Wednesday, December 27, 2017

UFOs, the Media, the Military & Dreams of Discovery

All That Glitters

What does the disclosure of the UFO Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program really mean? It’s done something positive, managed to capture the interest of mainstream media and brought the topic of UFOs into general public discussion again. The Dec. 16, 2017 New York Times article by Helen Cooper, Ralph Blumenthal and Leslie Kean, “Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program,” presented some compelling information, at least at first glance.

The reaction has been interesting, a bit of a Rorschach test. Some have dismissed the UFO program as a waste of money, or even a politician’s favor for a billionaire contributor; however most readers seem to have found the story interesting, and they were left with the conclusion that there is compelling evidence to suggest “that aliens exist and that U.F.O.s have visited Earth.”

An enthusiastic segment of UFO proponents see this as “Disclosure,” the formal acknowledgement of the extraterrestrial presence by the US Government- or a big step towards it. One UFO commercial enterprise is using the slogan, “Now they know we were not crazy, we were RIGHT!”

It’s worth taking a closer look at what was actually said in the NYT piece, by whom, and if they have a vested interest in promoting anything. There's been some interesting UFO video evidence and associated testimony surface due to the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP) story breaking. However, there's been no provenance shown and little transparency to the investigation. Almost everything that's been said about the Pentagon UFO program comes from people connected to the promotion of Tom DeLonge’s To the Stars Academy. They've succeeded in using the popularity of the video evidence to package and market their product, and many in the press and the public have not distinguished the claims made from the few facts that have been verified.

TTSA: Tom DeLonge, Chris Mellon, Luis Elizondo, Steve Justice, Dr. Harold E. Puthoff, Jim Semivan

Tom DeLonge’s October 2017 launch of To the Stars Academy of Arts and Sciences (TTSA) failed to receive the desired publicity. TTSA is a company with an existing entertainment branch that has produced UFO books, with plans to launch television, movie projects and associated merchandise. TTSA also announced plans to launch an aerospace division, and are soliciting investors to buy shares of the company in support of this enterprise. The team members of TTSA were introduced at the press conference, and the star attraction was supposed to have been Luis Elizondo, who claimed to have run the a Department of Defense’s “sensitive aerospace threat identification program focusing on unidentified aerial technologies.” However, most of the resulting coverage focused on Tom DeLonge’s involvement, his outlandish UFO claims and discussion of the financial structure of the company, including the pitfalls of investing in it.

Damage control came by way of UFO advocate Leslie Kean, who pitched the AATIP story to Ralph Blumenthal, who she’d worked with before on a big UFO story in the past. “UFO Caught On Tape Over Santiago Air Base” features many similarities to the new piece, a military study of UFOs, the appeal for a scientific study of the subject, and the presentation of video of UFOs interacting with military aircraft. Despite the reporters’ enthusiasm, the evidence did not hold up to study, and the “truly unexplainable unidentified flying objects” were revealed to be nothing but insects flying close to the camera. Kean defiantly rejected the explanation, but months later released a story saying that independent analysis produced “conflicting results” and concluded the piece with what seemed like an appeal to the reader’s faith, just short of asking us to clap your hands if you believe.
“It’s not clear what these videos show. At this point, each of us can form our own opinions about something that science cannot determine, or we can simply accept that we will likely never know.”
Leslie Kean’s approach in pitching the NYT UFO story was to minimize Tom DeLonge and his new TTSA UFO franchise, focusing on the newsworthy elements; the fact that there had been a secretive government $22 million study of UFOs, and to emphasize the involvement of the senators who supported it in order to portray the topic as serious and legitimate. The NYT piece also tied the story to a UFO video they credited “By Courtesy of U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE." However, the video and the majority of the information in the story came from Luis Elizondo and his partners in DeLonge’s UFO franchise.

The other key ingredient was the participation of the NYT’s Pentagon reporter Helene Cooper, who was able to complete the package and present the story in the military and political context that would grab readers. However, in an interview on “The Daily” podcast from the NYT, Cooper made an interesting characterization in describing the AATIP: “The program is secret, and the people operating it tend to be true believers...”

The AATIP = Robert Bigelow

What's strange in all this is the involvement of Las Vegas billionaire Robert Bigelow from before the beginning. The AATIP is the first known instance of the US government funding a study conducted by ufologists. Merriam-Webster defines ufology as “the study of unidentified flying objects.” While “Ufologist” is a loosely defined term, and not a designation of accreditation, it’s generally taken to mean a researcher investigating the topic and pursuing the origins of UFOs. Robert Bigelow is more of an extraterrestrial visitation proponent, “absolutely convinced” in the belief that some of the UFOs are alien spacecraft from other worlds. His investigation into the so-called Skinwalker ranch and his funding of the National Institute for Discovery Science (NIDS) project are important to understanding the minds involved in the Pentagon's AATIP, as many of the same players were involved, and some are now partners or participants in the TTSA franchise.

Robert Bigelow’s interest in flying saucers began in his childhood, and as an adult he created NIDS in 1995. The mission statement of the organization’s (now defunct) website described them as “a privately funded science institute engaged in research of aerial phenomena, animal mutilations, and other related anomalous phenomena.” Bigelow was the president, Dr. Harold Puthoff was the chairman of the board and Dr. Colm Kelleher was the administrator. Shortly afterwards, the creation of Bigelow Aerospace in 1999 was undoubtedly making demands on his time and energy. NIDS published a number of reports on its site, but failed to live up to the high expectations of a UFO/paranormal study backed by a committed billionaire. In 2004, Bigelow closed the institute, citing the lack of cases worthy of investigation:
“We have labored long and hard, coming to the conclusion to place NIDS in an inactive status. ... It is unfortunate that there isn't more activity, as there was in the past, that warrants investigation. ...Should substantial activity occur with a need for investigation then NIDS will be reactivated with new personnel.” NIDS site, archived Oct. 8, 2007

Senator Harry Reid and the book that launched the AATIP 

In 2005, Hunt for the Skinwalker was released, written by NIDS’ Colm Kelleher and George Knapp, a book about the Uintah County, Utah ranch that’s supposedly a hotbed of paranormal activity. Apparently, Nevada Senator Harry Reid became interested in the topic after Knapp gave him a copy of the book. Reid was friends with Bigelow and that led to the UFO study. The NYT story reports that: “Contracts obtained by The Times show a congressional appropriation of just under $22 million beginning in late 2008 through 2011. The money... went to Mr. Bigelow’s company, Bigelow Aerospace, which hired subcontractors and solicited research for the program.” We're told that somehow the Skinwalker ranch owner Robert Bigelow submitted the best contract to study phenomena at his own property, along with the subject of his life-long fascination (or obsession), extraterrestrials and UFOs. Bigelow created a division of Bigelow Aerospace to deal with NIDS unfinished business in UFO research:
Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies (BAASS), a sister company to Bigelow Aerospace, is a newly formed research organization that focuses on the identification, evaluation, and acquisition of novel and emerging future technologies worldwide as they specifically relate to spacecraft. Bigelow Careers archived Aug. 8, 2009

Senator Reid has justified the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program as a national security issue, making sure the USA was not vulnerable to superior technological aircraft. George Knapp reports that, “At its peak, the study had 46 scientists working at the Nevada facility, writing reports and analyzing data that came in from the military. Rapid response teams were dispatched to the scene of UFO events.”

In 2009, Bigelow attempted to outsource that rapid response team, using field investigators he subcontracted from MUFON, the Mutual UFO Network. The program was called STAR Team for “Strike Team Area Research,” and it was celebrated at the 2009 MUFON Symposium in Denver, Colorado. Canadian UFO researcher, Chris Rutkowski was there as a guest.
At the 2009 MUFON Benefactors' reception: (l to r) Clifford Clift; Tom Whitmore; Robert Bigelow; 
Nick Roesler; John Ventre; Chris Rutkowski; Robert Wood; Rob Swiatek. 
Inset: James Carrion presenting an award to Robert Bigelow. Photos courtesy Chris Rutkowski.
“Late in the afternoon, I was asked to show up at the benefactors' reception. I knew very few people in the crowd that was composed mostly of longtime MUFON members. However, Stan (Friedman) introduced me to billionaire Robert Bigelow, the aerospace developer who is now underwriting the STAR team of MUFON investigators. Seemed like a nice guy. He later showed up at my table and talked with me briefly.” Ufology Research, Aug. 7, 2009
Bigelow’s interest during the AAPIT contract reached beyond the US borders. I asked Chris about meeting Bigelow and what he recalled of their conversation: “he wanted to talk with me, so we found a quiet part of the hallway and talked a bit. Bigelow never offered me any kind of contract for participation in his UFO-related venture. It was a verbal agreement to share with him details of ‘really good’ Canadian reports as they came in, and he would send his team in to investigate. I recall that he wanted to be ‘first on the scene.’ After our initial meeting, at MUFON 2009, I dealt with one of his assistants whose name I don't recall. They called me from time to time asking about Canadian cases. The trouble was that during those next several years, no Canadian cases of substance or with associated evidence were reported, so nothing really fell within his criteria and I didn't pass along any tips at all.”

Bigelow had another tactic to collect Canadian UFO reports. Brian Vike, writing about the HBCC (Houston British Columbia Canada) UFO Research site: "I did own and operate it at one time, but I sold my 5 domain names to Bigelow Aerospace back I believe in June of 2009." The site is no longer active, but here's an archive HBCC UFO Research from 2010, under BAASS management.

This seems to indicate Bigelow as a contractor deviated from the program's national security mission, and his involvement was a continuation of his life-long interest in UFOs as aliens in space ships.

(For more on the history of Robert Bigelow’s interaction with MUFON and ufology, see “UFO-Pentagon Story Reflects Fundamental Problems” by Jack Brewer.)

Robert Bigelow's Hangar 18? 

Ending UFO Secrecy

It's interesting and commendable that there was enough scientific curiosity by government officials to initiate a UFO program. But why was it necessary? Many UFO proponents have long believed the US government already had the UFO answers- along with hidden concrete evidence. If there was a Hangar 18 with ET bodies or a MJ-12-type UFO control organization, there would have been no need for another program to be created in 2007.

The disclosure of the rise and fall of the AATIP seems a confirmation that the government didn't know much, and after $22 million and 5 years of the AATIP, they couldn't find out much more than researchers in the private sector. According to the less flattering Politico story, their AATIP inside source told them they “compiled ‘reams of paperwork’” but little else.”And it may have actually made things worse.

Bigelow previously had participants of his own NIDS UFO/paranormal studies sign nondisclosure agreements, and was already secretive before this government project. Bigelow’s contracted work may also be exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests, allowing documentation of the investigation to remain sealed. The result may be that the UFO data that was secretly collected during the AATIP years was prevented from reaching the public, now harder to obtain than if there had been no government study.

It's puzzling why Bigelow's company would have been awarded the contract, given his prejudice of the ET verdict for UFOs. It's a bit like having a contract to evaluate the benefits of air strikes go to a munitions manufacturer. The fact that the US government conducted a study of UFOs is interesting, but there’s ample evidence to show it was seriously flawed.

The Reporting and The Evidence

To the Stars Academy has a commercial agenda that is founded on exploiting the public's interest in the notion of interplanetary spacecraft visiting the Earth. TTSA is attempting to capitalize on the reputation of the Pentagon study, but is any of the new evidence or documents produced from the AATIP any better than what we've already seen from the last 70 years? I don't think so. They are just pitching more straw on the haystack.

In the NYT article the authors present the AATIP as if it were credible, but in effect it was a continuation or renovation of Bigelow's NIDS project, with some of the same players, some of whom are in TTSA now. If team Bigelow was in charge of evaluating evidence, then the likelihood of it having been as an objective scientific study are remote. Bigelow has clearly demonstrated his pro-ET agenda in the past and more recently directly (and defiantly) stated it on a nationally televised interview, saying, “There has been and is an existing presence, an ET presence.”

