, which I think is exactly right.

The "classic" UFO photo from Petit-Rechain, Belgium, "authenticated" by Haines and others, and published by Kean - now a confessed hoax

Another "classic" UFO photo which is in Kean's book, and was likewise "authenticated" by Haines and others, but not presented at American University, is the famous UFO photo from Petit-Rechain, Belgium. The man who took this photo, now identified as Patrick Marechal, admitted in July, 2011 that it was a hoax. He said that he has “managed to fool the whole world with a silly model made of styrofoam."

Also not mentioned by Kean at AU was her humiliating high-profile promotion in 2012 of a  "UFO" in a video of an air show in Chile that is obviously just a fly, under the triumphal banner, "Is this the case that UFO skeptics have been dreading?" Immediately Kean began taking heat about this, much of it from UFO proponents, who were astonished to see how trustingly Kean accepted assurances from Chilean "government officials" (and probably even some "pilots" and "generals") that the Fly UFO video had been studied and authenticated by experts. She traveled down to Chile, twice, to meet with "government officials" and get UFO information from them.

It has occurred to me that by oversight I did not report Kean's final statement on the Fly UFO Video on this Blog; here it is. In her Huffington Post article, "Two New Reports on the Chilean "UFO" Videos Produce Conflicting Results," Kean notes that UFO researcher Bruce Maccabee studied the video and concluded that the "UFOs" were indeed bugs. However, Richard Haines (again) proclaimed the objects to be genuinely unidentified. In the end, she concluded that the Fly UFO video was "something that science cannot determine." Science enables us to land a spacecraft on a fast-moving comet millions of miles away, but its methods apparently cannot distinguish a video of an extraordinary flying object from that of a fly.
A strange metallic flying object - Lucilia Sericata, the common  Green Bottle fly
Michelle Basche writes, 
The most riveting presentation of the night came from retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Charles Halt, one of the witnesses of a famous series of UFO sightings in England in 1980 known as the Rendlesham Forest incident.
Halt says he went into the forest to check out a report that a UFO had landed there. He saw three indentations in the ground that were spaced evenly, and a Geiger counter showed abnormally high levels of radiation in the area.

During this investigation, Halt says, he and several other military members saw a flying, oval-shaped object that glowed bright orange and red, and seemed to be dripping like molten metal.

"We're standing there in awe. I said, 'There's got to be an explanation. Ball lightning, or who knows what.' It starts to move. It moves towards us. It comes into the forest. It's moving through the trees horizontally, bobbing up and down as necessary to miss the trees. I'm thinking, ‘Oh boy. I wish I hadn't come out here. This is really getting beyond me.'"

He says they watched it for a few minutes, until something happened.

"Suddenly and silently, it explodes into five white objects like fireworks, and it's gone."
Again, this sounds impressive, until you compare what Halt is claiming now with what he initially said immediately following the incident, as the British skeptic Ian Ridpath has done. For example,
one of the starlike objects supposedly moved overhead and sent down a laser-like beam to their feet. Halt has told this astounding tale in many interviews, but this astonishing occurrence is missing from the [original] memo and tape. Instead, the memo and tape simply refer to the objects as being about 10 degrees off the horizon, nowhere near overhead.
In other words, Halt keeps making up stuff to make the story more exciting. Also, Ridpath shows that the "radioactivity" did not measure above the normal background levels, a fact that Col. Halt surely must know by now, but keeps telling as part of his story, anyway.

Which brings us to, The Roswell Slides!

I have not mentioned anything yet on this Blog concerning the controversy that began over a year ago concerning two supposedly newly-discovered slides from about 1947, allegedly showing Roswell aliens that were dissected or something. That's because few have even heard about these alleged Roswell Slides, and nobody has yet seen them, outside of a small circle calling itself the "Roswell Dream Team" (which some suggest is turning into a nightmare). How can you discuss or evaluate something you're not allowed to see? And if you suspect that the "Dream Team" is holding out on the slides for some big bucks media contract, well, then you must have a suspicious nature. And you'd be correct.
AU UFO panel member Tom Carey
Be that as it may, the longtime Roswell investigator and author Tom Carey was on the American University UFO Panel, and the cat is now definitely out of the bag. Michelle Basche wrote,
one of the speakers used the occasion to reveal evidence he called a "smoking gun."

"We have come into possession of a couple of Kodachrome color slides of an alien being lying in a glass case," author and researcher Thomas Carey told the near-capacity crowd in Abramson Recital Hall.

He's been researching the 1947 Roswell incident since 1991.

"What's interesting is, the film is dated 1947. We took it to the official historian of Kodak up in Rochester, New York, and he did his due diligence on it, and he said yes, this filmstrip, the slides are from 1947. It's 1947 stock. And from the emulsions on the image, it's not something that's been Photoshopped like today. It's original 1947 images, and it shows an alien who's been partially dissected lying in a case."

Carey says the being looked like what he thought an alien from the famous Roswell incident would look like.

"3 and a half to 4 feet tall, the head is almost insect-like. The head has been severed, and there's been a partial autopsy; the innards have been removed, and we believe the cadaver has been embalmed, at least at the time this picture was taken. The owners of the slide -- it's an amazing story. The woman was a high-powered Midland, Texas, lawyer with a pilot's license. We think she was involved in intelligence in World War II, and her husband was a field geologist for an oil company."

Carey says he plans to reveal the images early next year.
Obviously the Roswell Slides is rapidly turning into one of those periodic mega-controversies that tears UFOlogy asunder. Already, an obviously-agitated Billy Cox, replying to Carey, is demanding "now let's see them pix!", and he compares the matter to the now-infamous alien autopsy hoax of 1995.

The famous Alien Autopsy hoax.
Now the Roswell Slides are being reported in the tabloid Daily Mail in the UK, and from here it's off to the races. Unsourced but obviously based on the WTOP report, The Mail quotes Carey's sensational "smoking gun" claims made to the American University audience.

Gratuitous alien image accompanying the Daily Mail story on the Roswell Slides (from YouTube video "Grey Alien - Teil 2von2",
So, did the UFO seminar at American University succeed in creating a "crack in the wall" to allow 'UFO truths' to trickle out? The conference organizers had full control over the viewpoints presented - nobody was invited who might dissent from Leslie Kean's Party Line. After ten days, the result was exactly one (uncritical) news media report on the panel, and a few obscure Blog postings. Had there been anyone on the panel who might have presented a dissenting view, such as you find here, the panel's facade of  'objective scientific UFO research' could not have been maintained. And since it has now been widely noted that one of the panelists, Tom Carey, went full Monty into "smoking gun" UFO fantasyland, it's a safe bet that the people at American University will soon wish that they had never opened this Pandora's Box.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

FBI Releases its Files on Dr. James E. McDonald

Dr. James E. McDonald (1920-1971) was a noted atmospheric scientist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, but today is best known for his tireless advocacy of UFOs. More controversial than most UFO advocates, McDonald's methods were confrontational, and he did not get along well even with many who shared his beliefs about UFOs, like J. Allen Hynek and Jacques Vallee. McDonald came under intense scrutiny and criticism from arch UFO skeptic Philip J. Klass, who not only criticized inconsistencies in McDonald's statements, but accused him of mis-using funds from his government contracts to conduct his UFO research (which criticism turned out to be substantially correct). This has led to irresponsible suggestions that Klass virtually 'hounded' McDonald to his tragic suicide. As we will see below, McDonald's suicide didn't have anything to do with Klass, or UFOs.

Dr. James E. McDonald

Interestingly, we see the FBI expressing little interest, and no concern over McDonald's involvement with UFO claims. Remember, these FBI papers were secret at the time they were written, and nobody expected them to someday be released. If a government UFO coverup existed, we'd expect to find statements like "He's getting too close to learning our secrets, we must stop him."

However, we see that the FBI was concerned over McDonald's minimal contact with someone (whose name is redacted) known to have involvement with Soviet intelligence (see pages 6-9). They apparently concluded that it did not mean much, but were interested to check up, anyway. During the cold war, it was not at all unusual for Soviet "diplomats" or scientists in the U.S. to make contact with leading American scientists and engineers, to potentially learn as much as they can about the latest developments in U.S. science and technology. Philip J. Klass told me of being approached I believe twice by such individuals, and this is reflected in Klass' own FBI files.

