Thursday, April 23, 2020

The Pentagon UFO Money Trail

From Skinwalker Ranch to Bigelow Studies

By Curt Collins and Roger Glassel
(with research assistance from Keith Basterfield and Marc Cecotti)

Finding the truth about the Pentagon UFO program has been difficult since it is tangled in deception from its creation. The fog partly lifted, but was replaced by smoke, from promotion by advocates, to the contradictory statements from Pentagon officials. Select information has been downplayed or omitted, and some of the people involved do not want their involvement revealed. Others may wish to maintain the mystery for their own agendas. Even the name of the project has been a matter of controversy. Documents prove it was originally created in 2008 as AAWSAP, but by 2009 was commonly referred to as AATIP:

Advanced Aerospace Weapon System Applications Program (AAWSAP)
Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP)

The AATIP news coverage has portrayed it as a UFO project, which former players Dr. Hal Puthoff and Luis Elizondo insist is accurate. The Pentagon’s statements have been all over the chart, from it being a UAP study to a flat denial of the same. Part of the confusion comes in the original AAWSAP goals which stated: 

“The objective of this program is to understand the physics and engineering of these [advanced aerospace weapon system] applications as they apply to the foreign threat out to the far-term, i.e., from now through the year 2050.” 

There was no reference whatsoever to UFOs, but former Senator Harry Reid said that the first program manager (Dr. James T. Lacatski) wrote the AAWSAP contract with scientifically ambiguous terminology that would wouldn’t raise red flags, apparently so AAWSAP could get funding as an aerospace study of potential technological breakthroughs. The program contract stated: “The contractor shall complete advanced aerospace weapon system technical studies” on 12 topics, from propulsion to directed-energy weapons.

When AATIP was made public in the Dec. 16, 2017, New York Times, the article revealed that Robert Bigelow’s company “hired subcontractors and solicited research for the program.” That confirmed what had been suspected by a few ufologists, that Bigelow’s research, and that the work he contracted with MUFON had been funded by the US government. That disclosure went largely unnoticed at the time, with the spotlight put on the Navy UFO videos released in connection with the story. It was over a year later before an official statement from the US government acknowledged the Bigelow company’s involvement, defined their contracted responsibilities, and gave some indication of where the money went.

(Note: FY indicates Fiscal Year, the 12-month period from October 1 through September 30 used by the Federal Government for budget formulation and execution.)

The Pentagon Acknowledgement of Robert Bigelow’s Role in AATIP

(Email to Roger Glassel) 
12 Feb. 2019 from 
James M. Kudla M CIV DIA (US)
Public Affairs Officer
Office of Corporate Communications
Defense Intelligence Agency

“Mr. Glassel – Here is the information DIA has shared about the program:
The purpose of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP) was to investigate foreign advanced aerospace weapons system applications with future technology projections over the next 40 years and to create a center of expertise on advanced aerospace technologies. The goal was to help understand the threat posed by unconventional or leap ahead aerospace vehicles/technologies that could have national security implications for the United States.

DIA awarded a contract to a sole bidder [Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies, LLC,] who identified and worked with academics and scientists to produce 38 technical reports. The contract goal was to study 12 technical areas: lift, propulsion, control, armament, signatures reduction, materials, configuration, power generation, temporal translation, human effects, human interface, and technology integration.

After an OSD/DIA review in late 2009, it was determined the reports were of limited value to DIA and there was a recommendation that upon completion of the contract, the project could be transitioned to an agency or component better suited to oversee it. Funding for the program was ended in 2012.

I have no additional information about the program after it ended at DIA in 2012.”

Answering a follow up question the same day, Kudla responded:

“Mr. Glassel – The information I shared is the totality of the program while DIA ran it. The DIA program did not cover ‘anomalous events.’ The program required the contractor to produce studies in the 12 technical areas.”

The relevant portion about the BAASS funding from a reply by Susan Gough to a similar question:

(Email to Roger Glassel)
24 May 2019 from 
Susan L (Sue) Gough CIV OSD PA (USA)
Pentagon Spokesperson
Defense Public Affairs Operations

“As AAWSAP, the program commenced in FY2008. The first 26 technical reports produced under the program were completed by late 2009. The FY2010 Defense Appropriations Act (NDAA) included an additional $12 million for the program and 12 additional reports were produced. A total of 38 technical reports were delivered.”

Based on the available evidence, up until 2010, BAASS was AATIP. Bigelow’s company was contracted by the DIA to do all the research, investigation and analysis. Perhaps all AATIP amounted to at the Pentagon end was funding, filing and administration.

Most of the information from the statements by Kudla and Gough above were derived from the original 2008 AAWSAP bid contract awarded to BAASS. It made no mention of UFOs or phenomena, but as we’ll see, that was apparently a deliberate deception. That’s the Pentagon’s version of the story, now let’s compare it to what has been documented from other sources.

The AAWSAP-BAASS Origin Story: The Self-Laying Egg

In the beginning there was Robert Bigelow, a billionaire with an interest in UFOs and the paranormal. He owned Bigelow Aerospace, operated the National Institute for Discovery Science (NIDS) in 1995, and the next year purchased the Skinwalker Ranch. Bigelow NIDS shut down in 2004, but it certainly did not end his interest in the unexplained.

Bigelow associates George Knapp and Harry Reid
According to Bigelow associate George Knapp, the New York Times AATIP story, “sort of conflated some of the facts. The 22 million dollars that they allege funded AATIP, actually went to AAWSAP, the program that basically funded [Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies], that funded the study of Skinwalker Ranch and funded a much broader discussion, much broader than just UFOs. What we’d call paranormal activity.”

Relating a story about the 2007 time frame, Senator Harry Reid said his friend Robert Bigelow contacted him about receiving a letter from a a Ph.D, “a senior, longtime member of this security agency,” who wanted to visit Skinwalker Ranch. Afterwards the scientist (Dr. James Lacatski) said, “Somebody should study it.” When Reid asked how to persuade the US Senate who controlled over the defense money, the scientist replied, “What I will do is prepare something for you that anyone can look at it that wants to, it’s strictly science.” That would ultimately become the Advanced Aerospace Weapon System Applications Program (AAWSAP).

Skinwalker Ranch promoters claim that during this visit the DIA scientist had a paranormal encounter that no one else present witnessed. Supposedly it persuaded him of the reality of the phenomenon and prompted him to launch a Pentagon study.

Bigelow created a sister company, Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies, with the first known employee (Douglas S. Kurth) hired in Dec. 2007, then the company registered as a LLC in Jan. 2008, therefore in development several months prior to AAWSAP’s inception. Possibly a chicken or the egg question? With his friendship with Reid, or his contact with the DIA scientist, Bigelow may have known the AAWSAP bid opportunity was coming and spent months preparing for it. Harry Reid said, "we wanted to make sure people couldn't complain about it that it was some sweetheart deal" and that that the job open to any qualified contractor, "put out to bid."

On August 18, 2008 the Advanced Aerospace Weapon System Applications Program contract bid solicitation date opened, and the process closed on Sept. 5, with BAASS, the sole bidder, being awarded the contract. Just as Dr. Lacatski had told Sen. Reid, it was “strictly science” and made no mention of UFOs, anomalous events, or aerial phenomena. By mid-September 2008 BAASS was hiring scientists and other personnel in relation to the contract.

Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies was unveiled to the public in an interview with George Knapp on the radio program, Coast to Coast, Sept. 28, 2008. Bigelow used the show as some sort of substitute for a BAASS press release, describing most everything except for the fact that the DIA was funding the operation:
“The mission for this company is to pursue exotic, novel technologies. ... We have sponsors. We have partners, in this effort...” He described the initial stage would be hiring a number of people with “...diverse backgrounds; that are all experts in a variety of fields. We have to organize offices and office facilities. ...we’re going to be initiating relationships and contracts with various organizations and people...”

KLAS-TV 8 News Now, May 4, 2018, presented an article from a Bigelow unidentified former officer, “Statement from a Senior Manager of BAASS,” who described how Bigelow’s plan was implemented:

“BAASS broke new ground in professionalism by hiring, training and deploying 50 full-time staff comprising retired military intelligence and law enforcement officers, PhD level scientists, engineers, technicians, analysts, translators, and project managers to create the largest multi-disciplinary full-time team in history to investigate the UFO topic.”

As for Bigelow’s initiating “ relationships and contracts,” on September 20, 2008, he contacted John Schuessler of the Mutual UFO Network, who in turn shared the word with the Board of Directors about a “contract for MUFON... The work is proprietary...” Bigelow concealed the fact from MUFON that they were doing subcontracting work for the US government. The outcome of the BAASS-MUFON contracts was examined in detail in the article,  The Pentagon UFO Program’s Secret Partner 

Luis Elizondo was interviewed on Jan. 30, 2018, by George Knapp, and stated that he was familiar with BAASS and how it worked:
“DIA chose Mr. Bigelow, and Bigelow Aerospace. Bigelow, then further subcontracted this out. ...He looked for the best and brightest in the aerospace and the investigations field and everywhere else, to try to answer the mail, the mission, that the U.S. government, legally gave him.” He approved of Bigelow’s methods, saying, “I would have done it exactly the same way.” When prompted, he agrees that BAASS delivered a lot of material for the program. Elizondo responds, “Very quickly, by the way too. That organization provided a very clear snapshot of not only what we knew, but more importantly, what we didn’t know.”

Next, we’ll look at the projects connected with the program, and the money spent on them.

The Known AAWSAP Projects and Funding

To date, the DIA and Pentagon spokespersons have only acknowledged 38 scientific studies for the program, Defense Intelligence Reference Documents (DIRDs), that were produced by contractor Robert Bigelow’s company BAASS, thorough a subcontractor, Dr. Hal Puthoff’s EarthTech. (See the appendix for an examination of DIRDs) It has since been revealed that BAASS produced much more than the DIRDs under the DIA contract. What remains unknown is how much of what BAASS produced actually served the purpose of AAWSAP, and how much of that data gathered was actually delivered to the Pentagon. First we’ll examine the Skinwalker ranch involvement in the AATIP story, then take a look at the UFO projects chronologically.

Pre-AAWSAP: Skinwalker Ranch

Robert Bigelow reportedly paid $200,000 for Skinwalker Ranch in 1996, and it’s conceivable that his greatest investment there was not in the land, but the research conducted there between from 1996 to the early 2000s during the operation of NIDS. Supposedly the Ranch was a key point of interest in initiating the DIA program, but by all credible accounts, there was no substantial scientific work conducted there during the BAASS-AAWSAP contract period. The Ranch was staffed by only two guards at a time. They were there to guard the property, with the secondary directive to observe and report on anything anomalous. The guards were provided a small collection of outdated equipment, and their assigned investigative duties were minimal. It was a low-budget operation. 

Late 2007/early 2008 - BAASS was created, months before AAWSAP technically existed, or the bid for the contract went out. 

September 20, 2008 – In late Sept. Bigelow was awarded the FY09 contract for $10 million. Robert Bigelow approached MUFON about contracting for the technical papers in the 12 areas of AAWSAP interest, but did not reveal that the funding came from the DIA. The first MUFON contract resulted in 5 papers from the MUFON Advanced Technology Establishment (MATE), for which MUFON was paid about $10,000

September 28, 2008When BAASS awarded the contract, Bigelow appeared on Knapp’s Coast to Coast show to make an announcement of the company and what it was supposed to do, which included establishing facilities and building a team of scientists and technicians to conduct studies and analysis. The outlay of funds is unknown, but the salaries alone for the team must have been significant. Estimating 50 employees at $695,000 each, that would have been $3,450,000 per year.
September 30, 2008 - AAWSAP Contract Base Year started. BAASS was paid $10 million through contract # HHM402-08-C-0072. 

2008 Date? - Jacques Vallee oversaw the "Capella Project”, creating a vast UFO database. See: Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies (BAASS) and Vallee's "Capella" Project by Keith Basterfield

A Strategy for Research by Jacques F. Vallee, July 2014 CNES/CAIPAN Workshop
Oct. 3, 2008 - Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies registered the domain, however it appears to have never been active beyond hosting email addresses, two of which are known: and

Jan. 2009 - A BAASS hired a translator to transfer French GEIPAN documents into English, apparently to include them in the “Capella” database.

February 18, 2009 - after weeks of negotiations, a second contract between BAASS and MUFON was signed, for UFO field investigations and access to MUFON’s CMS for current and historical UFO sighting reports for a contracted fee of $56,000 monthly. BAASS subsequently ordered 40 MUFON Field Investigator manuals, for their team, in the amount of $1800 + shipping. 

Circa April 2009 - Equipment purchases for BAASS field investigators. A former BAASS employee’s LinkedIn profile states: “Managed the procurement of a wide variety of electronics, materials, thermal, night vision equipment and detectors.”

Date? 2009 - EarthTech - DIRDS 26 in FY09.
Dr. Hal Puthoff gave a talk on February 8, 2020 at an event held in Berkley Springs, WV, "DOD Unidentified Aerial Phenomena: The Back Story, The Forward Story." 

For further details, see: “Transcript: Hal Puthoff, Transition Talks Lecture” by Joe Murgia. 

Puthoff discussed AATIP, stated that he chose the topics of study, and explained how his company, EarthTech International, became involved:

“Well I came into the picture when BAASS contacted me, contacted my organization and asked me to collaborate as a subcontractor... I was contracted to commission papers from experts around the globe. ...over a two-year period, I let out thirty-eight contracts. ...if you read between the lines, and you see... This was definitely a UFO program. ...These papers were collected together and put out as a series of Defense Intelligence Reference Documents (DIRDs). They were put up on a special server called JWICs (Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System).”
To date, we don’t have documentation for the cost per paper of the subcontracted studies, but BAASS had contracted the MUFON Advanced Technology Establishment for five similar studies at a price of $2000 each. We can estimate a minimum expenditure on the first 26 DIRDs at $52,000 

May 30, 2009 - BAASS hired a Portuguese translator in preparation for a 2009 “mid summer or fall” Brazil trip to pursue UFO material, including Colares cases documents from the government’s “Operation Plate.” See: “BAASS team visited Brazil” An investigation by Marc Cecotti and Keith Basterfield. Their investigation revealed an email exchange from August 2009 relating to the purchase of UFO data and materials, and Ademar Gevaerd from Brazil recently confirmed: “We spoke about a contract of services… in order to find metamaterials.” There was a second trip by a BAASS team to Brazil, but no evidence has surfaced of any resulting purchases, so these trips are cited to document examples of BAASS travel expenditures.

June 2009 - Bigelow had another tactic to collect UFO reports. He bought them outright. Canadian researcher 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 of HBCC UFO Research from 2010, under BAASS management.

July 2009 - BAASS Ten Month Report delivered to DIA. According to Tim McMillan in Inside the Pentagon's Secret UFO Program, for the DIA, BAASS produced a “ 494-page ‘Ten Month Report,’ ...chock full of strategic plans, project summaries, data tables, charts, descriptions of biological field effects, physical characteristics, methods of detection, theoretical capabilities, witness interviews, photographs, and case synopses—each one entirely, explicitly about unexplained aerial phenomena.” there was also a mention of Bigelow’s Skinwalker Ranch in Utah as a “possible laboratory for studying other intelligences and possible interdimensional phenomena.”

Sept. 30, 2009 - For FY10, the AAWSAP contract with BAASS was renewed, funded for another year at $12 million.

Jan. 31, 2010 - The MUFON SIP field investigation program first had its funding cut by BAASS, and the contract was subsequently not renewed, so shut down. Under the reduced funding, $324,000 total was received from BAASS over the life of the project. 

March 25, 2010 - Colm Kelleher emailed Australian researcher Bill Chalker
“Since like 2008, I have been part of Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies... we are interested in compiling a database of high-quality cases from around the world. ...we would love to hear of any cases in Australia or China that have physical evidence (including trace evidence) associated with them.” Nothing resulted, but this indicates that a global search was underway by BAASS, and that they were ready to pay for it if necessary.

2010 Date? - EarthTech subcontracted 12 more technical studies to be used as DIRDs, for a minimum estimated price of $24,000.

June 10, 2010 - Robert Bigelow uncharacteristically made public comments to the New York Times on UFOs and emphasized the danger from them:
“I’ve been a researcher and student of U.F.O.’s for many, many years. Anybody that does research, if people bother to do quality research, come away absolutely convinced. You don’t have to have personal encounters. People have been killed. People have been hurt. It’s more than observational kind of data.” It’s possible these comments were intended to help secure another year of BAASS funding by the DIA.

June 2010. A large number of BAASS personnel were laid off according to their LinkedIn profiles. Marc Cecotti obtained a quote from a former BAASS employee that “One day in June 2010 the suits from the Defense Intelligence Agency showed up for 15 minutes, left. The next day we were all laid off.”

July 29, 2010 - An FAA memo effective July 29, 2010 stated: “... air traffic control reporting of UFOs in the United States should now go to BAASS...” Colm Kelleher confirmed that BAASS had an office to receive UFO reports. As with most other BAASS projects, it’s unknown how much was spent on the project or what became of the data gathered.

Sept. 30, 2011 - AAWSAP option year 3 started, apparently without any funding for BAASS. AATIP was transferred to OSD control (according to Luis Elizondo).

The Money: Tracking what the Pentagon Funding Purchased

One of the most paradoxical aspects of the AATIP story is the BAASS subcontract MUFON, which was simultaneously the most publicly known project, but held some of the greatest secrets. Of the $22M from the AAWSAP contract, only the payments of BAASS to MUFON can be accounted for.

The MUFON-BAASS Transactions and Tax Reporting

$10,000 (MATE papers)
$1800 (Field Investigator manuals)
$324,000 (SIP funding and CMS access)
$335,800 (total)

"MUFON is an all-volunteer, non-profit 501(c)3 charitable corporation," according to their website. When Bigelow approached MUFON with the proposition to hire them, some of the Board of Directors questioned how it might affect their non-profit tax status or conflict with the group’s goals. Here’s an example, a Dec 9, 2008, MUFON email between the MUFON Advanced Technology Establishment team:

“Dear Mates:
... The issue has been raised as to what form of business entity our project should utilize. That may depend on whether we decide to go with a start up company for the power generation project or actually run the project ourselves. If we should decide to run the project ourselves, it has been suggested that we should set up another not-for-profit organization. In considering that question, we have to ask what our goal would be? 

MUFON already has not-for-profit corporation status. Is the goal to keep the information from the board? All we really want to do is to keep the name of the sponsor from becoming known, isn't it? If there is that much concern about the board members knowing the name of our sponsor, perhaps they could agree in principal that they don't need to know that information (based on John Schu[e]ssler's and James' assurances?) but can participate generally in decisions. If we keep the information about what we're doing from the board, doesn't that place James, Bob and Robert in a tough and possibly unethical position? We could have the board members sign the second NDA form, or something similar, so that they realize they are jeopardizing their position with MUFON if they reveal the information.”

Ultimately MUFON elected to continue the contract under their existing structure, justifying the income as financing their core mission. The MUFON Federal tax filing from 2008 and 2009 reflects the money from Bigelow shows a total of $344,667 as “contributions” from BAASS rather than contracted work, services rendered, or goods purchased.

MUFON Tax Returns 2008-2009
MUFON 2008 Tax Return Schedule B shows $242,667 received from BAASS as a contribution. (Filed under Clifford Clift as director, filed 2010-02-01.)

MUFON 2009 Tax Return Schedule B shows $102,000 received from BAASS as a contribution. (Filed under Clifford Clift as director, filed circa Oct. 2010.)

MUFONs justified accepting the BAASS contracts for the following reasons:
  • Needed the money to fund research
  • Did not conflict with goals of sharing information
  • Case information provided was (supposedly) no different than what MUFON presented in CMS site and published in Journal. 

BAASS Estimated Expenditures for FY09 and FY10

With the documented MUFON figures in hand, we can extrapolate some of the other BAASS expenditures for the DIA contract. (Note - This includes known figures, estimates, and guesswork)

$6,900,000 - BAASS payroll est.
$400,000 est. cost of BAASS facilities
$20,000 est. cost BAASS equipment
$350,000 est. cost BAASS field investigations

$335,800 - MUFON contracts and purchases.

$1000 - HBCC UFO websites purchased from Brian Vike of Canada

$20,000 - est. Hal Puthoff and EarthTech team fees
$78,000 - est. for subcontracted 38 studies for DIRDs
$8,104,800 est. total 

The DIA’s contract with BAASS was for a total of $22M, so obviously the above list comes up short. Several possibilities exist. Perhaps the funds were used over a longer time frame, or the expenses were larger than are known or estimated - or the money went into projects yet undiscovered. It also may be that Robert Bigelow used AAWSAP to recover some of his previous research costs related to NIDS and Skinwalker Ranch. This exercise shows that like with the rest of the AATIP story, there are still a lot of questions yet to be answered.

 . . .

Appendix: AATIP ≠ DIRDs 

The best-known product of the Pentagon UFO program is the 38 scientific studies on the future of advanced aerospace developments. In late 2017, the New York Times and other news agencies were shown a dossier to establish the credentials of the AATIP program. The collection included a powerpoint presentation with the slide, “FY09 Technical Reports,” the first 26 DIRDs produced via Hal Puthoff’s subcontract with Bigelow. Part of this material was later posted on the site of Chris Mellon (of TTSA), but later removed. Mellon later displayed two of the missing slides during an episode of Unidentified, and we’ve used those to create a PDF to recreate the document. AATIP Powerpoint Briefing 2009.

AATIP FY09 Technical Reports
In response to the FOIA by Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, the DIA released a list of 38 research titles funded by AATIP. This document was created by the DIA stating that it was furnishing the Congressional Committee on Armed Services with “a list of all products produced under the AATIP contract” These were the 38 Defense Intelligence Reference Documents (DIRDs) contracted during the AAWSAP/AATIP project. By comparing it with the 2009 briefing document, we can determine that Puthoff contracted the following DIRDs for FY2010’s additional $12M in funding:

The FY10 Technical Reports:

Advanced Nuclear Propulsion for Manned Deep Space Missions, Dr. F. Winterberg, Univ, of Nevada -Reno

Aneutronic Fusion Propulsion, Dr. V. Teofilo, Lockheed Martin

Cockpits in the Era of Breakthrough Flight, Dr. G. Millis, Tau Zero

Cognitive Limits on Simultaneous Control of Multiple Unmanned Spacecraft, Dr. R. Genik, Wayne State Univ

Detection and High Resolution Tracking of Vehicles at Hypersonic Velocities, Dr. W. Culbreth, Univ of Nevada - Las Vegas

Aneutronic Fusion, Dr. W. Culbreth, Univ of Nevada - Las Vegas.

Laser Lightcraft Nanosatellites, Dr. E. Davis, EarthTech

MHD Air Breathing Propulsion and Power for Aerospace Applications, Dr. S. Macheret, Lockheed Martin.

Quantum Computing and Utilizing Organic Molecules in Automation Technology, Dr. R. Genik, Wayne State Univ

Quantum Tomography of Negative Energy States in the Vacuum, Dr. Eric Davis, EarthTech

Ultracapacitors as Energy and Power Storage Devices, Dr. J. Golightly, Lockheed Martin.

State of the Art and Evolution of High Energy Laser Weapons, J. Albertine, Directed Technologies (Product is classified UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY)

A few of the DIRDs have been located or leaked, and match the titles, authors, and content described in the DIA list of 38 research titles. See “The Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP) DIRD Report Research” by John Greenewald.

The second group of studies may give some insight either into the AATIP project, or at least what Robert Bigelow and Hal Puthoff thought would be valuable to their sponsors. It still remains unclear if the studies reflect the true goals of the project or served as a cover story for UFO research.

Further Reading on BAASS and AATIP

Bryan Bender’s article “The Pentagon’s Secret Search for UFOs,” Politico magazine, Dec. 16, 2017, discussed the Bigelow-Reid connection and how AATIP was funded. “Reid initiated the program, which ultimately spent more than $20 million, through an earmark after he was persuaded in part by aerospace titan and hotel chain founder Bob Bigelow, a friend and fellow Nevadan... Bigelow... was also a regular contributor to Reid’s reelection campaigns, campaign finance records show, at least $10,000 from 1998 to 2008.”
Bender quotes an unidentified former senior intelligence official who was uncomfortable with the program, “I was concerned the money was being funneled through it to somebody else who was an associate of Harry Reid’s. The whole circle was kind of a bizarre piece.”

George Knapp on the structure of the post-BAASS AATIP from the 2019 Laughlin UFO MegaCon presentation
[AATIP] ...a group of people Lue Elizondo was the head of. It's not so much a program as it was a loose network of intelligence officials in different agencies, including the Air Force, and the Navy, CIA, DIA, DARPA, might be a couple of other agencies, but a case would come in from any one of their units, it would be shared with this group of people and analysis would be done, evidence would be looked at, and then it's stashed in a drawer and nobody ever sees it, it's not passed up the chain of command.”

Unidentified Aerial Phenomena - scientific research features a series of articles by Keith Basterfield and Marc Cecotti on the Bigelow-AAWSAP projects, the latest at the time of this writing is: How BAASS went about collecting UFO reports from across the globe, which features a timeline of known attempts to gather data and materials.

More MUFON tax returns may be found at the site: MUFON: A look at the Organization.

Also, see the previous articles by Roger Glassel and Curt Collins:

Thursday, April 16, 2020

The Cash-Landrum UFO: The True Picture

This article originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of UFO Today magazine, but unfortunately the format did not allow for all the pictures used as supporting evidence, or for the three versions of the Cash-Landrum UFO illustrated by Christian Lambright. Here for the first time is the article in full.

The Cash-Landrum Incident: Getting to the True Picture

by Curtis L. Collins
     I'd like to get to the bottom of the Cash-Landrum affair. The story there concerns Betty Cash, Vickie Landrum and Vickie's grandson Colby. The three were coming back from a bingo game when they saw a glowing (object) spewing flames above them in the sky. They stop the car to watch this thing, and as it moved off, they reportedly saw about twenty-three helicopters escorting it out. After they got home there were all sorts of physiological effects: Their eyes swelled, their hair fell out, they developed blisters, they were nauseated and weak. The event completely altered their lives. 
Dr. J. Allen Hynek, OMNI Magazine, February 1985 

The December 29, 1980 encounter near Huffman, Texas is one of best known, thoroughly documented cases in UFO history. Much of the enduring appeal of this dramatic and intricate case is due to the investigation of it by highly credentialed aerospace professionals. The image formed during their early casework permanently shaped how the case is viewed and understood. We need to look back to opening the of the case to examine how that picture was developed. 

It was during Betty Cash’s second hospital stay for a mysterious illness in January 1981 that the story of the encounter began to emerge. Vickie Landrum had been making calls, desperately trying to get some help and answers. They wanted to know: what the object was, how it had injured them and who was responsible for it. When they saw the helicopters following the object, they become convinced that it was all some kind of military operation, and later reasoned that the U.S. government would have knowledge of it, and information that could help them. When Betty Cash was released from the hospital, she joined in Vickie’s efforts to reach someone who could help or provide answers. After some difficulty and delays, Betty contacted John F. Schuessler, and he began investigating the event as a UFO case.

John Schuessler worked for McDonnell Douglas at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. He had a private interest in unidentified flying objects and was a founding member of MUFON (the Mutual UFO Network), serving as its deputy director. In 1976 he founded Project VISIT (Vehicle Internal Systems Investigative Team), a Houston-based research group that chiefly consisted of aerospace engineers and other professionals who, in their spare time, applied technical expertise to the study of USVs, or Unidentified Space Vehicles.

Schuessler began by interviewing Betty Cash about the events, taking photographs of her injuries and examining her car. Vickie and Colby Landrum were interviewed one week later, followed by a trip with them the scene. By this time, Betty had moved to Alabama to be cared for by her mother and was unavailable to participate in further physical investigations. Schuessler shared his preliminary report in March 1981 with major UFO organizations, but the investigation continued.

MUFON's John Schuessler. Left, Vickie, Colby Landrum and Betty Cash pose by Schuessler's car.
Other members of Project VISIT participated in the search for additional witnesses and investigated the source of the helicopters. Schuessler also solicited Dr. Peter Rank, a radiologist associated with MUFON, to analyze the medical records to determine if radiation could have been involved in the encounter. The nature of the witnesses’ injuries became a controversial issue; they were cited as proof of the encounter, and yet the medical records documenting them were withheld. The unwillingness of the chief investigator to allow access to case materials has long been a topic of criticism from both UFO skeptics and proponents. 

Pre-hypnosis sketch based on witness testimony by Kathy Schuessler
Over the next several months the media attention continued to build and formed a strange relationship with the case. The media seemed to take the lead in the production of new information and developments. Pleas in the news coverage for any additional witnesses to come forward yielded a few results- respondents claimed seeing either a UFO or some helicopters. The involvement of the television program “That’s Incredible!” led to two new developments. The witnesses were examined by doctors at Houston’s Methodist Hospital, and Vickie Landrum was questioned under hypnosis by abduction researcher Dr. R. Leo Sprinkle. Neither produced any clear solutions. While there was little progress in the case there was much activity, and it continued to look promising. The witnesses were still looking for their answers and cooperated, enduring the publicity in the hopes that it would lead to getting help.

Vickie and Betty weren’t content to let others do all the work, and in late July 1981, it seemed their efforts were beginning to show results. Senator Lloyd Bentsen replied by letter to Betty, advising her to contact Bergstrom Air Force Base to file a report and claim for damages, stating that “...they will be most willing to assist you in any way possible.” Betty took a flight to Texas, and together with Vickie and Colby, made the long drive to Austin to visit the base. Their hopes and expectations were high, perhaps unrealistically so, due to the effusive tone of the letter. Base officials merely questioned them about the events, then explained that the Air Force no longer investigated UFO cases. The witnesses were told there was nothing the Air Force could do beyond providing them with damage claim forms. They were profoundly disappointed, and it proved to be just one event in a long series of false hopes.

Looking back, we can now see that by the fall of 1981 the VISIT investigation had peaked, but media interest in the case had not. Schuessler presented the case for the first time at the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) conference in September. In his lecture he summarized the case, describing the events to date, offering many new details, including a fresh physical description of the mysterious object. Schuessler stated it as a “...large glowing UFO... The unusual aspect of the thing was its diamond shape. Small blue lights ringed the center and the points of the diamond seemed to be cut off. The light from the object was intense and lit the whole area.” 
(Mimi Hynek, ed. The Spectrum of UFO Research. Chicago: J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies, 1988.)

When the case was featured in the November 1981 MUFON UFO Journal, it was accompanied by an illustration by Kathy Schuessler. The picture showed a clearly defined, glowing diamond-shaped UFO with a ring of lights around its center. The Schuessler description and picture served as the UFO equivalent of a police sketch, or “wanted poster,” and effectively became the face of the case.

The post-hypnosis illustration by Kathy Schuessler with the ring of blue lights.
The Schuessler illustration appeared next in the presentation and booklet for the 1982 MUFON Symposium in July and again later for the cover of the September 1983 MUFON Journal. The “lighted diamond” concept was repeated throughout UFO literature, and other artists’ versions of the UFO with a ring of lights began appearing. John Schuessler later started using a second painting by his wife that featured a more oval version of the UFO. This painting was used by Schuessler in his many slideshows and lectures on the case, and later as the cover illustration of his book, The Cash-Landrum UFO Incident. When the prime time television program Unsolved Mysteries featured the case, it based its depiction of the UFO on Schuessler’s report, introducing it to millions of viewers. The image of the otherworldly diamond played a defining role in the case.

Another byproduct of the media coverage was the investigation Department of the Army's Inspector General as to whether U.S. Army helicopters were involved in the incident. In the spring of 1982 Lt. Col. George C. Sarran spent several months checking the possibilities, and also traveled to Texas. There, he met with Schuessler, examined the cold leads and interviewed the available witnesses. Sarran considered the witnesses credible, but found no evidence to suggest any Army involvement.

The damage claim forms obtained at Bergstrom Air Force base finally came into play in late 1982 when Peter Gersten, the flamboyant “UFO Lawyer,” filed them on behalf of the witnesses. When the claims were denied, they then attempted to file a civil suit against the United States government, a contentious process that went on for the next several years. This proved to be another false hope, as there was never enough evidence gathered to satisfy a court. The witnesses were deeply disappointed when in August 1986 the case was dismissed without ever going to trial. Media coverage of the case faded away.

While the lawsuit developments were making headlines, UFO investigator and artist Chris Lambright tried to reach the witnesses for testimony of another sort. Lambright sought to paint technically accurate illustrations of the most credible UFO encounters. His first painting was of the classic 1964 Socorro, New Mexico sighting by police officer Lonnie Zamora. There Lambright used measurements from the official reports with the direct cooperation, testimony and feedback from the eyewitness. He wanted to apply the same methods to depict the Cash-Landrum sighting. 

Christian Lambright's array of diamond UFO shapes.
After studying the case literature, Lambright’s first step was to draw a series of different diamond UFO shapes, which he sent to the primary case investigator, John Schuessler, asking him to indicate which was the closest match. Schuessler instead drew his own diamond shape and included a note about the midline ring labeling it as “small blue ports or lights.” With this drawing and the published descriptions as reference, Lambright sketched out a scene of the encounter, then sought out the eyewitnesses for further details.

On July 10, 1985, Chris Lambright and fellow researcher Tommy Blann paid a visit to Vickie Landrum at her home in Dayton, Texas for an interview, which they recorded for reference. Lambright opened the MUFON Journal to Schuessler’s article and asked, “Do you see this illustration? This was done by John’s wife and it looks like the whole thing is glowing and it’s got a series of lights or dots or holes or something around it.” 

“I didn’t see any dots…nothing.” Vickie shook her head and explained that Schuessler must have taken the blue lights from Colby’s “Lite-Brite” picture of the object.

The Hasbro toy Lite-Brite has a screen with a grid of holes lit by a tiny light bulb, allowing simple pictures to be formed using colored translucent pegs. Betty Cash later described how Colby was preoccupied with drawing the UFO for weeks after the event: “Vickie went and bought him that Lite-Brite, to try to help him… she could not afford the notebook paper that that child was going through.”

Lambright moved on to other details of the craft’s flight and physical characteristics. Vickie described how they originally saw just a light at a distance through the trees. When it came down to hover over the road, they saw flames spewing downward, apparently in some kind of mechanical distress. The object would rise above the trees on a jet of fire, and when the flames diminished, it would lower.

Lambright sought clarification, “When the thing went out (flames decreased), I think most people think the thing was still glowing like a light bulb.” 

“No, no, no! It was hanging there,” Vickie explained.

Shortly afterwards Lambright interviewed Betty Cash by phone. He asked Betty similar questions about the UFO and how it had been depicted.
“... they showed several small blue…it looked like portholes or lights around the middle of the object...but you don’t recall seeing anything like that on the object itself?” 

“No sir!” Betty had either not seen or noticed the illustration. “I can’t imagine what picture it was that John put in the blue lights.” She went on to explain that the early case drawing she had seen was an accurate depiction. 
Lambright asked, “In other words, it was a dark object with fire coming out of the bottom?” 

“Right,” Betty answered.

The witnesses were not technically sophisticated, and they had difficulty describing just what they’d seen during their terrifying ordeal. The fiery light coming from the bottom of the object was blinding, and the witnesses had some trouble expressing the difference between the light and the object producing it. Vickie said, “Colby swore it looked like a big diamond. I couldn’t tell for I was so scared about him... It lifted and I knew it was at least half a mile or more across the main part of the light. It was bigger than a water tower.” (Schuessler, John F. The Cash-Landrum UFO Incident. La Porte: Geo Graphics, 1998, pp.42-43.) It seems that the original investigators were confused by this and reported the UFO itself as gigantic and glowing.

How and why the “ring of blue lights” became accepted is a bit more puzzling. Vickie had explained that Schuessler photographed Colby’s Lite-Brite picture, and it seems he interpreted the colored pegs illustrating the UFO’s center as a ring of lights. There was yet another ingredient for the blue lights that Vickie didn’t seem to remember; something revealed when she had been put under hypnosis.

On July 11, 1981 Dr. R. Leo Sprinkle put Vickie Landrum under regressive hypnosis for the coverage by National Enquirer magazine (and again later for the ABC network television program That’s Incredible!). The purpose of the hypnosis was to attempt the recovery of additional details about the sighting. During the session, two new details were produced: the scent of lighter fluid and the first mention of blue lights. Vickie is reported to have said, “It had some blue on it... Looked like little lights.” (Schuessler, 1998, p.134)

John Schuessler accepted the hypnosis material as genuine evidence, incorporating it into the case as additional witness testimony. He interpreted the lighter fluid smell to be the odor of helicopter fuel and the blue lights as a ring around the fuselage of the UFO. The hypnosis story was combined with the Lite-Brite picture and the mistaken glow to form a composite image. A new picture of the UFO was born - not of what the witnesses saw or described, but of a colorful, gigantic gleaming Unidentified Space Vehicle similar to those in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

There were no public statements from the original witnesses of a glowing UFO with blue lights, either before or after the hypnosis. It is worth reviewing the earliest testimony to examine what they were able to describe.

Betty Cash, early February 1981: “We could not get up close enough to detect what the figure was. Or I couldn’t at least, the lights were too bright in my eyesight.” She later added, “...this bright object that made the sky just split up and it looked like the world was coming to an end. It was a very bright red... (Vickie) looked out the glass but she said the light was to bright for her to see very much of the figure...”, (Schuessler, 1998, pp. 39, 253).

Vickie Landrum : (Vickie told the reporter) Colby insisted that it was “diamond-shaped,” and that “The light from it was just like someone was up in your eye shining a flashlight at 'em. Maybe he could see better from in the car or something, but we couldn't tell no shape to it. The light from it was glowing, lighting up the whole road like it would set it on fire.”
Gordon, C. (1981, February 22). “Two women share terror of mysterious encounter,” The Courier, p.1A.)

In the original published reports there was no mention of any specific markings or lights on the UFO. There were, however, a few UFO reports in Texas and other areas both before and after the incident, some of which involved UFOs with lights. VISIT sought comparisons and connections between the Cash-Landrum sighting and some of the other incidents, most notably the separate sightings of Glenda and Jerry McDonald also of Dayton; Frank Chinn of Echols, KY. (Schuessler, 1998, pp. 74, 75, 314, and Brookesmith, Peter, ed. The Age of the UFO. Orbis Publishing, London, 1984, pp. 160-161.)

As they were asked to repeat the story for the public, media and investigators, Betty and Vickie gradually accepted Colby’s “diamond-shaped” description and began using it themselves in talking about what they had encountered.

Witness testimony summarized from the first VISIT report:
“Betty described the object as just an extremely bright light with no distinct shape, Vickie said it was oblong with a rounded top and a point on the bottom, while Colby said it was totally diamond-shaped." (Lorenzen, C. (September 1981) Burns Follow UFO Incident. The APRO Bulletin Vol. 29, No. 8, p. 2.) 

Vickie Landrum: “It was diamond-shaped and as tall as a water tower. It was a dull metallic color, and it just floated there.” (Horswell, C. (1981, September 25) State, private agencies probing claims of UFO encounter. The Houston Chronicle, p.1A.) 

Colby made many pictures of the UFO, and one he drew with Vickie from March 1981 was reproduced in Schuessler’s book (page 237). It shows a featureless diamond-shaped object spewing flames downward. Betty Cash also drew the UFO during the interview at Bergstrom Air Force Base. It also depicts a featureless diamond-shaped object spewing flames downward. Vickie signed the drawing, agreeing that it was accurate.

With the legal case lost, the story of the witnesses was absorbed into the body of UFO lore, becoming little more than a parable about the evils of a cover-up by the U.S. government. Along the way, a crucial question went unasked: How did something as basic as the description of the UFO get so distorted and then become recorded inaccurately in the case history?

As personal computers became more prevalent, the Computer UFO Network developed. Originally conceived as an online bulletin board; Chris Lambright joined them and led the implementation of the CUFON website. The site collected and archived important UFO material, including Cash-Landrum case documents. In 1994 Betty Cash provided them with a tape of the pivotal 1981 Bergstrom AFB interview, which documented lengthy testimony from the witnesses to U.S. military officers. CUFON published a transcription of the interview online, making it public for the first time. 

Also in 1994 Lambright briefly discussed his interviews with Vickie and Betty on a UFO Internet forum. He mentioned the discrepancy of the UFO picture and details as an indication that there might be other problems in the original investigation of the case. In 2003, Rebecca Keith shared Lambright’s message on the forum by UK researcher James Easton, where it could find a wider audience. Ten years later, I came across Lambright’s comments there, and tracked him down to get the details. We’ve continued to correspond on the case, and he recently told me:

“I never did finish the oil painting I originally showed to Vickie Landrum, though I think it's still in storage somewhere... more recently I tried my hand at a rendition using a 3D program...and you get a great idea of how light effects the entire scene. It's still a guess on how bright the flames really were, and how reddish they were, etc. What really becomes obvious is how dark a dark grey object would have been in the sky, and brings home what Vickie said that if it hadn't been for the flames they might not have seen it at all.”

Lambright completed two variations of the scene, showing different degrees of illumination from the flames. This is is a unique effort by Lambright, finally a realistic representation of the scene as described by the witnesses themselves.

Illustrations copyright Christian P. Lambright
Version 1: All illumination comes from the downward flames, shown here almost dormant.

Version 2: The flames become more powerful as the object rises.

Version 3: Another view, depicting the blinding light that lit up the whole woods.
With the documentation that the circulated UFO description was in error, doubts arise about how other data was gathered, evaluated and represented. There was no police or Air Force investigation at the beginning of this case, and the only the documentation was the elusive medical records of Betty Cash. About all we have to work with is the media coverage, and the parts of the VISIT investigation that John Schuessler chose to share. The Cash-Landrum case deserves a fresh look and should be reopened.

The passage of time closes some doors, but others may open. Betty Cash died in 1998, and Vickie in 2007, leaving only Colby Landrum remaining as a primary witness. The helicopter personnel who participated in the operation are nearing retirement age and could now discuss this case without the fear of risk to their military careers. Others who were involved may still be alive, and it is possible that once-secret government documents could now be available. The VISIT case file also needs to be opened for whatever cold leads it may provide. There is yet hope that the curtain of secrecy can be parted to provide what the witnesses have fought so hard to find - answers.

Update: The original VISIT report by John Schuessler has since become available, along with many other documents on the case. See: 

A special thanks to Christian P. Lambright whose input into was invaluable. Chris' interviews with the witnesses, artwork, investigation and insight provided the foundation for this article. Chris has a website, where more information can be found on his book, X Descending.