The sensational Pentagon disclosures were not. In essence, all the Pentagon disclosed was that yes, we used to have a program that studied unidentified aircraft. All the exciting stuff was said by Luis Elizondo or other TTSA players, not active US Government sources. The videos seem to have come from Elizondo, too, and they may be legitimate. The media is bundling all this together in a way to make everything seem credible based on the sensation of the videos and the perceived Pentagon pedigree. Whether intentional or due to a lack of understanding, this confusion produces something akin to a stage magic act, an illusion sold by misdirection, persuasion and the power of suggestion.

The story states,
“Working with Mr. Bigelow’s Las Vegas-based company, the program produced documents that describe sightings of aircraft that seemed to move at very high velocities with no visible signs of propulsion, or that hovered with no apparent means of lift.”

That’s worth reading a few times, just to try finding anything verifiable. My interpretation: Under contract, Bigelow supplied the AATIP with reports of sightings similar to hundreds of flying saucers seen since 1947.

UFO "metal alloys and other materials" rain on Maury Island.
Shaver Mystery Magazine Vol.2 No. 1, 1948 

The TTSA Tease?

If there was a scientific method and discipline behind the AAPIT study, or a system of checks and balances, it's not been disclosed. We know that there's been the claim of recovered exotic materials, but it's all so vague. The NYT story reported that, “Under Mr. Bigelow’s direction, the company modified buildings in Las Vegas for the storage of metal alloys and other materials that Mr. Elizondo and program contractors said had been recovered from unidentified aerial phenomena.”

That is an indirect statement, hearsay at best, and relies on the opinion of Elizondo and Bigelow “program contractors.” They say they have something somewhere, from something, but it’s secret. The UAP non-description could mean anything from meteorites to flying saucers. It's also hauntingly familiar, dating back to the famous 1947 flying saucer hoax, the mysterious molten metal recovered from Maury Island, revealed to be nothing but slag. Many UFO hardware claims have been made in the years since, and all have been as disappointing. This new exciting claim from TTSA’s Director of Global Security & Special Programs seems like a teaser, or a cliffhanger, part of a campaign to get the customers to return for another exciting chapter.

Conclusions belong at the End

There are valid UFO cases to study - genuine mysteries. Having the AATIP or TTSA claim to have documents, videos or testimony doesn’t mean much, and chances are it’s not superior to the other evidence we’ve seen so far. Elizondo's excitement over “I don't know where it's from” doesn’t make any of it extraterrestrial. That’s just insufficient data. Computer programmers coined a term for bad input leading to bad results; GIGO - for garbage in, garbage out. But that’s not the only cause of poor outcomes. The cancelled AATIP, in effect, had a bad processor, Robert Bigelow.
Robert Bigelow and Dr. Edward Condon

Long before the the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program there was another Government-contracted UFO study conducted by civilians, and it had some similarities to Bigelow’s involvement in this recent one. It was the 1966-68 University of Colorado study directed by Professor E. U. Condon. Both studies were led by biased men who set out to prove their forgone conclusions about the nature of UFOs. Researchers have found that once you get past the introductory anti-UFO summary by Condon himself, there is much of value in the Colorado study itself. Perhaps the same will prove true of team Bigelow's and the AATIP’s findings, if we are ever allowed to see them.

The Pursuit of Dreams

The response to the NYT’s story has been huge, and shows there’s still an interest in UFO mysteries, especially if packaged with some Government intrigue. The topics of extraterrestrial life and UFOs are exciting, and more exciting still if it turns that they are proven to belong in the same discussion.

Through the ages, some explorers chasing dreams have managed to discover - or invent - wonderful new things to change our understanding of the world around us. Stories of such wondrous discoveries outnumber the genuine achievements, but the real ones have made history - and few of them required you buy a ticket or shares in the franchise before the goods were delivered.

We should continue to study the skies and whatever lies beyond them. We must be prepared to put aside our expectations and follow wherever the evidence takes us.

