Thursday, August 29, 2019

Ufology's Legacy from Loch Ness

Last year, my friend Claude Falkstrom gave a high recommendation for a book on the Loch Ness Monster. Although it sounded interesting, I took no action, mostly due to feeling that I knew the story already. Recently he virtually forced a copy on me, and I found I’d been wrong. There was more in it new to me than not, and I found the book to be brilliant. As Claude had told me, it also indirectly had much of value pertaining to the study of UFOs. 

The book is A Monstrous Commotion: The Mysteries of Loch Ness by Gareth Williams, 2015. 

The press release for the book provides some biographical data on the author:
“Gareth Williams is Emeritus Professor and former Dean of Medicine at Bristol University. An internationally recognised authority in diabetes and obesity research, he has written 200 scientific papers and authored or edited over 20 medical books…”

With that background, one might fairly expect a scientific evaluation of the evidence, but this is something different, a detailed look at the history of Loch Ness sightings and of the people who pursued the study of the alleged Monster. The book is also heavily illustrated, with pictures of the key figures, maps, and photographs taken by the witnesses.

A Monstrous Commotion's central figure, naturalist Sir Peter Scott,
The Loch Ness Monster story really took off in 1933, getting over a decade’s head start on the flying saucer story, but they are close enough together in time and character to almost be twins when it comes to the matter of pursuing the respective mysteries. Williams shows how the story began in the press, but unlike Kenneth Arnold’s flying saucers, the Loch Ness Monster was slow at the start. Once it emerged, it seemed almost equally contagious, and many other sightings followed the first. Unlike saucers, which could be seen anywhere, the Monster could only be seen  at the Loch. In time, a flood of visitors came to try to catch a glimpse as the legend grew over the decades.

As UFO authors would later do, reporters and investigators dug through historical records for matching reports. Indeed, old reports of mysterious events in the Loch were found, from myths and legends to newspaper stories. Though many of them differed in substantial details, it formed a database of sorts, driven by witness testimony. Some of those witnesses had multiple sightings, “repeaters,” with too much of a good thing. In time, there were a few photographs of varying quality, and a famous one came to be known as “the Surgeon’s Photograph.” It showed the definite form of an animal, taken by a witness, a professional man of unquestionable reputation. 

There were hoaxes, however; phony tracks, monsters and photos, frequent frauds that confused the issue and poisoned the topic in the minds of scientists. The fakes damaged the efforts of those who were pushing for a scientific inquiry. That takes us to another familiar element from ufology we find in the book, the clash between proponents and skeptics. Williams says of the supporters:

“Hoaxers might have taken the Monster’s name in vain, but they had little impact on the rapidly increasing numbers of believers around the world. ”

Regarding the opponents, even in the face of credible witness testimony and quality photographs:

“The vast majority of mainstream zoologists… were still unpersuaded that the Monster was real. They were entrenched in their scepticism, just as the scientific establishment had been since the 1930s. To them, the Monster was not the greatest zoological coup of the century, but a preposterous insult to the intelligence of anyone who understood the basic rules of science.”

Williams’ book is not a dry history, and one of its greatest strengths is making the figures discussed come to life, particularly Sir Peter Scott, the painter and conservationist who was persuaded to become an advocate for the scientific study of the Loch Ness Monster. With Scott’s reputation supporting the effort over the decades, the topic was given an air of respectability.

Illustrations from the book, an alleged photograph and some of the many scientific endeavors.
It was a struggle to have the studies taken seriously, and the scientific establishment seemed fiercely opposed to any effort by the advocates to have the Monster classified as a real animal. As a result, some reputations were damaged. A Monstrous Commotion chronicles at least one scientist who lost his job due to his support of the animal’s reality.

Nessie’s supporters scored several victories in the 1970s, most notably when an underwater photo was taken of the creature’s flipper and placed on the cover of the prestigious Nature magazine. This was an enormous boost for the hypothesis that Nessie was a surviving aquatic dinosaur species, and it encouraged other scientific attempts to investigate.

The book’s finale wraps the story up nicely by revealing some of the parts of the story that were hidden in the early days, the identities of some of the players reporting the news, making sighting claims, and in one instance, taking photographs. In another nice touch, Williams includes a chapter, "The human factor," that tells what became of the key people involved in the story of the Monster. Over the years, not all evidence was presented honestly, and some of the players involved seemed to have covered up some inconvenient facts. In his final chapter, he notes, “Almost all of us want the Monster to exist, whether or not we believe in it.”

William's book provides a perfect case for ufologists to study; to step away from their saucers and to look at how belief and media promotion can give something a mythological life of its own, quite independently of whether or not the underlying subject matter is of substance or not.

A Monstrous Commotion: The Mysteries of Loch Ness by Gareth Williams can be previewed on Google Books, and you’ll find several options there for getting the book in print.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Documents Released via FOIA on the AATIP UFO Videos

On March 26, 2018, Swedish UFO researcher Roger Glassel submitted a FOIA request relating to the 3 Navy UFO videos made famous in relation to the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP). The request asked for “all documents related to DOPSR’s review of these videos, to include who submitted the request in the report results of such a review.”

On August 16, 2019, Roger Glassel received a response from his FOIA request and published the documents on the UFO UpDates Facebook group, then later on Twitter.

UFO UpDates


The FOIA documents Glassel received contain 16 pages, a series of emails between Luis D. Elizondo (then Director, National Programs Special Management Staff, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence) and Michael C. Russo of The Defense Office of Prepublication and Security Review (DOPSR), and the forms requesting and releasing three .mpg video files, “GoFast, Gimble and FLIR.” The files can be viewed or downloaded at the following link:

Timeline: Selected TTSA and AATIP Events

Events leading up to the release of the videos and their use.

July 23, 2015: Tom DeLonge posted a photo on Facebook of John Podesta taken while filming a documentary for his To The Stars Media Inc., DeLonge’s company designed to the “Disney” of UFOs, creating an entertainment franchise.  

April 5, 2016: The first To The Stars Media UFO franchise product was released, Sekret Machines: Chasing Shadows by Tom DeLonge and A. J. Hartley.

Feb. 13, 2017: To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science Inc. (TTSA) was incorporated as “a Delaware public benefit corporation.” 

August 9, 2017: Luis D. Elizondo’s filed a DOPSR request for the release of three videos of “Unmanned aerial vehicles.”

Aug 24, 2017: DD Form 1910 granted release as requested by Elizondo,
“Not for publication. Research and analysis ONLY and info sharing with other USG and industry partners for the purposes of developing a database to help identify, analyze, and ultimately defeat UAS threats.” (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) 

Sept. 9, 2017: Elizondo sent copies of the Navy videos to Chris Mellon.

Oct. 4, 2017: Elizondo resigned from the Defense Department.

Oct. 11, 2017: TTSA press conference, which announced the organization and Elizondo’s role as their “Director of Global Security.”

Director of Global Security

Dec. 16, 2017The New York Times publishes the AATIP story presenting the first two of the three videos.

Of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and False Pretenses

In 2017, while preparing the TTSA launch, the media was shown documents for the purpose of establishing the legitimacy of AATIP as a UFO program. Only a few reporters questioned what was being promoted. Joby Warrick, in “Head of Pentagon’s Secret ‘UFO’ Office Sought to Make Evidence Public” by, The Washington Post, Dec 16, 2017:

“Elizondo, in an internal Pentagon memo requesting that the videos be cleared for public viewing, argued that the images could help educate pilots and improve aviation safety. But in interviews, he said his ultimate intention was to shed light on a little-known program Elizondo himself ran for seven years: a low-key Defense Department operation to collect and analyze reported UFO sightings.”

Later in Warrick’s article he explained that obtaining the videos was part of Elizondo’s resignation strategy, and his transition into the UFO business in the private sector:

“As part of his decision to leave the Pentagon, he not only sought the release of videos but also penned a letter to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis complaining that a potential security threat was being ignored.”

As the timeline above showed, within days of his resignation Elizondo was on stage with TomDeLonge as an employee of To The Stars. 

Oct. 11, 2017
The Washington Post story raised a lasting  concern about the propriety of the release and their subsequent use by TTSA, that Elizondo had obtained them under false pretenses

In an attempt to prove the videos were legitimate, George Knapp published the DD 1910 form that requested the release of the videos. However, he chose to redact certain information, including the name of Luis D. Elizondo and his title within the DOD.
“EXCLUSIVE: I-Team confirms Pentagon did release UFO videos” by George Knapp and Matt Adams, Apr 29, 2019

The FOIA documents contain no mention by Elizondo of AATIP, UFOs, UAPs or any mention of anomalous aircraft, just the threat of “Unmanned aerial vehicles (balloons, commercial UAVs, private drones such as quadcopters, etc.)”

Responding to the FOIA release of the correspondence, Luis Elizondo provided George Knapp with this statement:
"At the time of the request, AATIP was still a small and sensitive program that I was not at liberty to discuss among a broader audience. I used the term UAS as a general phrase that people could understand without specifically highlighting UAPs."

Chasing Shadows

The FOIA documents do not prove where the Navy videos came from, what they depict, or under what circumstances they were packaged and labeled. However, it’s almost certain that someone within AATIP who prepared them to be presented as UFO videos. Therefore, if released, the mpg files would appear to be official UFO videos. The documents state the purpose for which Elizondo said he would use the videos, and his actual use of them was far different. The question we have to ask ourselves is that a bit of falsehood wrong if it motivates a search for the truth?

King Arthur and the Holy Grail by Howard David Johnson

“Since ancient times the literature of Europe has always featured tales of mysterious and fabulous kingdoms... Some of these stories, brought back by travelers like Marco Polo, were fairly accurate, while others were less so... made up out of whole cloth. Europeans reading or hearing accounts of the wonders of Cathay, Hind, El Dorado, or Prester John's kingdom in Africa could rarely differentiate the true from the imaginary. These stories served as entertainment, but perhaps more importantly they served as an impetus for exploration.”
Professor Michael Levy, introduction to the 2003 edition of The Moon Pool by A. Merritt

Similar positive thoughts have been expressed by ufologists, such as this statement from a lecture given at a Mutual UFO Network Symposium on July 1, 1989:

"Throughout our history mankind has witnessed many quests for things which either did not exist, or which, when found, turned out to be something quite different from what was expected... the Holy Grail... the fountain of youth... seven cities of gold... Atlantis... King Arthur and his knights of the round table. In every case, it was not the goal so much as the process of the search itself which made a positive contribution to man's knowledge of himself and the planet he lives on." 
— William L. Moore

The link again to the FOIA files released to Roger Glassel: