By Barry Greenwood

The Table of Contents. Yes, Just the Table of Contents.

On March 8, I received a copy of the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office’s (AARO) unclassified report to Congress. As in the past, there is always anticipation when a government UFO report is issued. So I immediately sat down to look at it, and quite frankly I had not even gotten past the table of contents and the introduction before I ran into rough waters.

The report is titled “Report on the Historical Record [emphasis added] of U.S. Government Involvement with Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAP), Volume I.” The report is posted on the AARO website.

Section 4 of the report professes to be an examination of “Accounts of USG [United States Government] UAP Investigatory Programs Since 1945.” The accepted history of the UFO controversy is that UFO investigations started in 1947 with the outbreak of flying saucer, or flying disc, reports beginning with the Kenneth Arnold sighting of June 24. Even the Air Force has acknowledged this repeatedly. Given that this is a historical report, one might reasonably conclude that there would be due diligence to its content being accurate and consistent with existing records. So, why has this new government study pushed back UFO investigations a full two years from what is known to be the correct start? Is there any newly unearthed information from the historical record that is evident in this new release?

Two lines further down, the report has an entry for “Project SAUCER (1946/1947–January 1948)” and just below that “Project SIGN (January 1948–February 1949).” Project Sign is the previously understood beginning of Air Force UFO investigations, but that program is now relegated to third place behind Project Saucer and whatever happened in 1945. The “whatever happened in 1945” is not even given a name, though it is described as one of the “UAP Investigatory Programs.” The earliest specific date given for the beginning of a program is 1946 for Project Saucer. Capt. Edward Ruppelt, Project Blue Book head from 1951 to 1953, explained in his book The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects (1956) that a Project Sign member had told him that Project Saucer existed a year before Sign under that informal designation.

Long-time researchers will note an anomaly here: The UFO phenomenon wasn’t even referred to as “flying saucers” until the wave of June 1947. How could it be called Project Saucer in 1946, even by insiders? The only widely known public manifestation of the UFO phenomenon in 1946 was the so-called “ghost rocket” wave in Scandinavia, and it was not even prominently reported in the US, aside from some press coverage from Sweden, and no one called the objects anything like “saucers.” Documentation exists that the US received information on the Swedish ghost rockets, but no investigation was launched in this country and no further action was taken other than to be kept informed of ongoing developments.

Still a few more lines down in the table of contents, there is an entry for “Project BEAR (Late 1951–Late 1954).” There was never an official UFO investigation called Project Bear.” In fact, that was a nickname given by Ruppelt to a project by Battelle Memorial Institute, a scientific think tank based in Columbus, Ohio, that he could not discuss at the time. That initiative was called Project Stork/White Stork and it partly resulted in the release in 1955 of Project Blue Book’s Special Report No. 14. The original purpose of this was to assess Soviet capabilities for conducting technological warfare and its work examined some aspects of the UFO phenomenon. Project Stork/White Stork has not been classified for years and could have been used by AARO instead of the inaccurate Project Bear. But it could lead researchers to waste valuable time by pursuing the wrong designation with FOIA requests. Within its report, AARO doubles down on Project BEAR being the name instead of Stork (p. 16).

Pre-Arnold Concerns

As I went beyond the table of contents and read the AARO report’s introduction, the 1945 mention still bothered me. Page 6 said:

“Since 1945, the USG has funded and supported UAP investigations with the goal of determining whether UAP represented a flight safety risk, technological leaps by competitor nations, or evidence of off-world technology under intelligent control.”

Aside from a questionable date for the Project Saucer origin, it remains unclear why 1945 was chosen as a certain starting point for official inquiries. Aside from reports on UFOs either in short newspaper pieces or decades-later sighting descriptions, the only clear treatment of unexplained aerial devices was about foo fighters, the World War 2 phenomenon seen by military personnel in the European and Pacific theaters of operation. Even these reports surfaced only in early 1945 in a few sources, including the New York Times. Does AARO say anything about that? No.

The Air Force acknowledged in 1952 that an inquiry about foo fighters did take place after the war, notably by MIT physicist Dr. David Griggs who served under Gen. “Hap” Arnold. AARO should have found this, or at least the footprint of an investigation into foo fighters. Though UFO researchers have known about this for many years, there seems to be no indication that AARO was basing its statements about 1945 UAP/UFO investigations from any knowledge of foo fighter reports. So, upon what was the statement based?