In fact, it appears that McDonald's minimal contact with Soviet interests involved UFO research, via the UN! As we read on p. 26,
[redacted; obviously an FBI source at the U of A] said that he has no doubt whatsoever of the subject's loyalty to this country. He said he feels certain the subject's contact with the Soviet representative at the UN Secretariat in mid-1968 in connection with the subject's "UFO studies" was completely innocuous... At this point it does not appear that an interview of Professor MCDONALD would be productive and could possibly result in embarrassment to the Bureau.
In all likelihood, McDonald was simply asking the Soviets for any UFO information they might have, a perfectly innocent and reasonable query. The FBI seemed inclined to drop the matter, except for one concern. As we read on p. 10:
It appears that Professor MC DONALD's letter to [redacted1: probably the Soviet representative at the UN] (contents of which are not known) might have been in itself an innocuous, sincere contact on the part of Professor MC DONALD; however, in view of his background and [redacted2] long time leadership in "New Left" activities in the Tucson area, it is quite probable that Professor MC DONALD would be highly susceptible to an approach made by a Soviet intelligence, particularly concerning a research done in his field, of atmospheric physics.
I am just about certain that [redacted2] originally read "his wife's". About six months after McDonald's suicide, UFO author and researcher Jacques Vallee wrote in his diary, now published as Forbidden Science (Vol II, pp. 110-111):
Mike Jaffe reached Betsy McDonald in Tucson; they had coffee together and compared their life stories. The truth is that it wasn't because of his eyes that Jim McDonald had been put in the hospital. His first suicide attempt had left him blind, and there was nothing the doctors could do about it. Instead he was hospitalized for psychiatric treatment, to try and prevent a new phase of depression...
The note he left for Betsy said he was sorry he hadn't found her at home when he came to pick up the money. He left instructions to gather the rest of the cash and dispose of the gun. Jim killed himself out of frustration and love. His wife had gone headlong into politics. She belonged to a radical leftist group, not unlike the Venceremos at Stanford. They gave out weapons to Black revolutionaries. [emphasis added]
This was the height of the Vietnam War, and while most anti-war protests were peaceful and perfectly legal, at least some groups were bent on fomenting violence and revolution. And these groups were being watched very closely by the FBI.

Another obvious reference to Betsy McDonald is on p.31 of the FBI file:
In October 1968, [redacted: obviously Betsy McDonald] reportedly attended the SDS National Convention in Boulder, Colorado, and was overheard telling a group in Tucson upon her return that she favored violence, if necessary, to achieve the goals of the SDS.
Quoting a redacted source from the U of A, an FBI paper from May 26, 1969 states (p. 11):
he recently received information that Professor JAMES E. MC DONALD is "disenchanted" with [redacted1, probably "his wife's"] constant "New Left" activities and they plan to separate. He further said he has heard that [redacted2] This information has not been confirmed through other sources,
In all likelihood, "redacted2" refers to what I heard from J. Allen Hynek soon after McDonald's suicide - that McDonald's wife had been having an affair - and he took it extremely hard. This is more than two years before McDonald's suicide. Obviously, his marital difficulties had been brewing for some time.

On p. 23, the redactor slipped a bit, and left "Subject's wife" in the text:
Applicant-type investigation of subject in 1962, favorable re loyalty, character, and reputation. Subject's wife is active in Students for a Democratic Society and peace movement. Subject is disenchanted with [redacted: probably "his wife's"] "New Left" activities and separation planned.
Vallee's diary entry (referenced above) concluded:
Jim plunged into his research: UFOs, effects of supersonic transports on the atmosphere, the possible destruction of the ozone layer... He did it out of despair, with no humor, no ability to distance himself from what he was studying. Jim had even researched his own case very scientifically, as he did everything: He had gathered detailed statistics about suicide. 
Other papers hint at other problems the FBI had with McDonald (p. 44-63). Apparently he had signed a petition in 1961 of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (soon to be made notorious by one of its zealots, Lee Harvey Oswald),  protesting the U.S. "hostility" to Cuba, and calling for an end to the trade embargo (p. 67). McDonald was also involved with the ACLU, which the FBI apparently considered a subversive organization. Worse yet, he had been a public critic of the Air Force as far back as 1959, concerning its placement of ICBM sites near Tucson. He claimed this placed civilian populations in unnecessary danger in the event of war.

One thing that was not found in the McDonald FBI files: any reference whatsoever to Philip J. Klass.