UFOs And Capitalism -
A Classic Case Of Chicken
& Egg, Fact & Fiction
TOP SECRET: Science Fiction
By John Vincent Sanders
UFO researcher and author John Keel's column in the November, 1998 issue of FATE magazine dealt in part with the increasingly lucrative "business" of UFOs (movies, television shows, books, videos, etc.) As interesting as that article was, I was even more intrigued by the sidebar that accompanied it. Although it was un-attributed, an Associate Editor at FATE told me privately that columnists there frequently write the sidebars accompanying their articles. This one offered a rather provocative statement, "Movies have had a huge influence on UFO lore. Often the plots of old sci-fi movies from the 1950s have been adapted by UFO buffs 20 or 30 years later."
As a lifelong fan of both science fiction and the UFO phenomenon, I was not particularly shocked by that charge. For many, the relationship between ufology and science fiction has always contained an element of the "chicken-or-the-egg" conundrum. In his 1991 book "Watch The Skies!" aviation historian and UFO skeptic Curtis Peebles made his own position clear in the book's sub-title: "A Chronicle Of The UFO Myth." A very good argument can - and has - been made to support the proposition that the UFO phenomenon represents a latter-day expression of humanity's propensity for myth-making. I tend to agree with the idea that in the centuries prior to organized science, mythologization was the only way for the human mind to apprehend those aspects of the universe which denied easy explanation.
Ever since Kenneth Arnold's historic UFO sighting of June 24, 1947, ufology has become entrenched within the popular consciousness and culture. Over the course of the last fifty-two years, this great body of knowledge has been revisited, reinterpreted and expanded upon countless times. Considering the fact that the very idea of UFOs is an intriguing one, the creators and purveyors of popular fiction have addressed it repeatedly in search of new ways and means of self-expression and mass-entertainment. One consequence of all this has been an increasing difficulty on the part of individuals to perceive the dividing line between palpable "fiction" and ostensible "fact."
How much of a connection is there between science fiction and ufology? One way to find out may be to explore the ways in which the two have been linked during the second half of the 20th century. Our first stop on this journey will be the medium of Television; specifically, three highly regarded science fiction T.V. programs of the 1960s. 5. The legendary series "The Twilight Zone" featured an interesting episode titled "The Odyssey of Flight 33," which dealt with the eerie fate of a New York-bound jetliner. While over the Atlantic, the aircraft enters a mysterious, glowing cloud. Immediately, the plane's instruments malfunction and the doomed aircraft begins a one-way trip back in time. Upon reaching New York, the crew and passengers are horrified to see below them not the thriving metropolis, but a sprawling swampland teeming with dinosaurs. The story-line here seems to be a composite of various strange incidents involving aircraft that were alleged to have occurred in the "Bermuda Triangle" and elsewhere. One such real-life incident comes easily to mind: the mysterious loss of "Flight 19" in December of 1945. The disappearance without trace of five U.S. Navy torpedo-bombers - and the large seaplane sent in search of them - remains as perhaps the great unsolved mystery of "The Triangle."
"Star Trek" fans will remember the original-series episode "Tomorrow is Yesterday." Here, the starship "Enterprise" is accidentally catapulted back in time to the mid-1960s. In the opening sequence, a U.S. Air Force jet is sent to intercept a UFO over the American Midwest: which turns out to be the "Enterprise." Fearful of the plane's air-to-air missiles, "Captain Kirk" orders that an energy-beam be used to hold the plane off until the starship can climb back into outer space. However, the plane proves too flimsy to withstand the beam's energy and starts to break apart. As its pilot is "beamed" aboard the "Enterprise" the plane's wreckage crashes to earth. UFO savants will easily recognize in this episode the tragic "Mantell Incident" of 1947. On January 7th of that year, U.S. Air Force pilot Captain Thomas Mantell died when his F-51 fighter plane crashed after chasing a UFO over the state of Kentucky. UFO debunkers maintain that the accident was caused by a non-functioning oxygen mask, while ufologists cite the hundreds of mysterious small holes allegedly found in the wreckage of Mantell's plane.
"The Outer Limits" was the third sci-fi television program of the 1960s to deal intelligently with the idea of UFOs and extra-terrestrials. In his book "Hollywood Versus The Aliens," author Bruce Rux noted that the Executive Producer of "The Outer Limits" was a former U.S. Intelligence Officer named Leslie Stevens. Rux has also wondered if Mr. Stevens' experience within the American intelligence community might have allowed him access to tightly held information about UFOs and their alien occupants.
Here we have intriguing evidence that ufology has had a profound influence on science fiction. In the case of the "Twilight Zone" and "Star Trek" episodes, it should be noted that the episodes themselves were written,produced and broadcast in the 1960s; while the incidents they were based on occurred in the 1940s. In the case of "Outer Limits" participant Leslie Stevens, he had left government service by 1960. At least publicly.
The manner in which science fiction material is sometimes presented may explain some of the difficulty people have in differentiating "fact" from "fiction." This point can be illustrated by referring to a best-selling science fiction novel of the late 1960s.
"The Andromeda Strain" by Michael Crichton was published in 1969 and dealt with a "fictitious" U.S. satellite program to harvest micro-organisms in near-earth orbit for use in biological warfare experiments. In chapter one, two military men sent to retrieve one of these satellites enter the fictitious town of "Piedmont." To their horror, they soon discover that all of the inhabitants appear to be dead. Soon thereafter, they themselves die mysteriously. The rest of the book deals with the life-or-death efforts of a small team of scientists. Toiling in a secret, underground government laboratory, they race against time to destroy the alien germ before it can eradicate all life on Earth.
"The Andromeda Strain" was a seminal work on more than one level. It introduced the world to such emerging technologies as fiber-optics and computerized medical, biological and genetic research. It also focused public-awareness on the unsettling reality of "Black Ops": highly classified government projects conducted at Top Secret locations; many of which are situated in the most remote and inaccessible parts of the United States. In many ways, this book was a product of the anti-Vietnam War/anti-Establishment mood of the 1960s. Prior to that decade, most people were unaware of the hidden machinations of the "Military-Industrial Complex" and very few suspected that vast, secret and hugely expensive research programs were being developed.
Michael Crichton presented "The Andromeda Strain" - a novel - in a manner that would tempt readers to believe that it was actually a work of non-fiction. The text is full of authentic-looking "documents" and official-sounding terminology. He also makes repeated references to real people, places and things; and the careers and accomplishments of his scientist-heroes are skillfully interwoven with those of real-life researchers. He even goes so far as to include a bibliography at the end of the book where actual scientific papers and publications are listed; along with those of his fictional characters. Thirty-years after its publication, there are still those who believe that Crichton did indeed have access to Top Secret information - and that the story behind "The Andromeda Strain" was a true one.
In 1971, a movie-version of "The Andromeda Strain" was released in theaters. Critics and movie-goers alike applauded it; not only for its efforts to pierce the veil of government secrecy, but also for the fact that it was an informative, suspenseful and entertaining film. Turning a best-selling novel into a successful motion picture usually requires a considerable amount of cinematic license. The story-line of a book is usually too lengthy and complex; and in order to craft a workable screenplay, elements within the text are often condensed or deleted. In the case of "The Andromeda Strain" however, two subtle changes were made which bear close scrutiny.
In the book-version, author Michael Crichton placed the fictitious town of "Piedmont" in the state of Arizona. However, Producer/Director Robert Wise and Screenwriter Nelson Gidding chose to place the doomed town in New Mexico. In one of the movie's opening scenes, the two men searching for the deadly satellite consult a map - which gives the location of "Piedmont" as the northwest corner of New Mexico. Why might this be significant? To address that question, we must turn briefly to the late ufologist and conspiracy researcher Phillip Schneider.
Mr. Schneider told an amazing - and horrifying - story during his lecture at the 1995 Global Sciences Conference in Denver, Colorado. Schneider claimed to have been a structural engineer in the employ of a construction company in 1979 that had just won a government contract. The contract called for work to expand an existing underground military installation. During the course of the excavation, workers accidentally discovered a large, seemingly man-made cavern near the underground base. To their surprise, they found that it was occupied by small, alien beings which ufologists refer to as "Grays." To their horror, the Grays attacked them using some form of high-energy weapon. Mr. Schneider said that he had been struck and almost killed by a blast from this weapon. Although U.S. military personnel were able to kill a few of the creatures, only three people survived the attack which claimed almost seventy human lives.
One of those in attendance at that Global Sciences Conference was Robert C. Warth, President of S.I.T.U., (Society for the Investigation of The Unexplained.) According to Mr. Warth, Schneider opened his shirt during a question and answer period after his lecture to reveal a large scar on his chest and abdomen: evidence, he claimed, of his near-fatal "Close Encounter."
What possible link could there be between the shocking story of Phil Schneider and the motion-picture "The Andromeda Strain?" Well, the secret installation where the violent, human-alien encounter occurred is, according to Schneider and others, located somewhere beneath the desert near the town of Dulce - IN THE NORTHWEST CORNER OF NEW MEXICO AND VERY CLOSE TO THE LOCATION OF THE FICTITIOUS TOWN OF PIEDMONT, AS DEPICTED IN THE MOVIE-VERSION OF "THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN."
Even more shocking are accusations by Schneider and others that the alien presence outside Dulce is actually the result of a treaty between the U.S. government and the Grays. In exchange for access to alien technology, the U.S. government allegedly allows the Grays to abduct, implant and experiment upon U.S. citizens; as well as allowing the aliens the right to harvest biological compounds through animal mutilation. Unfortunately, the voice of Phillip Schneider has been silenced: he died, under what some believe to be questionable circumstances, on January 17, 1996.
The other curious change made in the movie-version of "The Andromeda Strain" was the relocation of the secret, underground government lab where the scientists waged battle against the deadly germ. In his book, Michael Crichton chose to locate this facility - which he called "Project Wildfire" - in the northwest corner of Nevada. In the movie, it is located in the desert south of Las Vegas. A meaningless detail? Perhaps, but remember that Area 51 - the U.S. Air Force's test-site for exotic aircraft, (and the place where many believe the U.S. government stores and tests captured UFOs), is also relatively close to Las Vegas. Area 51 was still a relatively obscure place in 1971 and had yet to achieve the notoriety it enjoys today. In fact, "Hangar 18," the first major motion-picture to address the question of Area 51 as a storage facility for captured UFOs and aliens, would not appear in theaters until 1980.
Were Robert Wise and Nelson Gidding alone responsible for the curious changes made to "The Andromeda Strain" story: or were they acting upon outside "advice?" Although the true extent of Hollywood's inside knowledge concerning UFOs is a subject for debate, it is not likely that definitive answers are forthcoming. However, another possible link to "The Andromeda Strain" might be found in recently revealed "Majestic-12" (MJ-12) documents acquired by researcher Tim Cooper, Dr. Robert Wood and his son Ryan.
The Woods appeared on the December 7, 1998 broadcast of the nationally syndicated radio talk-show "Coast To Coast A.M. with Art Bell" to announce the existence of the compelling papers. The term "Majestic-12" refers to a Top Secret presidential commission purportedly founded by U.S. President Harry Truman in 1947. The group included a number of high-ranking government officials; including then Secretary of Defense James Forrestal, (who would commit suicide under mysterious circumstances in 1948), and presidential science advisor Vannevar Bush. Their mission: to evaluate - among other things - reports of crashed UFOs and aliens near Roswell, New Mexico in July of 1947: the now-famous "Roswell Incident." The first examples of so-called MJ-12 documents came to light in 1984, and others surfaced ten-years later.
Contained within the documents obtained by the Woods are startling reports that certain individuals who handled the corpses of dead aliens succumbed to a frightening disease. Reportedly, at least four persons died of seizures and massive bleeding as a result of physical contact with aliens. Although the exact cause of death is not reported in these new documents, it was suspected at the time that some micro-organism of extra-terrestrial origin was involved: perhaps a real-life version of "The Andromeda Strain."
These newly revealed MJ-12 documents also suggest a possible link to another science fiction movie: one of the classics of the 1950s.
"Earth Versus The Flying Saucers" was released by Columbia Pictures in 1956 during the height of the "Flying Saucer Craze." It was produced by Charles H. Schneer, who would go on to create such memorable fantasy films as "Mysterious Island," "Jason and The Argonauts" and "Clash of The Titans." The special-effects were created by the legendary master of that art: Ray Harryhausen. "Earth Versus The Flying Saucers" was meant to be a fast-paced sci-fi thriller that was also rooted firmly in the UFO headlines of its day. The screenplay was "suggested" by the book "Flying Saucers From Outer Space" by Major Donald E. Kehoe.
The film opens with an alien attack on an American rocket launching base somewhere in the deserts of the Southwest. Later, the aliens "abduct" two humans in order to gain information. The climax of the movie is a dramatic and action-filled attack on Washington, D.C. by giant saucers. Fortunately, a heroic scientist is able to develop an ultrasonic weapon in the nick of time, and the aliens are defeated.
The Flying Saucer assault on Washington may have been inspired by an actual UFO event that occurred over the U.S. capitol. During the night of July 26-27, 1952, three different radar sites surrounding Washington picked-up unidentified, high-speed objects. Jet interceptors were dispatched from nearby air bases in an attempt to identify the UFOs: those attempts failed. The incident made national headlines, and according to historian and UFO skeptic Curtis Peebles, it resulted in the largest press conference since World War Two. The conference was convened on the afternoon of July 29, 1952 by Major General John Samford, Director of Air Force Intelligence. Samford stated the Air Force's belief that the "UFOs" were merely false radar images resulting from a "temperature inversion" over the Washington, D.C. area during the night in question.
The alien attack on the desert launching site in "Earth Versus The Flying Saucers" could have been based on reports Major Keyhoe had received concerning multiple UFO sightings near the "White Sands Proving Ground" in New Mexico: the place where much of America's early rocket experimentation took place. According to the newly discovered MJ-12 documents, however, UFOs did more than just fly around over the New Mexico desert. One document indicates that U.S. test-launches of captured German V-2 rockets were actually interfered with by UFOs. One particularly stunning memo was addressed to a Lieutenant-General Nathan Twining. The memo, dated 8 July 1947, ordered the general to proceed to White Sands and evaluate reports of a captured UFO. The tone of the memo also suggests that the White Sands facility was in something close to an uproar; with allegations that a Military Policeman had committed suicide. The full-story surrounding these new MJ-12 documents will be found in the upcoming book "The Secret: Evidence That We Are Not Alone" by Robert and Ryan Wood.
One of the most well-regarded science fiction movies of the 1950s was the film "This Island Earth." Although I have seen it at least a dozen times, it is the sort of motion picture that can offer new revelations with every viewing. I have identified four different elements within it that are also part of contemporary ufology:
1. Humans abducted by aliens, (a la Budd Hopkins and Dr. John Mack.)
2. A flying saucer parked in a concealed hangar dug into the side of a hill, (alleged to be a reality at Area 51.)
3. Secret alien bases at various places on Earth, (the Dulce, New Mexico underground alien base, UFO bases alleged to be beneath the ice of Antarctica, and underwater bases off the coast of Puerto Rico.)
4. Alien technology being covertly introduced into a commercial research laboratory in the United States, (the late Col. Corso's allegations that technology from crashed UFOs at Roswell, New Mexico was secretly transferred to Bell Labs by the U.S. government.)
During my most recent viewing of "This Island Earth," I was stunned to realize that the design of the small "Zagon" spaceships, (seen only briefly in the film), was almost identical to that of the Lockheed-Martin F-117A stealth fighter. The resemblance is truly uncanny - and also a bit eerie! The final-design of the stealth fighter would not achieved until more than twenty-years after the movie's release.
Is modern-day science fiction the stepchild of ufology, or vice-versa? Regrettably, that question may never be answered. The evidence presented here could be interpreted to support either position. Some have speculated that the genre of science fiction is being used to channel truths too controversial to be represented as such publicly. Others suspect that ufology itself is frequently tainted by deliberate disinformation; skillfully planted to create confusion and foster doubt as to the reality of UFOs and other things. Perhaps all we can do is heed the advice offered at the conclusion of that memorable sci-fi flick of the 1950s - "The Thing": "Watch The Skies! Keep Looking! Keep Watching The Skies!"


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