Saturday, September 30, 2023

Ben Rich, Area 51, & Taking ET Home

One of the enduring modern legends of ufology is that Lockheed developed advanced UFO-type technology, perhaps due to reverse-engineering extraterrestrial spacecraft.

This is a follow up article to Lockheed, the Area 51 Interceptors & John Lear

(Updated Sept. 20, 2023 with comment on Ben Rich from Steve Justice.)

In his 1994 autobiography, Skunk WorksBen Rich wrote that while Lockheed was developing the stealth plane: 
"Some of our senior engineers thought it might be easier to build a flying saucer. The problem was how to build one… We don't know how to do that. The Martians wouldn’t tell us.” 
Rich had a sense of humor, and he could engage in some boastful sensationalizing (BS for short) to improve a story.

It came from Area 51

The myth of the Skunk Works super technology is closely tied to the lore of UFOs. The stories told by Paul Bennewitz were repeated by John Lear, who grafted Area 51 onto the narrative. Shortly afterwards, Bob Lazar surfaced to spotlight Area 51, which soon gave rise to stories of the legendary Aurora.

The Area 51 "Interceptors," Jim Goodall and John Andrews were involved in pursuing this, as well as Andrews' friend Lee Graham, who got tangled in the MJ-12 document circus. Andrews and Goodall tried to coax Stealth secrets and UFO stories out of Ben Rich, but he mostly responded in friendly deflecting replies. If Ben Rich ever made extravagant statements about Lockheed spacecraft, there's no indication that it was anything more than words.

Kooks and Charlatans

On the forum Above Top Secret, ATSZOMBIE asked about the Skunk Works legends,
"Ben Rich, stated during a 1993, Alumni Speech at UCLA, 
We already have the means to travel among the stars, but these technologies are locked up in black projects and it would take an Act of God to ever get them out to benefit humanity...Anything you can imagine, we already know how to do.
A traceable context for the quote, if he actually did gave it?"

There were several floundering answers, but using the screen name Shadowhawk, aviation historian Peter Merlin joined the conversation: 

Peter Merlin

Merlin replied:
Ben Rich is constantly misquoted as saying "We now have the technology to take E.T home." That is not what he said. 

At the end of his presentation he showed his final slide, a picture of a disk-shaped craft – the classic “flying saucer” – flying into a partly cloudy sky with a burst of sunlight in the background and he gave his standard tagline. It was a joke he had used in numerous presentations since 1983 when Steven Spielberg’s "E.T. the Extraterrestrial," a film about a young boy befriending a lost visitor from space and helping the alien get home, had become the highest-grossing film of all-time. Rich apparently decided to capitalize on this popularity. By the summer of 1983, he had added the flying saucer picture to the end of a set of between 12 and 25 slides that he showed with his lecture on the history of Lockheed's famed Skunk Works division. 

Rich had long used a standard script for his talks, tailoring the content as necessary to accommodate his audience. Since most Skunk Works current projects were classified, it didn’t matter whether he was addressing schoolchildren or professional aeronautical engineers; he always ended the same way. At a Defense Week symposium on future space systems in Washington, D.C., on September 20, 1983, he said, “Unfortunately, I cannot tell you what we have been doing for the last 10 years. It seems we score a breakthrough at the Skunk Works every decade, so if you invite me back in 10 years I’ll be able to tell you what we are doing [now]. I can tell you about a contract we recently received. The Skunk Works has been assigned the task of getting E.T. back home.” The audience laughed, as it was meant to do. 

If something is successful, it is worth repeating. Rich gave an identical speech at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, on September 6, 1984, and continued using his script during successive appearances. Sometimes he refined the details a bit. “I wish I could tell you what else we are doing in the Skunk Works,” he said, wrapping up a presentation for the Beverly Hills chapter of the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution on May 23, 1990. “You’ll have to ask me back in a few years. I will conclude by telling you that last week we received a contract to take E.T. back home.” 

Three years later he was still using the same line and the same slide. “We did the F-104, C-130, U-2, SR-71, F-117 and many other programs that I can’t talk about,” he proclaimed during a 1993 speech at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, home of Air Force Materiel Command, the organization responsible for all flight-testing within the Air Force. “We are still working very hard, I just can’t tell you what we are doing.” As usual, he added his by now infamous punchline, “The Air Force has just given us a contract to take E.T. back home.” 
Within the UFO community, Rich’s words, and additional statements attributed to him without corroborative proof, have become gospel. He is named as having admitted that extraterrestrial UFO visitors are real and that the U.S. military has interstellar capabilities, and although nearly two full years passed between Rich’s UCLA speech and his death in 1995, some believers have touted his comments as a “deathbed confession.” It was nothing of the kind. 