. . .

Leftovers: Related Thoughts and Scraps

STAR Team footnote
The closest direct comparison to Bigelow’s use of MUFON’s STAR Team is when the University of Colorado's Government-funded study lead by Professor E. U. Condon contacted the Early Warning Network which drew on the volunteer manpower of UFO groups APRO and NICAP to investigate sighting reports. Bigelow arranged for something similar with MUFON, having a rapid response team STAR. The similarities seem to end there, since Bigelow and his team were responsible for analyzing the data.

“To supplement Air Force reporting, we set up our own Early Warning Network, a group of about 60 active volunteer field reporters, most of whom were connected with APRO or NICAP. They telephoned or telegraphed to us intelligence of UFO sightings in their own territory and conducted some preliminary investigation for us while our team was en route. Some of this cooperation was quite valuable. Scientific Study Of Unidentified Flying Objects (1969) by Dr. Edward U. Condon & Walter Sullivan, page 33.

Sidebar on Botched Mainstream UFO News

The last UFO story to get this kind of major media attention was in 2011, Annie Jacobsen's account in Area 51 of the Roswell incident being a Soviet propaganda attack, a fake space invasion with the crash of a Nazi “flying saucer” piloted by “a crew of grotesque child-size aviators for Stalin.”

Other less spectacular and equally inaccurate stories were in 2015,with the announcement that the UFO files of Project Blue Book had been released “for the first time,” but the files had been out on microfilm for decades and online since 2005.

In Jan. 2016, the CIA recycled some of their UFO files, labelling it “Take a Peek Into Our ‘X-Files,’” with the result that the mainstream media erroneously reported it as a new declassification of UFO documents. A bit closer to the truth was a year later in Jan. 2017 when new documents were released, but the bulk of those were on the CIA’s psychic research, not UFOs- although many of the same players were involved.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Betty Cash, Vickie Landrum and their UFO Report

December 29 is the anniversary of the Cash-Landrum UFO case, also sadly of the death of Betty Cash. At the end of each year, we take a moment to remember the witnesses and their story.

Betty Cash and Vickie Landrum

After their lawsuit against the US government was dismissed in 1986 without going to trial, UFO witnesses Betty Cash and Vickie Landrum were left without much hope. A new opportunity arose when they were invited to appear on the October 14, 1988 television special, UFO Cover-Up? Live to tell the story of their experience. Afterward, Betty began a crusade for a Congressional hearing prompted by the show's phone poll for a new government exploration of the UFO topic.  The Times Daily (Alabama) on Feb. 18, 1989 reported that, “She said that Sen. Howell Heflin, D-Ala began working to obtain a congressional hearing after calls of support came in during an October television special that featured her and others claiming to have been hurt by UFOs.”

The petition failed to produce results, and there's scarcely any mention of it found today, but it seemed to renew Betty and Vickie's efforts. They became more involved with the UFO community, and they even explored another attempt to sue the US government for the health problems they associated with their UFO sighting. 

Betty Cash's daughter Mickey Geisinger got involved in the cause, writing to Jenny Randles, in a letter published in UFO Times, published by BUFORA, the British UFO Research Association, in their May 1990 issue.

It was during this time, Betty and Vickie attended the MUFON Symposium held in July of 1990, "UFOs: The Impact of E.T. Contact Upon Society," held in Pensacola, Florida. This was during the heyday of the publicity around Ed Walter's Gulf Breeze UFO sightings. Thanks to Michael Christol for sharing a photograph.
MUFON director Walt Andrus, Jeanne Andrus, Betty Cash and Vickie Landrum
at the 1990 MUFON Symposium in Pensacola Florida.

Betty Cash's Newspaper Obituary

Betty Cash's death was reported in the Alabama newspaper, The Anniston Star, Anniston, on Wednesday, December 30, 1998, on page 5A. An interesting point is that Betty's occupation was listed, "She worked for many years as a private nurse." However, according to John Schuessler's 1998 book on the Cash-Landrum story, Betty "never worked a single day since the encounter because of poor health."  

The obituary mentions Betty's children, but her daughter's name, Geisinger is misspelled. Betty's son, Toby was supposedly the first person to examine her physical problems after the UFO encounter, but after that, he vanishes from the story. Here, his name was given as Bill Howard, and he lived in Oxford, Alabama, as did Betty in her final days.

Below is a clipping of the article, followed by a reproduction of the text.

The Anniston Star, Wed. Dec. 30, 1998


 OXFORD - Graveside services for Betty Cash, 69, of 2311 Nancy Drive will be Thursday at 11 a.m. at Oxford Memorial Park Cemetery with Douglas Wells officiating. The family will receive friends Thursday from 9 a.m. until time of services at Miller Funeral Home. Mrs. Cash died Tuesday at Regional Medical Center. 
Survivors include a daughter, Mickey Giesinger of Irving, Texas; a son, Bill Howard of Oxford; three sisters, Lois Green of Lincoln, Shirley McNair of Fort Worth, Texas, and Midge Helms of Birmingham; a brother, Charles Collins of Kansas City, Mo.; and three grandchildren. 
Pallbearers will be LeFair Willingham, Sonny Gunnells, Robert Eden, Joey Giesinger and Richard Green. 
Mrs. Cash, a native of Birmingham, had lived in Oxford for the past six years. She worked for many years as a private nurse.
Vickie Landrum passed away on September 12, 2007. Please see the previous BBL article,   Remembering Betty Cash and Vickie Landrum  for more on her and Betty's final resting places.

Sharing the Story

Betty and Vickie fought hard to have their story told. Strangely, the UFO files on their case have not been made available. Here's the case file, a PDF of the original 35-page report to MUFON by John Schuessler and Project VISIT, dated March 4, 1981.  

There are plenty of things to say about the content, but the analysis will be covered separately in a later BBL piece. My index of the report:

Cash-Landrum Original Case Report (35 pages) by John F. Schuessler, unless noted otherwise.

1 - 2 MUFON form: “UFO Sighting Questionnaire- General Cases (Form 1)” with location, sketches of UFO and event data. Name of Investigator, “John F. Schuessler,” “Witness: Vicky Landrum.” Dated March 3, 1981 (“4-3-81”). 2 pages.

3 - 13 Cash/Landrum Case “On-Site Investigation Report, Date: 28 Feb 1981,” Interview with Vickie and Colby Landrum. Handwritten, 11 pages. (Page one on VISIT letterhead.)

14 MUFON “UFO Sighting Questionnaire - Computer Input (Form 2)” “Vicky Landrum”
(Basic information on location of sighting and witness data).

15 MUFON “UFO Sighting Questionnaire - Computer Input (Form 2)” “Betty Cash.”

16 -23  Report of meeting and interview with Betty Cash dated 22 Feb. 1981. Handwritten, 8 pages. (Page one on VISIT letterhead.)

24 - 27 Alan Holt, report of (2/28/81) interview with Vickie and Colby Landrum. Handwritten, 4 pages. (On VISIT letterhead.)

28 Al Holt memo: “Conversation with Bill English,” undated. (English of APRO was the first investigator to speak to Vickie Landrum.) Handwritten, 1 page. (On VISIT letterhead.)

29 - 30 Al Holt: “Helicopter Investigation,” 3/10/81. Handwritten, 2 pages. (On VISIT letterhead.)

31 - 33  21 Feb. 1981, 1 pm: “Betty Cash called collect from Dayton, TX” (Phone interview: first witness contact.) Typed, 3 pages. (Page one on VISIT letterhead.)

34 - 35 1st MUFON Cash-Landrum case contact: 20 February 1981,  by phone from reporter Cathy Gordon. “Caller: Kathy Gordon, Conroe Daily Courier...” Typed, 2 pages. (Page one on VISIT letterhead.)

The link again:

 The original 35-page report to MUFON by John Schuessler and Project VISIT, dated March 4, 1981.

The analysis and transcript of the original case report has since been published: