- The UFO controversy is full of strange stories, but this
may be the strangest yet.
- "[XXXX] REPORT SIGHTING OF UNIDENTIFIED FLYING OBJECT.
AN UNIDENTIFIED FLYING OBJECT WAS SIGHTED BY [XXXX] BETWEEN THE [XXXX]
OF [XXXX] AND [XXXX]." "THE OBJECT WAS DESCRIBED AS HAVING A
SEMI-CIRCLE SHAPE AND LOOKED LIKE AN ARC IN THE SKY. THIS OBJECT WAS ALSO
NOTED AS BEING WHITE AND VERY LARGE." "IT WAS SEEN FOR A PERIOD
OF ABOUT TEN MINUTES AND IT SEEMED TO JUST HANG IN THE SKY FOR A FEW MINUTES
BEFORE MOVING ON IN A WESTERLY DIRECTION. [XXXX]"
- -- typical example of the NSA documents. [XXXX] indicates
- Few people are aware that a few years ago, Philip Klass,
the lone-gun UFO skeptic despised by believers as "the enemy,"
managed to do something that the most devoted researchers had attempted
for years without success -- getting the super-secret National Security
Agency (NSA) to release portions of its long-withheld UFO documents.
- The surprise move by Klass could have backfired, but
instead has turned into a remarkable coup.
- The heart of the matter
- For the past two decades, the Holy Grail of those who
believe the government is staging a massive cover-up of UFO evidence has
been the 156 UFO-related documents that the NSA has refused since 1979
to release in any shape or form.
- Even the court battle to get those documents released
under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in the early 1980s served only
to stoke the fires of conspiracy.
- When UFO researchers managed to get hold of the 21-page
affidavit that NSA had presented to the court to justify its actions, the
affidavit came back heavily blacked-out and censored. But it made a good
prop for the TV cameras and seemed like pretty tangible proof to back-up
the claim of some believers that the government was indeed hiding what
it knew about UFOs.
- Enter the unflappable Philip Klass.
- In October of 1996, Klass wrote a letter to the director
of the NSA, Lt. Gen. Kenneth Minihan, in effect tugging at the top-secret
curtain that hides the NSA's UFO documents from public view.
- Klass, as contributing editor for Aviation Week and Space
Technology, had interviewed Minihan on the subject of electronic warfare
two years previously, when Minihan was director of the Defense Intelligence
Agency. Just two weeks before sending out the letter, Klass had heard Minihan,
now director of the NSA, give a talk at a conference of the Association
of Old Crows.
- How to get results
- In his letter, Klass explained to Minihan that his hobby
for the last 30 years had been to debunk claims that UFOs are alien spacecraft
visiting Earth and that the government was engaged in a massive UFO cover-up.
- After this and other preliminary remarks, Klass sprung
his request on Minihan. Now that the face of world politics had so changed,
might the NSA reconsider declassifying at least some of its UFO-related
- Releasing this material, most of which are COMINT, or
communications intelligence, reports dating from 1958 to 1979, would help
"expose the absurdity of claims that these documents prove a government
UFO cover-up," Klass wrote.
- Declassified delivery
- A couple of months rolled by and then in January of 1997
the mailman arrived at Klass's door with "a gigantic package from
- And there they were, the never-publicly-seen 156 NSA
documents, as well as a heavily declassified version of the 21-page NSA
- What the documents and affidavit reveal, Klass says,
is that NSA's earlier refusal to release the documents was aimed squarely
at keeping secret the agency's eavesdropping on Soviet air defense radar
- In fact, the 156 NSA UFO documents are still heavily
censored to hide the identity and locations of the Soviet radar sites whose
communications the NSA was able to intercept.
- But the "UFO content" of the documents is now
available for everyone to examine, though all places and dates remain censored.
- Perhaps the most startling of the documents indicates
the Soviets launched a number of interceptor aircraft to "attack"
a UFO. But the results of the attempted intercept with the slow moving
UFO are unknown as the next eight lines of the document are blacked out.
- Business as usual? Well, yes and no. The analyst did
note that the UFO was "probably a balloon." In fact, most of
the 156 NSA UFO documents report UFOs that are "probably balloons,"
according to comments in the documents themselves.
- Red balloons
- What's all this about balloons? Klass explains.
- "When NSA intercepted messages from Soviet radars
which reported tracking an 'Unidentifiable object' some NSA analysts translated
that into 'Unidentified Flying Object,' " he wrote in his Skeptics
UFO Newsletter (404 "N" St. SW, Washington, DC. 20024), which
originally broke the news of the declassified NSA UFO documents.
- "Because the Soviets used balloons carrying radar
reflectors to periodically check the performance of their air defense radars
and the alertness of their radar operators, a NSA translator analyst would
add 'Probably a balloon' where it seemed appropriate."
- But after UFO organizations began making FOIA requests
in the late 1970s, Klass believes that someone must have told the NSA translator/analysts
to stop using the term "UFO" for the balloon-borne targets. Apparently
NSA hasn't used the term since.
- What the NSA documents show, according to Klass, is not
a grand conspiracy to hide the fact that UFOs are alien spacecraft, but
that the Soviets had "deployed height-finder-type radars capable of
tracking targets up to altitudes of nearly 80,000 ft."
- Yes, Klass admits, there are about a dozen "true"
UFO reports in the bunch.
- These contain summaries of visual UFO sightings and apparently
come from Soviet facilities other than radar installations whose communications
the NSA had managed to intercept.
- Investigator reactions mixed
- The report is, at best, interesting. But there is certainly
nothing here to suggest an alien spacecraft and now that this and other
similar NSA UFO documents are out in the open, no evidence of a government
- Peter Gersten, the attorney who filed the original UFO
FOIA suit against NSA, seemed nonplussed by the release.
- "There is nothing in the NSA documents that either
confirm or deny the reality of an extraterrestrial presence," says
Gersten. "The documents relate exclusively to NSA operations."
- And Stan Friedman, the nuclear physicist and UFO investigator
who often used the blacked-out NSA court documents in his public talks,
is still not happy with the situation.
- "There is no question that the NSA is still withholding
UFO information preceding 1980," he notes on his website.
- But there is no question that Phil Klass has scored big
here. He has shown that the believers' "smoking gun" lacked fire
of any kind. It barely even packed a squirt.
- What do you think? Send comments to the <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.