Rich, a brilliant scientist, apparently believed in the existence of other intelligent life in the universe, though only as something distant and mysterious. In July 1986, after Testor Corporation model-kit designer John Andrews wrote asking what he thought about the possible existence of either manmade or extraterrestrial UFOs, Rich responded, “I’m a believer in both categories. I feel everything is possible.” He cautioned, however, that, “In both categories, there are a lot of kooks and charlatans – be cautious.” 
Slide  13

Merlin went on to say in another comment:
The main point of my earlier posts was simply that Ben Rich did not say what some people claim he said. Most of his so-called quotes are not traceable back to a reliable source. The Keller/Harzan accounts of his 1993 UCLA speech are based solely on memory and were only reported years after the event. The overall description of Rich's presentation matches (for the most part) his standard script, though I'm not sure that I believe he ended that talk with a discussion of the F-117A. By 1993, he was ending with the YF-22 winning the Advanced Tactical Fighter fly-off competition, something the Skunk Works was justifiably proud of at the time. Perhaps he mentioned it earlier in his UCLA speech, or maybe Keller and Harzan simply forgot. It is not really important. I won't hold it against Keller and Harzan that they describe his UFO slide as a black disk flying into space, rather than as a metallic flying saucer in a cloudy sky with a sunburst. Their description is not bad for being based on memory, and I was just looking at a photocopy of the original slide last week. Quoting Rich as saying, "We have the technology to take E.T. home" is a close but memory-distorted version of what he actually said, as evidenced by his presentation scripts, which he followed closely. 
Peter Merlin later greatly expanded the material, providing documentation in an excellent article for Tim Printy's SUNlite,
"Taking ET Home: Birth of a Modern Myth." See pages 17-19 SUNlite5_6.pdf


Steve Justice on the Ben Rich and the Lockheed UFO Legends

In 2020, more evidence surfaced, testimony from  one of Ben Rich's Skunk Works colleagues. Steve Justice, as described in his bio at VirginGalactic:

“A 39-year veteran of Lockheed Martin and a ‘legend’ in its Skunk Works division - he brings incredibly deep leadership and engineering experience. During his career, he led numerous technology breakthrough programs and served on the teams that developed the F-117A Nighthawk, the world’s first stealth attack aircraft, the YF-22A prototype for the F-22A stealth fighter, and the JASSM stealth missile. He also served as deputy program manager for Lockheed Martin's Blackswift, an innovative reusable hypersonic testbed for high speed, high-altitude aircraft technologies.”

While Steve Justice was part of Tom DeLonge’s To the Stars Academy of Arts & Sciences (TTSA), he was interviewed by Luis Elizondo in July of 2020 for the company’s podcast. Near the end, questions were read from social media submissions, and one asked about Ben Rich and claims of Lockheed having advanced UFO-level technology.

TTSA Talks Ep. 6: Steve Justice Talks About His Journey From Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works to TTSA (7/30/2020) YouTube clip starting with Ben Rich question. 

Luis Elizondo: John asks, “All right, Steve please comment on this, according to Ben Rich CEO of Lockheed Martin Skunk Works in 1993 he said, “We now have the technology to take E.T home.” The question that John has is, “Is he nuts or what?”

Steve Justice: I'll - I'm gonna say you know, I've seen this quote and I've seen it just propagate like crazy especially through the social media world and that kind of stuff, and I've heard it attributed to a number of things too, private conversations, but in speeches is where one of the common threads is. And as the historian for the Skunk Works yeah this this was a question I had too, and I actually worked with Ben um and sat in his office and talked with him about all kinds of subjects including this, and he never said that to me okay. But one of the really interesting things, Ben wrote down all of his speeches they were all written out including the listing of the slides out there, so what is in the social media world is that we say we have this ability to take ET home and he shows a slide of a flying saucer up there.

So I remember looking through Ben's speeches and I remember this just as clearly as can be, and because there's a slide that's called out for this little paragraph is ‘Skunk in the clouds’ so that was one of the slides we would put up as a thing of, ‘hey we're working on pretty cool stuff out there, you know, wait a decade or two and you might see it.’ But it was to indicate that the Skunk had a future out there but we couldn't discuss it. So the Skunk in the clouds was the identified slide and I used it many times when I was giving speeches to civic groups or schools or whatever. But his actual words in the speech were, I'm going to try to remember this as clearly as I possibly can was like, “You may be wondering what we're working on in the Skunk Works now and we can't talk about it but I want you to know we've just been awarded a contract to build this (with the Skunk in the clouds [slide]) to fly E.T back home.”

Okay, that's what I have written down that he said. And so you know, things change over time and that kind of stuff, and there's perceptions and distortions. I can't like to say I can't speak for any private conversations Ben had. I can speak to the private conversation he had with me... [Interrupted by question]

Luis Elizondo: Well let me ask you this Steve,  On that, I mean, if someone has a technology to send the Mars rover to go, let's say on to Mars, or an asteroid, or another planet and collect soil samples and bring it back home and there happens to potentially be microbial life or some sort of alien life form, is that really that far-fetched? NASA actually has plans to do just that don't they, to actually take soil samples and bring them back here to our planet and look at these samples?

Steve Justice: They do, but the context that I knowing Ben, he was the joke master. I mean just loved humor and he loved messing with people, and so to me this statement particularly when he's frustrated that he can't get credit for what you know the Skunk Work was doing to help Lockheed shareholders you know, and Lockheed investors, and quite honestly in a lot of cases, executive leadership know what was going on, it was a frustration point for him, so he would put big fluffy statements out there that sounded so off the wall they were…

Luis Elizondo:  So just provocative statements…

Steve Justice: …just provocative as could be. I remember when the F-117 Stealth Fighter was black, he made statements like you know, “We have stuff going on in the desert that's just decades ahead of your imagination.” And he was specifically talking about the Stealth Fighter but people attribute that to whatever they want it to be. But he was so incredibly frustrated that he couldn't get credit for this incredible breakthrough of stealth technology, so it manifested itself in multiple ways. So I attribute it more to that, but that's the real life quote of Ben, let’s say, he may have said the other, but he didn't do it to me, and it was in none of the transcripts of his speeches.
. . .

Closing words from Ben Rich from Skunk Works:
"The Skunk Works has always been perched at the cutting edge. More than half a dozen times over the past fifty years of cold war we have managed to create breakthroughs in military aircraft or weapons systems that tipped the strategic balance of power for a decade or longer, because our adversaries could not duplicate or counter what we had created. That must continue to be our role into the next century, if we are to preserve what we have accomplished and be prepared for the hazards as well as the opportunities for the uncharted, risky future"

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

An Impressive New Book on UFO Witness Testimony

The Reliability of UFO Witness Testimony is a new book edited by Vicente-Juan Ballester Olmos and Richard W. Heiden, "the first major book to comprehensively focus on the discussion and current views on problems and challenges posed by the reliability of UFO testimonies."

A portion of table of contents.

"This is a cross-disciplinary compendium of papers by 60 authors from 14 different countries. They are specialists in social, physical, and biological sciences, including psychology (predominantly) as well as psychiatry, sociology, anthropology, history, philosophy, folklore, religion, journalism, engineering, computing, medicine, education, analysts with experience in the critical study of UFO perceivers, and other professionals. This volume shares thematically convergent ideas about the plausibility of alternate explanations for an alleged close-range UFO phenomenon. 

The 57 chapters in this book are divided into seven section headings: Case Studies, Psychological Perspectives, On Witness Testimony, Empirical Research, Anthropological Approach, Metrics and Scaling, and Epistemological Issues. " 

Of particular interest to readers here: Chapter 12 by Dr. Gary P. Posner, "The Legendary Cash-Landrum Case: Radiation Sickness from a Close Encounter?" Dr. Posner became interested in the medical aspects of the Cash-Landrum case in late 1981 and conducted his own research from a skeptical point of view. His 14-page examination focuses on the case from the book's perspective, witness reliability.

This 711-page book has been released online in the portal, from where it can be downloaded for free as a PDF: The Reliability of UFO Witness Testimony

Simultaneously, UPIAR Publishing House (Turin, Italy) has published two softcover, A4 format print editions, one in black & white, another in full color (ISBN: 9791281441002). The book can be purchased through this link: UPIAR Store

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

UFOs, Fame and Anonymity


Anonymity is a contentious issue in UFO research, drawing criticism for relying on unnamed witnesses, undisclosed sources, and the use of pseudonyms by authors and researchers. Then there is the UFO field’s long problem with the many types actively seeking attention, such as show business personalities, snake oil salesmen, cosmic televangelists, and hoaxers. Meanwhile, some sincere people who have had their name published have been subjected to ridicule, harassment, and the loss of their jobs. How can ufology seek truth and transparency while safeguarding the privacy of individuals?

Dr. Rank's Proposal

Dr. Peter Rank (1935-1988) was the Director of the Department of Radiology of the Methodist Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. In the 1980s, he served on the board of the Fund for UFO Research (FUFOR) and as a medical consultant for the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON). Dr. Rank is perhaps best remembered for consulting on the famous 1980 Cash-Landrum UFO case in relation to Betty Cash’s medical issues. When the U.S. Army investigated the case, Col. George Sarran sought out to Dr. Rank for his thoughts. The documentation shows that Rank was interested in cooperating with the investigation, but he desired “no public attention” relating to the UFO case.

Leonard Stringfield’s work on UFO crash retrievals received much criticism for relying almost exclusively on anonymous witnesses. Dr. Peter Rank supported Stringfield’s work and defended him in an article in The MUFON UFO Journal, March 1982, page 16. The key portions discussing the issue of identity exposure are reproduced below.

Witness Protection: A Comment

by Peter Rank, M.D.

For a generation now UFOlogists have been unconsciously assuming that "the Journalistic Model of reporting" is the one which demands the most credence. Information published in the media demand that such stories reveal the who, what, where, when, and why of the incident reported. It is assumed that such complete disclosure lends authenticity to the story involved and indeed is a requirement for believability. Most UFOlogists have adhered to this principle whenever possible. Such full disclosure according to the Journalistic Model has been counter-productive. In many cases, foreknowledge that their names would be published in the popular media has driven away UFO witnesses and certainly has driven away any informants who cared to comment anonymously about the Crash/Retrieval-Syndrome. 

It should now be clear to all dedicated UFOlogists more than a generation after Kenneth Arnold’s sighting, that a different manner of reporting UFO information than the Journalistic-Model is required. Perhaps another alternative should be adopted, Specifically the Medical Model of reporting scientific information, and do so in, accordance with case history technique. Medical literature frequently has need of describing objective and very personal information about patients. The literature is replete with such case histories. In all cases the patients’ anonymity is respected and the patient identified only by initials. These case histories are never challenged on the grounds that the patients full name is not disclosed, and the underlying integrity of reporting is assumed as a matter of fact. 

Might it not be useful for us to adopt a similar approach? Both witnesses and informants would thereby be protected. Witnesses could then report all their data to serious researchers with the clear knowledge that they and their families would never be identified in any publication which might provoke the popular media to descend upon them like locusts at a feast. Informants, many of whom are discussing information that is highly classified, perhaps several levels above the well known Top Secret category, may then feel free to "go public" with their information" without fear of retribution. This would encourage others to come out of the closet, and allow considerably more information to develop about the Crash/Retrieval Syndrome.  

There is obvious journalistic precedent for this practice. Journalists are, and always have been, very protective of their sources and have insisted in courts of law that their sources remain anonymous. Legal attempts to force journalists to reveal sources of their information have failed. This guaranteed anonymity has served as a mighty bulwark of a free journalism. It could also serve as a mighty bulwark for a more liberated investigative UFOlogy. 

…I have personally talked to a UFO witness, a CE-III subject, and several military types, and most seek to guard their privacy. It is quite clear that our first responsibility is to consider these people as "patients" who first of all need our assistance and support, and who need our guarantee that their privacy and good faith will not be abused.

Stigma and Unwanted Attention

Dr. Rank had those privacy concerns for himself. In 1983, Florida journalist Billy Cox interviewed him his analysis of the Cash-Landrum case for the Dec. 4, 1983, edition of Today.: “The doctor’s credentials are impressive: head of the radiology department at a major Midwestern university, a former medical school teacher and a former Army flight surgeon.” Rank didn't want his name published, and said: 

“I'm not afraid for my reputation that is not the issue. The issue is, this whole UFO business attracts all sorts of psychiatrically marginal people. And then they get on the phone and they wanna waste your time and they call you during practice hours and all that garbage and I don't have time for that.”

The use of pseudonyms by legitimate researchers is not that an unusual practice in academic work. Their identity is generally shared with a few trusted colleagues, but not publicly shared, due to security or privacy concerns. As for government of industry whistleblowers, leakers etc., could be handled with the journalistic model for anonymity, where the source’s identity is known only by the author and at least one editor. The emphasis should not be on the name of the source, but on the veracity of the data.

From Col. Sarran's notes talking to Dr. Rank:
"no public attention"

The Missing Ingredient

Science, medicine, and journalism have professional standards. Ufology is mostly populated by amateurs with little or no oversight. As it is, no more trust can be put in anonymous sources than in the testimony of imaginary friends. Ufology must abandon its entertainment-based model and grow up and adopt an ethical code of professional conduct. 

There is a place for anonymity in ufology exactly as Dr. Rank suggested decades ago. The identities of witnesses should be handled like those of patients in a scientific or medical study, where the data is shared, but not their identity and personal details. That would deny any charlatans and hoaxers the fame they seek. More importantly, it’d protect witnesses and encourage more people to speak openly their UFO sightings without the fear of exploitation or ridicule.

. . . 

For Further Reading

Neuroskeptic. “Anonymity in Science.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences vol. 17,5, 2013: 195-6. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2013.03.004 

Keerie, Catriona et al. “Data Sharing in Clinical Trials - Practical Guidance on Anonymising Trial Datasets.” Trials vol. 19,1 25. 10 Jan. 2018, doi:10.1186/s13063-017-2382-9

The New York Times:  How The Times Uses Anonymous Sources, June 14, 2018