Other Anomalies

The AARO report describes itself as “rigorous, analytic and scientific” (p. 6). However, it mentions that there was a “40 year gap” (p. 10) in UAP investigation programs since the end of Project Blue Book in 1969, even as it describes a pair of Roswell investigations in 1995 and 1997. Where was the continuity editor?

Kenneth Arnold’s flying saucer sighting of June 24, 1947, is instead given as June 23 in the report. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think any adherent of UFO research could give the right date in their sleep.

Battelle Memorial Institute is described as completing a report now known as Project Blue Book’s Special Report No. 14 in “late 1954.” when in fact the report was dated May 5, 1955, at least 6 months later (p. 16).

The National Security Council’s “Intelligence Advisory Committee” during the 1950s is misattributed to the Central Intelligence Agency (p. 17).

The Robertson Panel (January 1953) and the Durant Report (February 1953) are part of the same thing (p. 17). The first was the untranscribed deliberation by the panel, and the second was the summary of the deliberation by panel participant Frederick C. Durant.

The Condon Committee investigation at the University of Colorado is given as beginning in April 1968 (p. 19). It was created in October 1966 and was fully active in 1967. AARO’s report implies that it worked less than a year to issue its 965-page Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, released in January 1969. There is a clear inattention to details about this earlier UFO project that could have easily been checked.

AARO states this on p. 39: “AARO’s review of Project BLUE BOOK cases shows a spike in reported UAP sightings from 1952–1957 and another spike in 1960.” The footnote AARO gives for this (p. 56, note 130) is a confusing mash of info but seems to focus upon former Project Blue Book heads Edward Ruppelt and Hector Quintanilla as sources. It is unclear what they mean by a “spike” in reports. While 1952 and 1957 were both busy years, in between UFO cases showed a decline by more than half of the 1952 (1,501) level and considerably less than 1957 (1,006). Also, it is peculiar that 1960 is described as a “spike” year. There were 557 total reports in 1960, which was less than 1958 (627) and 1961 (591). Also, Quintanilla and Ruppelt were not with Blue Book in 1960. Richard H. Hall, the former assistant director of the civilian National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena, once called the period of 1960 to 1963 the “Dark Ages” due to its lack of UFO activity. AARO’s perception of those years doesn’t conform to reality.

Skinwalker Ranch

The report mentions that an earlier rendition of AARO, the Advanced Aerospace Weapon System Applications Program (AAWSAP), investigated a “property in Utah” (p. 23). This is, of course, Skinwalker Ranch which, for reasons that are unclear, is unnamed. It might be because giving that name would reflect negatively on the succession of the government’s UFO program since 2017, of which AARO is the latest part. Skinwalker Ranch is extremely controversial because of some dubious claims made by promoters of the so-called “Paranormal Disneyland” that it is supposed to be. A report, Preliminary Assessment: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, by the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force (UAPTF) released on June 25, 2021, that (unknown to the UFO community at the time) was created by at least two Skinwalker promoters, AAWSAP Project Manager James T. Lacatski and the chief scientist for the UAPTF, Dr. Travis Taylor, had concluded that 143 out of 144 reports studied were unexplained. That is 99.3%, far higher than any previous UFO study by Project Blue Book and the Condon Committee. Even seasoned UFO researchers have acknowledged that roughly 90–95% of all UFO reports are explainable as conventional phenomena.

I expressed astonishment at the report’s figures in a June 26, 2021, press release, assuming that the UAPTF was an assemblage of independent researchers. Astonishment, that is, until it was revealed that Lacatski and Taylor were involved. There was a clear-cut motivation to juice up the unknown percentage (especially since no one outside of their circle could independently check the results due to security restrictions placed upon the UAPTF). Labeling UFOs as a very highly scientifically unexplained phenomenon would imply that both UFOs and Skinwalker Ranch were phenomenologically connected and that a potential windfall of government money would flow to the self-described “Paranormal Disneyland.” I felt it was a scurrilous conflict of interest and deception. AARO did not expound much on the influence of Skinwalker adherents with the “property in Utah” on the UAPTF. Many would see this as a blot on AARO’s historical evolution from uncritical personnel.

