Finally, after three parts covering from biblical times to 1968, we’re ready to approach the question of what The Great UFO Disclosure Flap of 2021 really means.
When we left off, in January 1969, the US Air Force had completed an urgent task: It had commissioned and received the Condon Report, which stated that UFOs were of no military significance. More than covering up whatever they may knew about UFOs – probably less than you would guess – the Air Force’s main goal as a bureaucratic entity was to end the troublesome nuisance of its responsibility for addressing ongoing sightings as possible threats to national security.
As was the style at the time, US media took their cue from the Condon Report, which had an imprimatur of official-ness that is hard to imagine in this century. The sham report was even published with an introduction from Walter Sullivan of the New York Times, regarded as the “dean” of science writers. The Condon Report effectively created a social fact, especially in the media. UFOs were officially dismissed. Journalism and the public mind – mostly – followed along.
Typically, journalists of the time failed in basic due diligence in reporting on the report. Almost all accounts simply restated what Condon had said in the opening section, titled “Conclusions and Recommendations”:
Our general conclusion is that nothing has come from the study of UFOs in the past 21 years that has added to scientific knowledge. Careful consideration of the record as it is available to us leads us to conclude that further extensive study of UFOs probably cannot be justified in the expectation that science will be advanced thereby.
Condon’s obvious ploy to keep journalists from reading past the summary was as effective as the Air Force could have hoped. But actual researchers would immediately see that Condon’s “conclusions” were contradicted by the report’s data.
Condon erased troublesome evidence by verbal sleight of hand. His staff was unable to get the percent of “unexplained” UFO reports below 15 percent. Those 15 percent of unexplained sightings, to be clear, was the core of the question. Condon simply focused on cases that could be explained in any possible way and ignored the “unexplained” cases, the critical phenomena he was supposed to study. Condon gambled that the media wouldn’t notice, care, or object to this huge, obvious dodge of the central question. He was correct.
Decades later, Terry Hansen would write a remarkable, detailed indictment of the US media’s abject failure and active malfeasance on the UFO issue.
Interest in UFOs can be seen as one more problem for elite management of the American public at the end of the 1960’s and into the early-1970s, along with Black liberation, poor people’s movements, the antiwar movement, student unrest, and feminism. At the same time, when Condon officially declared UFOs were not real in your mainstream, plastic-fantastic society, he unwittingly pushed the issue into the developing and vibrant “counterculture.”
In November of 1969, a year after the USAF received the Condon report, Creedence Clearwater Revival released the album Willie and The Poor Boys, featuring the track “It Came Out Of the Sky.” The song starts with a UFO coming down “just a little south of Moline,” as witnessed by a stunned farmer. The lyrics referenced J. Allen Hynek’s disastrous “swamp gas” explanation, as well as Vice President Spiro Agnew, the Vatican and Ronald Reagan, all mouthing their usual lines:
Well, a crowd gathered ’round
And a scientist said it was marsh gas
Spiro came to make a speech
About raisin’ the Mars tax
Vatican said ‘Woe, the Lord has come‘
Hollywood rushed out an epic film
Ronnie the Populist said
It was a communist plot
This killer song arguably would mark a late crest for UFOs in mainstream culture, ala Hunter Thompson’s famous “wave” elegy for the 60’s.
Many critics would easily dismantle the Condon Report in the coming years, among then Dr. James McDonald, a professor of meteorology at the University of Arizona and senior physicist at the Institute for Atmospheric Physics. McDonald’s debunking was thorough, but a social construct had been established: UFOs aren’t real. Typically, McDonald, who had testified in Congress’ last serious UFO hearing in 1968, was ridiculed despite his credentials and scientific work on sighting reports.
By 1971, McDonald was a pariah in his own profession when he testified at another congressional hearing. A panelist on the other side of the issue from McDonald on supersonic transport said Congress should not believe any witness who “believes in little green men.” It didn’t matter that McDonald was not named, or that UFOs were irrelevant to the issue of the hearing. Laughter breezed around the room and McDonald was humiliated.
Professional exile and the strain of being a public punching bag took a severe toll on Dr. McDonald. Ultimately, the pressure contributed to the collapse of his marriage, which in turn drove him to suicide.
However, intrepid researchers continued to track sighting reports, and even to open their minds to the question of who might be in the UFOs. Official denial may have made them more comfortable with reports of encounters with UFO occupants, and even “alien abductions.”
After all, before Condon, in 1996, famous public astronomer Carl Sagan had co-written a book with a Soviet scientific colleague on the question of extraterrestrial intelligence. For those willing to risk ridicule, the field remained wide open.
For a bonus Carl Sagan video on intelligent life in the universe, click here.
The foundational psychologist and theorist of the human unconscious Carl Jung was another respected intellectual who seriously cogitated on UFO sightings before the stigma was set. Jung, presciently, examined and theorized UFOs as an outer expression of contents in the human psyche. In a very apt caution to future researchers, Jung also wrote, “Considering the essential weirdness of the UFO phenomenon, we cannot expect the familiar, rationalistic methods of explanation to be in any way adequate.”
Thus, UFOlogy with its limited intellectual and scientific legacy from the pre-Condon era, was dumped into a 1970’s cultural stew filled with half-baked “Eastern” mysticism and all sorts of new, odd beliefs. Themes from the counterculture and New Age movement would seep into the field, and Jung’s psychological view of the UFO phenomenon would become central for many researchers in the following decades.
The issue was revived briefly in the mid-70’s when President Jimmy Carter attempted to fulfill a campaign promise of UFO transparency. Carter was rebuffed by the national security state, and his disastrous engagement with UFOs would scare politicians away from the issue for decades. Carter’s peers and successors also must have noticed the ridicule Carter suffered over reporting his own UFO sighting. (Reagan had one as well.) Carter insisted over many years he had not seen the planet Venus, but serious discussion was impossible.
Because of the researchers who persisted despite the stigma, we now have some excellent histories to understand this era. Timothy Dolan wrote a two-volume history, “UFOs and the National Security State.” British musician and author Timothy Good would assemble remarkable UFO sighting reports, focusing on military pilots as expert witnesses and trusted professionals. Good also had good connections among UK military personnel and leaders, sporting endorsements on his books from Lord Hill-Norton, former Chairman of the NATO Military Committee.
Dr. Stephen Greer would assemble an impressive volume of credible military witnesses, making a push for “disclosure” during an event at the National Press Club in May of 2001. Greer’s initiative did not have the decisive caliber of evidence and witnesses to break through the media’s psychological barriers to the issue, and his bravado and later, weaker claims alienated many other researchers.
There is a now wealth of data available for researchers and the prospect that this material might be taken seriously by mainstream science – especially after the newly published work of investigative reporter Leslie Kean – is undeniably exciting.
Now, we reach the central question: What does it mean to say that UFOs are “real”?
The answer is that it means, basically, what Kean said it means, that there is a real anomaly in play. Basically, we are finally acknowledging what the Condon Report tried to bury: that core of unexplained cases.
There are still no answers about what UFOs are or who might be piloting them. There is just the chance, finally, to investigate this unknown on a proper scale. In this new landscape, the ET hypothesis – that UFOs are spacecraft carrying alien scientists here from elsewhere in the universe – is just one theory out of many, and possibly the least strange.
On the other end of the spectrum of ET hypothesis within UFOlogy, is what we could call the Strieber thesis. The former horror author Whitley Strieber (The Hunger, The Wolfen) wrote a 1986 bestseller, Communion, about an apparent nighttime abduction from his cabin in upstate New York by squat, dark blue aliens, and taller ones with pale skin and huge eyes. Strieber insisted that his book was not about “alien abduction” because he couldn’t be sure sure of what exactly happened to him. Despite being trashed by skeptics, he fearlessly pushed on into the “high strangeness” events that surround UFO sighting reports.
Strieber is appropriately skeptical of the “nuts-and-bolts” scientists in metal spacecraft genre of UFO explanations. He has always been fixated on the idea that the phenomenon has to do with human consciousness, the soul, and, as his late wife Anne said,that it “has something to do with the dead.” He didn’t rule out a friend’s theory that “the visitors,” as Strieber called them, were “imaginal,” that is, a thought that projected into physical reality.
This is the wide field of ideas that one falls into once the “real unknown” aspect of UFOs is accepted. Stephen Greer, for all his shortcomings, introduced a concept I have found useful, termed “full-spectrum reality.” In short, Greer says, it’s space scientists from another planet, and the dead, and other-dimensional entities. Basically, he believes, more than one thing is happening in the UFO phenomenon.
The 2016 movie Arrival gives us a better sense of what occurs when we engage with the idea of alien intelligence. The central character, a linguist played by Amy Adams, comes away from her experience not with blueprints for a space engine, but with a new perspective on time and human relationships.
My point, finally, is that even if the government and establishment scientists go all in and officially adopt the ET hypothesis, they will have only reached the beginning of a long-running debate within UFOlogy. I am sure that the government does not have the answer. No one does. It’s possible no one ever will.
I’ve often thought about the central role of mystery, in Communion, in the UFO phenomenon, and in the works of David Lynch. There may very well be an irreducible mystery at work that is inherent in the riddle of human consciousness. I believe first contact with aliens or UFO occupants, if and when it happens, will be nothing like Star Trek and more like the third season of Twin Peaks.
My advice is to prepare your mind in this new world we may be entering for baffling answers and new, even stranger questions.