Most FOIA Requests
Used To Crack The
UFO Cover-Up
By Michael Doyle - Nando Washington Bureau
Copyright ©1999 Scripps McClatchy Western Service
Copyright ©1999 Nando Media

WASHINGTON - Even though John Moss was a California politician of considerable foresight, the author of the Freedom of Information Act author never imagined the legislation who worked so hard on would be used so often to track UFOs.
A Sacramento Democrat, Moss spent 13 years getting FOIA through a hesitant Congress. It was, Moss said, essential to equip the American public with information so they could be responsible citizens.
Thirty-two years after the Freedom of Information Act's 1966 enactment, an individual used Moss's handiwork to file a request with the secretive DIA. The requester, identified only as Case No. 0195-1998, wanted the agency's supposed files on "the disappearance of Frederick Valentich in October 1978; he reported being followed by a UFO."
Those conversant with UFO mysteries know the Valentich name well. A 20-year-old Australian pilot, he disappeared in his Cessna 182 after reporting a strange flying object over the Bass Strait between Australia and Tasmania.
For everyone else, the request for secret Valentich and UFO files represents one of the unimagined consequences of the Freedom of Information Act. Without anyone expecting it, Americans tracking UFOs became among the most persistent users of the law.
"I don't think that this was something contemplated in the legislation, though it certainly wasn't excluded," said Michael R. Lemov, a Washington attorney and former staffer for Moss. "I must say, it wouldn't have been one of the priorities."
And yet, for some agencies, UFO-related requests have become all in a day's work. At the privacy-loving National Security Agency, for instance, a Bee review shows that UFO-related requests accounted for about 123 out of 832 total requests last year. No other single subject -- not Princess Diana, not missing POWs, not worldwide surveillance programs -- received nearly as many requests.
The UFO-related requests to the CIA used to be about as common, though the agency's posting of available files on its Internet site -- -- has relieved much of the pressure.
"It's part of the myth that's out there," CIA spokesman Tom Crispell said, "that the CIA is somehow involved in the cover-up of aliens...there are so many individuals out there that believe in the conspiracy."
But UFOs are only part of it. In a world filled with Oliver Stone movies, "The X-Files," and some admittedly bizarre government behavior, secret agencies provoke the most colorful FOIA requests.
There was, for instance, the 1998 request to the CIA for a "copy of the $50,000,000,000 reward contract which is only on file" at CIA headquarters. It's not apparent from the agency's FOIA log what the supposed reward was for. Another individual demanded a copy of the "CIA Torture Manual," while a certain Mr. Hughes used FOIA to seek "the amount of CIA budget that is allotted for the use of prostitutes, pornography, exotic dancers and brothels." A perennial request at CIA is for information about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
"Like the JFK assassination conspiracy theories, the UFO issue probably will not go away soon, no matter what the Agency does or says," historian Gerald Haines wrote, in the CIA's on-line "Studies in Intelligence."
The requests can be all-encompassing, as when a Mr. Andrew Sparkes demanded "all documents pertaining to U.F.O.'s in the possession of the Department of Energy." They can also be narrowly focused, as when a Mr. Derek Liddell asked the National Security Agency for "documents relating to a near head-on collision between a helicopter and a UFO on 10/18/75 in Mansfield, Ohio." A requester to the Defense Intelligence Agency had an apparent statewide focus with a February 1998 request for agency information on "aliens in Virginia."
And, the requests can be, seemingly, Hollywood-inspired. In January 1998, for instance, an individual asked for the Defense Intelligence Agency files on "Men in Black."
Nor are the questions aren't limited to the nation's spy and military agencies. In early 1999, for instance, a resident of the small New Jersey town of Stanhope submitted three requests to the Agriculture Department seeking the department's supposed UFO files.
On their own, the UFO requests came seem odd. But government files made public through FOIA also peel the cover back on some events that remain inexplicable to this day, even if they aren't other-worldly. It was FOIA, for instance, that made available the previously secret memo recording a 1976 aerial encounter between Iranian fighter jets and a strange, fast, bright UFO near Tehran.
"The credibility of many of the witnesses," noted the disclosed memo, which is now available at the NSA's Internet site, "was high."
Copyright ©1999 Nando Media


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