U-2s Did It

“More than half of the UFO reports investigated in the 1950s and 1960s were assessed to be U.S. reconnaissance flights” (p. 41) says the AARO report, alluding to a 1997 CIA article (Gerald K. Haines, “CIA’s Role in the Study of UFOs, 1947–90,” Studies in Intelligence, 1997). Under its recounting of the Eisenhower era’s Project Aquatone, they say that UFO reports would spike when U-2 spy planes were active. Except, beyond the simple declaration that spy planes were responsible for so many reports, there is no evidence whatsoever that this was the case. Haines drew from a formerly classified book (Gregory W. Pedlow and Donald E. Welzenbach, The Central Intelligence Agency and Overhead Reconnaissance: The U-2 and OXCART Programs, 1954–1974, Washington D. C., CIA History Staff, 1992), which when it was declassified was found to have the same comment without evidential support. That support should have come in the form of detailed reports showing that a majority of Project Blue Book cases from the initiation of spy crafts were due to those flights. Does the record show this? Did the CIA keep a separate collection of its investigations into that majority of cases in its own files? Does Project Blue Book show that even a majority of their conclusions were “aircraft?” Is there a hint in any of the existing UFO records that secret CIA investigations of Project Blue Book cases occurred? AARO takes the unsupported flat statement from one source as sufficient in its decision to dismiss a majority of UFO reports with one explanation. Despite this, the Haines article is cited 17 times in the AARO Report. Is this “rigorous, analytic and scientific,” as the AARO report describes itself?

A Word on Sourcing

Since the release of the UAPTF report in 2021, one consistent tactic by this and the various prior versions of AARO has been to give only vague details about the UFO reports themselves. The 2021 report hinted that extraordinary information lurked in the analyzed data, but in no case provided any significant detail as to how the task force arrived at this conclusion. No independent fact-checking, no locations, and no witness names (though a small number of such details have come out through public sources). Subsequent official reports have continued to assure us that its conclusions are valid without providing essential data on the sightings themselves.

As mentioned earlier, the 2021 UAPTF statement differed sharply from later releases as to the nature of the phenomena being studied. Why did the 2021 figure of 99.3% unknowns drop to single digits within a year? Later reports, including AARO releases, fail to address this anomaly. And surely, no one outside of those circles can check on their own to see why that occurred. As a famous old quote goes, “there is a failure to communicate.” It can be said there are legitimate security concerns about releasing information that originates from military sources. Yet, as we have seen from past UFO investigations, quite often much of what is being withheld is unnecessary, not so much for actual national security, but in simply being tossed a security blanket. Many cases unnamed in the Condon Report, for example, could be identified by outsiders with ease when the report was released.

Members of the UFO community are guilty of this on the other side of the controversy, using labels like “unnamed” and “anonymous“ to characterize reporting as if they were tossing candy to kids. This has contributed greatly to UFO proponents not being taken seriously. If a person as a source does not want to be identified, perhaps it is better not to repeat the unsourced information in the first place.

These actions hamper thought processes and deductive reasoning, arouse suspicion that important information is being withheld for illegitimate reasons, and are certainly not scientific. If a science book states a fact gleaned from anonymous sources, would you have full confidence in that fact? In fact, science could not function at all if it applied the investigative techniques discussed here.

My own views on UFOs are not out of sync with what AARO says, generally. UFO witnesses do misperceive. There is no proof of extraterrestrial visitations or contacts. There are no decisive crash UFO stories, debris, or bodies. Still the topic retains a certain fascination. I see each example of it as a puzzle. We are presented with pieces of information, some more, some less, but never a full picture, because we would not then have a controversy after 75 years, would we? Putting those pieces together in a coherent form mostly works because sightings can be explained reasonably in a variety of ways. But there is always a small percentage of reports that aren’t so easy to explain. They remain puzzles. The Air Force had 701 of them in their final Project Blue Book assessment and there were no bigger official skeptics than the U.S. Air Force The debate rages as to whether that total can be reduced by skeptics or enhanced by advocates of exotic explanations. The Air Force was not always careful in its assessments, which could have led to ill-conceived explanations for some of the roughly 90% identified reports. A consequence of this could lead to destructive conspiracy hypotheses about cover-ups. (I will not call them “theories” because they would most likely not be based upon facts but upon conjecture.)

So, while AARO arrived at unsurprising conclusions about UFOs, it arrived there through surprisingly bad history.

[Note: For more on the discussion of U-2 flights as the source of some UFO reports, see Mark Rodeghier, “The U-2 Spy Plane and Blue Book: Another Look,IUR 27, no. 3 (Fall 2002): 20–21.]