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The CIA-UFO Link: “Mass Hysteria” and “Psychological Warfare”

It was on December 2, 1952 that the CIA’s Assistant Director H. Marshall Chadwell stated the following to agency personnel: “Sightings of ...

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It was on December 2, 1952 that the CIA’s Assistant Director H. Marshall Chadwell stated the following to agency personnel: “Sightings of unexplained objects at great altitudes and traveling at high speeds in the vicinity of major U.S. defense installations are of such nature that they are not attributable to natural phenomena or known types of aerial vehicles.” Chadwell did more than that; he prepared the following guidelines for the National Security Council: “The Director of Central Intelligence shall formulate and carry out a program of intelligence and research activities as required to solve the problem of instant positive identification of unidentified flying objects. Upon call of the Director of Central Intelligence, Government departments and agencies shall provide assistance in this program of intelligence and research to the extent of their capacity provided, however, that the DCI shall avoid duplication of activities presently directed toward the solution of this problem. This effort shall be coordinated with the military services and the Research and Development Board of the Department of Defense, with the Psychological Board and other Governmental agencies as appropriate. The Director of Central Intelligence shall disseminate information concerning the program of intelligence and research activities in this field to the various departments and agencies which have authorized interest therein.”

Two days later, the Intelligence Advisory Committee agreed with Chadwell’s plans and made a recommendation that “the services of selected scientists to review and appraise the available evidence in the light of pertinent scientific theories” should be employed. It was as a direct outcome of this development that what became known as the Robertson Panel was created; a group headed by Howard Percy Robertson, who was a highly respected consultant to the Agency. He was also a noted physicist, and the director of the Defense Department Weapons Evaluation Group. It was Chadwell’s job to select a group of individuals who were deemed to be the right people to tackle the UFO problem – which included anxieties concerning Russian propaganda. The group included Luis Alvarez, physicist, radar expert (and later, a Nobel Prize recipient); Frederick C. Durant, CIA officer, secretary to the panel and missile expert; Samuel Abraham Goudsmit, Brookhaven National Laboratories nuclear physicist; and Thornton Page, astrophysicist, radar expert, and deputy director of Johns Hopkins Operations Research Office. In rapid time they plunged into the heart of the mystery.

There have been longstanding rumors in the field of Ufology that the CIA knows all about the truth of the UFO enigma, of the Roswell incident of 1947, and of what really goes down at Area 51. The Robertson Panel’s conclusions, however, suggested that UFOs did not have a direct, significant impact on the United States’ national security. Rather, the major worry of the panel was how the public mindset could, in theory, be affected by bogus tales of UFO encounters – and created and weaved by the Reds. On this very matter, the Robertson Panel recorded these words: “Although evidence of any direct threat from these sightings was wholly lacking, related dangers might well exist resulting from: A. Misidentification of actual enemy artifacts by defense personnel. B. Overloading of emergency reporting channels with ‘false’ information. C. Subjectivity of public to mass hysteria and greater vulnerability to possible enemy psychological warfare [italics mine].”

Clearly, when it came to UFOs, it was those matters concerning “mass hysteria” and “false information” that dominated the thinking of the Robertson Panel. The possible presence of real aliens in the United States seemed to be very much in the background for the CIA. There was also a recommendation that a number of the public UFO investigative groups which existed in the United States at the time should be “watched” carefully due to “the apparent irresponsibility and the possible use of such groups for subversive purposes.” For the CIA, “subversive purposes” meant the actions of the Soviets, or, worse, of home-grown-and-groomed communists. Maybe, both. It’s entirely possible that at least some reports of fear-filled encounters with the so-called “Men in Black” in that era may have been provoked by such surveillance. Particularly so if UFO researchers were threatened by fedora-sporting and trench-coat-wearing government agents late at night – which typifies the appearances and actions of the MIB.

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