[Note: In late May 2007, I was asked by Dan Smith, who is discussed in this article, to attempt to write an overview of the apparent interest of the intelligence community in UFOs. Although Dan paid me a modest retainer for my time, he agreed to have absolutely no editorial control over my work or its conclusions. He was fully prepared to be, possibly, unhappy with whatever I delivered.]
With terrorism, drug trafficking, climate change, and ever-present pork projects on its plate, the US government, one would think, would have zero free time – not to mention resources -- to devote the supremely elusive topic of flying saucers. But, for some observers, there is compelling evidence that it does -- and in direct contradiction of its own official statements.
These federal forays into the fanciful seem inspired by the relatively new
buzzwords added to the UFO lexicon, not the iconic “Roswell,” “Alien Autopsies,”
or even “MJ-12 documents” of old. Those passé riddles are no longer considered
“coins of the realm.” Now the most intense debates involve subjects with names
like Project Beta, SERPO, Project Camelot, Operation Snow White, and Star Gate.
And weaving in and out of all these alleged controversies, especially in the UFO
internet chat rooms, are at least three senior intelligence analysts and one
retired Air Force Special Investigator: “Tom” (pseudo.), a MASINT specialist
(Measures and Signals Intelligence) with a PhD in chemistry and Paul, an
aeronautics scholar interested in “breakthrough propulsion and
What has been confounding UFO buffs for years is the regular presence of these well-informed “spooks” (and others less active) in both the physical UFO world and the world of cyberspace saucers. The mystery seems to have its origins in 1956, pre Tom- Paul-Jim-Rick, and pre internet, and in the most unlikely of settings: the office of Ward Kimball, one of Walt Disney’s key animators. At a 1979 UFO symposium in San Francisco, Kimball told how the US Air Force had approached Disney to make a UFO documentary, the ostensible purpose being to help prepare the collective American psyche for planned revelations concerning the reality of extraterrestrials. If that wasn’t enough, the senior flyboys offered to supply actual UFO footage, which Disney would be allowed to use in his film. It must have seemed to Kimball that his character Jiminy Cricket’s “wish upon a star” had actually been answered. However, a few weeks later, the offer was withdrawn just as quickly as it had been made. Kimball said that an Air Force Colonel said brusquely, “There indeed was plenty of UFO footage, but that neither Ward, nor anyone else, was going to get access to it.”
The Air Force revisited the gambit in the early seventies, when Air Force Colonels Robert Coleman and George Weinbrenner approached documentary filmmaker Robert Emenegger with a very similar astounding offer. The two colonels, who were possibly attached to AFOSI, took Emenegger to Norton AFB near San Bernardino and awed him with footage of what appeared to be three flying saucers landing at Holloman AFB in New Mexico in 1971. Incredibly, the Air Force was again, according to the colonels, going to give the footage to Emenegger as a climax to his forthcoming film, UFOs, Past, Present and Future. But once again, at the eleventh hour the Air Force changed its mind, they said, because of the Watergate scandal. Perhaps the country couldn’t handle more bad news.
In the eighties, AFOSI agent Rick Doty, a longtime colleague and friend of analyst Jim, appeared in New Mexico in order to tease scientist Paul Bennewitz with promises to divulge the government’s UFO secrets. And in this case, the Air Force actually delivered the goods, in a sense. Bennewitz, an entrepreneur who specialized in selling high altitude testing equipment to the Air Force, had contacted AFOSI after filming bizarre flying craft near Kirtland AFB, outside Albuquerque. As a result, Doty was tasked not only with determining if Bennewitz had stumbled onto classified aircraft tests (and also scientific research such as Project Starfire), but also with feeding the physicist mountains of disinformation about UFOs, the furtive purpose being to divert his attention from classified goings-on, and later, to monitor the flow of information through the UFOlogy network. A still-unidentified Air Force intelligence officer also seduced best-selling UFO writer Bill Moore (The Philadelphia Experiment and The Roswell Incident) into assisting Doty in his spycraft; in exchange, Moore was offered real UFO information, including meeting a live extraterrestrial – promises that, like Emenegger’s UFO footage, never materialized. The charade played out for most of the eighties, driving poor Bennewitz, who coined the disclosures Project Beta, to a mental meltdown. Moore actually admitted his double agent role to an astonished UFO community at a Las Vegas convention in July 1989, however the bizarre alien tales he fed Bennewitz poisoned the UFO database, perhaps permanently. Infinite mutations of the Doty fictions continue to spread like an internet virus. Just google “SERPO” for a taste.
In 1983, the government next approached Emmy Award winning documentarian Linda Howe, then at work on a UFO film for HBO. After meeting with Howe in Albuquerque, Rick Doty took her to the AFOSI offices at Kirtland, and not only promised her the same footage that was dangled in front of Emenegger, but he went one step further.
“My superiors asked me to show this to you,” Doty said as he handed Howe a file entitled “Briefing Paper for the President of the United States.” Allowed only to scan the explosive cache, Howe saw tales of crashed extraterrestrial craft, alien bodies, and even more astounding, UFO crash survivors. Although Howe was not allowed to take the papers away, Doty promised her the same “landing footage” promised to Emenegger a decade earlier for his film. But, just as they had with Emenegger, months of negotiating went absolutely nowhere. Doty later admitted to author Greg Bishop that the ploy was but another government counterintelligence probe into the UFO community.
The Kimball, Emenegger, Bennewitz, and Howe affairs were just the beginning of excursions into the world of UFO ephemera by federal employees. In the 1990’s the feds seemed determined to insert their agenda into the nascent internet, where UFOlogists were now trading “evidence” around the world at lightening speed. Their newest civilian contact became a soft-spoken computer analyst who was determined to use the new technology to get to “the truth.”
Dan Smith of Maryland, the son of a former economic advisor to the White House, has spent two decades, largely via internet blogging, pursuing his interest in future apocalyptic scenarios. Invariably, his quest led him into the miasma of rumored UFO disclosure scenarios. In 1991, Smith learned of the possibility of a real-life X-Files when UK crop circle researchers made him aware of analyst Tom, and his forays into their provenance. Before calling Tom, Smith vetted him with NASA, which readily agreed that Tom was the government’s man on “phenomenology.” Thus, in September 1991, Smith started calling Tom, and in only their second conversation, Tom floored Dan by announcing, “I’m going to Los Alamos next week to talk to aliens.” The trip to the famed nuclear lab never happened, as best Dan can ascertain.
Dan and Tom’s relationship has progressed from phone calls and email exchanges to attending family outings and ball games together, and even to meeting at his agency’s headquarters. Throughout the course of the relationship, Tom made it abundantly clear that he is officially following the UFO topic as part of his intelligence portfolio, admitting that he had participated, as did Jim, in an inter-agency “Phenomenology Working Group.” When pressed for details, however, Tom only gives obtuse, often cryptic answers as to why the monitoring of the UFO crowd consumes what one insider estimates as 20% of his publicly funded workday. Unbeknownst to Smith, in 1992 Tom allegedly admitted to another internet contact, Habib “Henry” Azadehdel, that he had indeed been part of a working group. In a phone conversation recorded by Azadehdel, Tom, or someone impersonating Tom, confided that he had been the first member of an inter-agency “working group.” “You know,” Tom offered, “I was a member of that Working Group, ah, when it started…I was a member of it, but I, I resigned I guess after the first meeting,” claimed Tom. The meeting, he explained was organized by Jim, and there were “about a dozen people there.”
In his 1990 book Out There, New York Times reporter Howard Blum described a top secret inter-agency Working Group, which he contended met in the Pentagon in 1987, the purpose being to investigate UFOs. The participants Blum named overlapped too nicely with those known to be in Tom and Jim’s gathering: in the minds of many UFOlogists, Tom and Jim were members of Blum’s UFO Working Group. Thus the current controversy often postulates that their interest relates to an ongoing UFO Working Group mandate.
Although Smith seemed only bemused by the attention, one of his friends, an engineer who frequently holds classified government contracts, became so concerned that he reported Tom to his agency’s Inspector General. “I later found out that it became a six-month internal investigation,” says the friend, “but, in the end, Tom was able to convince them that his communication with Smith fell within his official purview.” Still, Smith’s friends worry that Smith’s health is suffering from all the gamesmanship, worried that he might become the next Paul Bennewitz. Since 1994, Tom continues to communicate with Dan on a regular basis.
Next up on the US intel radar was one Bob Bigelow, the billionaire heir to the Bigelow Tea fortune and owner of the Budget Suites of America hotel chain and Bigelow Aerospace. In 1996, Bigelow created the National Institute of Discovery Science (NIDS) to explore paranormal activity, especially cattle mutilations in the Utah badlands and UFO reports. Enter officers Tom and Jim, now nick-named collectively “The Aviary” by their contactees. Jim confirmed to a popular website administrator that Bigelow’s think tank was the subject of informal discussion at DIA sponsored meetings he attended on the threats of emerging technologies. More importantly, analyst Tom has openly admitted to Dan Smith that he was so interested in NIDS that he attended its inaugural meeting, and kept tabs on its research until its dissolution on 2004.
The dawning of the twenty-first century saw a marked escalation in the activities of Tom, Jim, and Rick, especially in cyberspace. Chris Iverson, administrator with the internet’s “Open Minds Forum,” says, “ I have spoken directly with Tom, Jim, and Rick. The highlight so far is the conversation I had with Tom several weeks ago. He went quite far in describing not just his relationship with Dan Smith but also covered several other topics as well.” Iverson says that Tom corroborated what he told Smith years ago about the mysterious trips to Los Alamos. “The story is that these people made several monthly trips out from Washington DC to Los Alamos several years ago to either meet directly with "The Visitors" or to meet with the people who were responsible for holding or communicating with them,” explains Iverson. “Tom stated that yes, these trips did take place, but they occurred over 15 years ago and are not happening today.”
The list of contacts goes on. Gary Bekkum, of Starstream Research, says, “I have had increasing contact, by email, and phone, with some of the Aviary members, concerning stories I have written about their activities, including requests not to expose ‘sources and methods.’ I have also had increasing contact from others, including a DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Project) subcontractor.” Ryan Dube, of Reality Uncovered notes that his first contact with the trio came when Doty began harassing one of his moderators. “Tom contacted us in 2006, via email, with a request to assist him in his investigation of Richard Doty,” remembers Dube. “He wanted to know the details of the harassment and Rick's supervisor contact information. I was suspicious of Tom from the start, and didn't believe him. However we verified that his emails were coming from DIA military servers and the contact phone number he initial gave me was in fact located in the DC area. That's when I realized that I was actually talking to the real Tom - the intelligence analyst. I've been in contact (phone and email) with Tom up until about three months ago, as well as Jim.”
The Tom, Jim, and Rick Show even enjoys syndication across the pond. Brendan Burton, the British administrator for the “Open Minds” forum, vividly recalls when Jim emailed him in early 2006. The missive is again a bit of a tease, wherein the agent makes “hypothetical” statements about the size of the UFO cover-up. But, Burton adds, “He seemed to confirm that the US government was indeed in this thing, right up to their necks!” The UK’s Caryn Anscomb, who frequently contributes to the “Reality Uncovered” and “Starstream” sites, first heard from analyst Jim in 2004, and has had regular communications from him ever since. Ditto Steve Broadbent, another Reality Uncovered administrator from England.
Both Tom and Jim have made only half-hearted attempts to hide their
identities (this is especially peculiar regarding Tom, who still works full-time
at the highest echelons of US intelligence.
Dan Smith and the rest of his web colleagues, who are still in regular contact with Tom, Jim, and Rick, are confused for another reason: the feds have officially stated ad nauseum that they maintain no interest in the subject of little green men. The proclamations began in 1953 with the publication of the CIA’s “Robertson Panel Report.” Chaired by CIA physicist Howard Percy Robertson, the panel concluded that 90 percent of UFO sightings could be readily identified with meteorological, astronomical, or natural phenomena, and that the remaining 10 percent could be similarly explained with more study. It further suggested that the Air Force should begin to reduce "public gullibility" and utilize the mass media, including influential media giants like the Walt Disney Corporation, to demystify UFO reports.
In 1968, Rick Doty’s Air Force weighed in with the 1,438-page Condon Committee Report, a two-year study chaired by physicist Edward Condon. The investigation, undertaken by eight faculty members from the University of Colorado, concluded (albeit with some dissention amongst the faculty ranks) that all UFO reports had conventional explanations, and further study of the subject would not be worthwhile. The Air Force put the issue aside for almost three decades, then in 1995 released a UFO “Fact Sheet” that noted: “From 1947 to 1969, the Air Force investigated Unidentified Flying Objects under Project Blue Book. The project, headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, was terminated Dec. 17, 1969. Of a total of 12,618 sightings reported to Project Blue Book, 701 remained ‘unidentified.’”
Two years later, a Pentagon spokesman told the press that the military had “long ago” stopped tracking UFOs. That same year, Gerald K. Haines, the official historian of the CIA, joined the chorus of denials when he authored the Agency’s position in its official publication, Studies in Intelligence. Although the CIA was concerned about UFOs until the early 1950s, Haines wrote, it has since “paid only limited and peripheral attention to the phenomena.” Haines added that the actual explanation to the UFO mystery was much more mundane than the fantasy of alien visitation: UFOs were nothing more than classified, experimental US aircraft.
How then to explain the ongoing presence of Tom, Jim, and Rick?
UFOlogists are quick to point out one other study that might explain their true goal. In 1960, the Brookings Institution drafted a 100-page report for NASA, advising the newborn US space agency of societal chaos if it discovered alien life and did not release the story in a very controlled way. (NASA ultimately ignored the Brookings warning when, in 1972 it launched the Pioneer 10 spacecraft to the farthest reaches of space; affixed to the craft was a gold-anodized aluminum plaque engraved with a map showing the location of Earth.) Thus, it is postulated, the intelligence community might be preparing the world for “Disclosure.”
Greg Bishop, who chronicled the Bennewitz-Doty saga in his 2005 book Project Beta, and has himself been contacted separately by four intelligence professionals, sums up the feelings of many, saying “There is no denying a concern with the UFO subject in the corridors of the Pentagon and the halls of our government. How much these people actually know is the subject of hot debate.” Recently, however, in private statements to bloggers and to this writer, some clarity is coming to the issues of “who knows what” and “what is their agenda?” Research for this article points to these answers: they know little or nothing about UFOs, and their agendas differ.
Ryan Dube recalled what Tom once revealed about his interest. “Once,” Dube
said, “when I pushed Tom over the phone on why he remains so involved with in
ufology “his statement - paraphrased, was essentially: ‘No one needs to know why
Tom’s motivation, it now appears certain, can be summed up in two words: national security. In a recent interview, a senior intelligence official who is familiar with spooks in cyberspace explained, “Tom is interested in the subject because, one, he is concerned that DIA officers parading as CIA officers -- a felony -- are leaking classified material to the UFO groups. He also knows that in years past the KGB used parapsychology and paranormal groups to get to military people with classified information. He is concerned that any enemy group could easily use these forums to search out national security secrets.” Joel Brenner, the United States national counterintelligence chief recently said that the number of Russian agents operating in the country had reached “Cold War levels,” according to the Russian News & Information Agency.
“They are sending over an increasing and troubling number of intelligence officers into the United States,” Brener reported. Former head of FBI counterintelligence David Szady echoed Brenner's, adding that Russian agents often arrived in the U.S. under the cover of students or businessmen. The Times UK recently noted the Russians’ escalation in spy wars against the US: “White House intelligence advisers believe no other country is as aggressive as Russia in trying to obtain US secrets, with the possible exception of China. In particular the SVR, as the former KGB’s foreign intelligence arm is now known, is using a network of undercover agents in America to gather classified information about sensitive technologies, including military projects under development and high-tech research.” The article adds that Putin’s intelligence apparatus views cyberspace as a powerful new weapon. Among the evidence cited is Moscow’s recent cyber attack against the Baltic state Estonia over its decision to relocate a Soviet-era military monument.
Some see corroboration for the government’s interest in internet UFO writers in the so-called “Stargate Archive” files. Stargate was the name of a remote viewing project founded by the DIA in 1972, then later transferred to CIA. In 2004 the CIA released under a FOIA request the Stargate Archive files, which reveal that the CIA was indeed concerned about monitoring UFO authors who might be privy to classified material.
Then there were the security breaches that occurred during Operation Stargate
itself, which Tom was instrumental in bringing to an end in 1996. By the
mid-seventies it was learned that Stargate, which had Aviary members on its
board, and other CIA projects, had been massively infiltrated, the target of
Scientology’s infamous “Operation Snow White.” In 1979, eleven highly placed
Church executives, including Mary Sue Hubbard (wife of founder L. Ron Hubbard
and second in command of the organization)
Tom admits that there is one other minor reason for him to be surfing the UFO web. In a recent email, he let his guard down a tad, explaining how UFO bloggers can serve a patriotic purpose, if inadvertently. “Under normal times this tendency towards mass delusional states and radical heresies is perhaps a weakness,” Tom wrote. “However in stressful times it promotes radical out-of-the-box thinking…[it] plays an increasingly important role as we approach cataclysmic species survival stress points. The end of accessible oil could be such a point. Most people will continue to believe new oil discoveries are just around the corner…[bloggers] search for solutions in the strangest places. Perhaps they will find one in time.”
Working down the DNI hall from Tom, cyberspace regular Paul, the aeronautics and advanced propulsion researcher, explains that, much like fictional X-Files agent Fox Mulder, he believes because he wants to believe. Further, he hopes to end his science colleagues’ discrimination against UFO believers.
Then there is Jim, whose professional history in the subject goes back to his personal involvement in the Stargate project in the 1970’s and as a participant in the legendary “Working Group” meetings in the eighties. As one of the intel community’s most senior medical analysts, Jim frequently communicates with UFOlogists. Chris Iverson believes that Tom and Jim clearly have differing agendas, noting, “Jim is the person I have had the most contact with over the last several months and he seems to be interested in the spreading of viral memes over the internet, particularly in relation to this subject.” Iverson is not far off the mark. However, in a recent meeting with this writer, Jim explained that his internet presence emanates from a number of overlapping pursuits.
“The whole subject,” Jim says in wonderfully measured speech, “is composed of three components: delusion, sociological groupthink, and a kernel of truth.” Jim then reminds that he is first and foremost a medical scientist. “My interest in this subject is much, much more professional than it is personal. That is, 90 to 95% of all persons who are engaged fully with this [UFO] subject are psychiatrically ill, and by that I mean that they are on medication or should be.” Jim elaborates that “viral memes,”[see below] in which disturbed people seek validation in numbers on the web, is, or should be, a growing public health concern. That said, Jim nonetheless has a real interest in UFO’s, and seemingly with good reason.
“I believe there’s a ‘core story’,” Jim explained, “but I don’t know what it is. I have been told by people more senior than me that there is some truth to it, but they told me time and time again to stop pursuing it with CIA people and other intel types. Two very senior officials told me they saw briefing books, [however] the only ones who would be cleared to know the story are the most senior Pentagon career officers.” Jim refuses to divulge his sources, but when pressed, he reiterates what they told him: look to the Pentagon and the private sector’s aerospace and weapons labs, etc. US intelligence “doesn’t have labs capable of dealing with something this profound.” He also notes that over the years he has received thousands of UFO-related government documents in unmarked envelopes. Although some are obvious fakes, others, according to Jim, contain information that correlates with known, but still classified, scientific studies. In an intriguing footnote, Jim adds, “I have spoken to three former Presidents and the subject always comes up, not as a briefing, but they also want to know the truth. But apparently they aren’t cleared for it.”
Both Tom and Jim seem to share at least one rationale for their internet excursions: studying the frightening potential of “viral internet memes.” Coined by evolutionary theorist Richard Dawkins in 1976 (The Selfish Gene), a meme is a unit of cultural information that evolves the way a gene propagates from one organism to another, and subject to all the analogous unintended mutations. In the view of many, computers and blogs could function as powerful meme “replicators.” Richard Brodie, the creator of Microsoft Word, notes, “Most of these viruses of the mind are spread because they are intriguing or frightening or inspiring, and not necessarily because they're true. That's the problem.” It doesn’t take much intuition to envision an enemy creating memes that can be used to destabilize a society, or a freelance predator utilizing them to cozy up to potential victims. Caryn Anscomb writes online, “The UFO community has been deeply penetrated by the manipulators of information, who couldn’t really give a fig whether there might be any valuable data pertaining to Aliens and contact hidden behind the deafening noise. That’s not their business; their business is information warfare.”
Rick Doty’s intent seems by far the most mysterious. He has been vouched for by two former Directors of Central Intelligence (DCI) – as well as Jim – but has been excoriated by his former superior at AFOSI, Col. Richard L. Weaver, who recently noted that Doty had been “cashiered out of OSI” and that he has a well-known “lack of veracity.” It should also be noted that the two DCIs only knew Doty before they ran the Agency, when they all were deployed in Europe together. The DCIs are only vouching for his previous work, not his UFO allegations.
Doty has promulgated some of the most outlandish “alien contact” stories extant. He not only fed them to Paul Bennewitz in the 1980’s, but to the public at large in his 2005 book with Robert Collins, Exempt From Disclosure. But amidst the book’s sci-fi-like claims of extraterrestrials in US custody and “reverse engineered” saucers -- currently being exploited by one Gordon Novel with his Project Camelot -- Doty also admits the following: “There are times when you deceive the public you are doing the public a great service and I certainly protect the public with deception operations if it were for their own good.” Nonetheless, much the same way that reporters speculated about the fraudulent New Orleans DA Jim Garrison forty years ago, there remains a group of UFO bloggers who continue to opine about Doty: “He must have something.”
Greg Bishop, among the most sober of the UFO authors, sums up the continued presence of federally employed UFO believers like Jim, Paul and Rick thus: “Their agenda is to do their jobs first, and find out what is going on behind the scenes with the UFO enigma… They get hints, but never the whole picture, and that becomes the quest after they leave active service.”
What then of the so-called “Top Secret UFO Working Group” in which Tom, Jim and others participated in the 1980s? Fortunately, four participants in those gatherings have communicated with this writer, and one in particular shared original paperwork from the meetings with Caryn, who graciously shared them with me. Consequently, the following can be said of the Working Group story:
• The key meetings were held from May 20-25, 1985 in the secure facility of the BDM Corporation (a high clearance military contractor) in MacLean, VA.
• There were twenty known attendees (we have the names) representing Los Alamos Nuclear Labs, Army Intelligence, CIA, Lockheed, McDonnell Douglas, and various scientists with security clearances. Other unnamed guests such as Jim attended.
• The meeting was titled “Advanced Theoretical Physics Conference” and its main objective was to study odd radar tracings to determine their origins (“friendly” “enemy” or “unknown”). They turned out to be totally anomalous.
Jim notes that quite a few of the attendees turned out to be closet UFO buffs who only showed up to see who knew the truth about ETs (no one did). He called it a waste of time, leaving after just the first day. Tom recalls attending a follow-up meeting at the Pentagon that was so silly that he made a derisive remark before walking out in the middle of it.
Summing it all up, there is certainly a very small percentage government officials with intelligence clearance -- some active, some retired -- who are interested in the UFO research community, if not UFOs themselves. Some of these men are of the impression, rightly or wrongly, that a very few individuals in government and the private sector are keeping the big secret even from them. This is small consolation to earnest UFO researchers, but at least they should no longer feel alone and marginalized as kooks completely at odds with officialdom.
All this does not mean that evidence for alien visits is non-existent, it’s just that Tom, Jim, Paul, and Rick don’t appear to be the keepers of it. The opinion of Ryan Dube appears inarguable. “If the field of UFOlogy could be cleaned of the rubbish,” Dube wrote me, “we may find that there remains very valid and important evidence and stories that demand our attention - and might actually finally reveal the truth about the alien and UFO question.” And if Jim ever decides to reveal his sources, things could get very interesting.