This is the second article I’ve written regarding what is clearly a UFO-debunking series on the Smithsonian Channel. The first one, titled I’m Not a UFO Expert but I Play One on TV, addressed the Smithsonian organization’s longstanding efforts to dismiss the reality of the UFO phenomenon via its publication of factually-inaccurate, propagandistic books and by broadcasting intentionally-biased “documentaries” on the subject.
Perhaps significantly, the late Frederick C. Durant III, who served as an assistant director of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum for many years, had also worked for the CIA and authored the 1953 Robertson Panel Report, summarizing a group of agency-sponsored scientists’ recommendations that UFOs be secretly debunked and the mass media utilized to achieve that end.
Regarding Smithsonian’s UFOs Declassified series—which repeatedly engages in the misstatement of facts, the omission of other key facts, and the use of unqualified “experts” to dismiss the reality of UFOs as an anomalous phenomenon—the question is whether this abysmal offering, episode after episode, is merely the product of uninformed, biased network executives and their contracted producers, or instead due to the efforts of hidden instigators covertly working for the CIA.
While skeptics may scoff at the latter suggestion, the agency’s decades-long practice of embedding its employees in legitimate media companies—with or without the knowledge of those organizations’ management—has been firmly established and was briefly investigated by the U.S. Senate, in 1975, during the Church Committee hearings. Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein’s examination of this ominous situation is a must-read for anyone wishing to understand how much clandestine influence the CIA has exerted on U.S. print and broadcast organizations since World War II.
For example, as Hansen wrote, “[There is] new evidence that CBS TV was among the CIA’s ‘media assets’ that participated in this covert UFO-debunking program. In 1966, CBS broadcast UFOs: Friend, Foe or Fantasy, narrated by Walter Cronkite, as part of its ‘CBS Reports’ documentary series. Cronkite assured his viewers, using false and misleading information, that all UFO reports were due to mistaken perceptions. In short, there was nothing for the public to worry about, he said. A hand-written letter by Robertson Panel member Dr. Thornton Page, discovered in the Smithsonian’s archives by Prof. Michael Swords, confirms the CIA’s long-suspected role in the program. In the 1966 letter, Page related to a CIA associate that he ‘helped organize the CBS TV show around the Robertson Panel’s conclusions.’”1
This illustration of the agency’s covert efforts to mislead the American public on the UFO topic, using the mass media, is only one of many that have now come to light. Moreover, and importantly, the history of the CIA’s still-classified interest in UFOs, and what appears to be its central role in the official cover-up by various groups within U.S. government, has been exposed by a variety of means, including document releases via the Freedom of Information Act, inadvertent leaks, and the occasional admission by one former agency employee or another. All of these have been examined in a chapter of my book, UFOs and Nukes, which has recently been posted online.
In short, the official version of history—whereby the CIA was only peripherally concerned by the UFO phenomenon, leaving the investigation of it to the U.S. Air Force—has been convincingly exposed as pure fiction. Nevertheless, the mainstream media continue to publish and broadcast stories originating from the agency—as recently as 2014—which serve to cast doubt on the UFO reality while simultaneously downplaying or ignoring CIA’s ongoing, still-hidden interest in the subject.
Regardless, a recent, suspiciously-spun episode of Smithsonian Channel’s UFOs Declassified, titled “Pilot Eyewitness”, presents three well-known cases involving commercial pilots who sighted one or more UFOs near their aircraft and, after superficially examining each incident, dismisses two of them as due to errors in human perception, suspect witness testimony and/or the misinterpretation of radar data.
The exception was the 2007 incident over the English Channel, during which Aurigny Air Services pilot Ray Bowyer reported seeing two huge, cigar-shaped UFOs which also appeared on ground-based radar. According to the show’s producers, that case will probably “forever remain a mystery”, which is the safest way to avoid saying that the two enormous craft—observed by the pilots of two different aircraft and all of the passengers in one of them—were, as the evidence strongly suggests, bona fide UFOs.
But the case that caught my attention—the one which best exposes the TV series’ continuing efforts to dismiss the phenomenon’s anomalous nature, while at the same time misrepresenting the real purpose behind extreme military and intelligence community interest in UFOs—is the 1986 Japan Airlines incident over Alaska.
Pursuing the debunking mission that UFOs Declassified so diligently embraces, the producers made a point of mentioning the following, supposedly problematic aspects of the case:
The veteran pilot, Captain Kenju Terauchi, was the only one, in a crew of three, to report a structured craft—a huge, dark, walnut-shaped ship having lights around a central rim—whereas the others only reported the lights.
The inference being that Terauchi only imagined an unlit craft to which the lights were attached—a phantom that didn’t really exist.
But Dr. Richard Haines, a retired psychologist and Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) researcher who interviewed Terauchi at length, says, “He was on the left side where the huge object was positioned and I don’t believe his First Officer left his seat to come over to look out of that window.” In other words, if Terauchi provided a more detailed sighting report than the others, it was due to his having a better look at the unknown craft.
(The producers mention the planet Jupiter as a potential source for the lights that everyone aboard reported—an obviously inadequate explanation given that Terauchi had been ordered to maneuver his aircraft through a full 360-degree turn, to see whether the lights would still be visible out his window. They were, the whole time, indicating that the lights/object had mimicked the aircraft’s circular maneuver and could not possibly be a planet, which would have instead remained stationary, at a fixed point in the sky, disappearing from view as the aircraft made its turn. Bizarrely, the producers had even mentioned Terauchi performing this maneuver earlier in the show. Consequently, their subsequent suggestion that the misidentification of Jupiter might offer a solution to the sighting was an obvious attempt to baffle the audience with bullshit.)
The show’s producers also attempted to discredit Captain Terauchi by mentioning his having acknowledged that he had seen other unidentified aerial objects during his careers as both a military and a commercial pilot—as if this fact somehow automatically meant that he was an unreliable observer. Terauchi was a “repeater” the narrator solemnly intoned, clearly implying that his testimony could not be trusted: Someone who reports one UFO is suspect; anyone reporting more than one sighting is quite clearly not credible.
In reality, however, large numbers of commercial pilots have reported seeing UFOs, often more than once, but usually only after they had retired, due to the widespread public stigma attached to those who describe seeing strange things in the sky. Indeed, as the pilots themselves have repeatedly said—during interviews appearing in various documentary films in recent years—their careers would probably have been over if they had been as candid as Terauchi.
This very valid concern was dramatically reinforced in 1953, when the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff—the heads of the military services—promulgated regulation JANAP-146, which ordered military and commercial pilots who had sighted a UFO to immediately file, while still airborne, a CIRVIS (Communications Instructions for Reporting Vital Intelligence Sightings) report. The purpose of such real-time reporting, including a required mention of the unidentified aerial object’s altitude and direction of flight, was to allow the nearest U.S. Air Force base to launch fighters to investigate the sighting.
The regulation also mandated strict secrecy relating to a given report, warning the pilot involved that he would potentially risk severe penalties if he filed a CIRVIS report and subsequently discussed the sighting publicly.
Importantly, at least one effort was made by the pilots—those not in the military—to publicly protest the new censorship, as this December 22, 1958 article in the Newark Star-Ledger reports:
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The key passages follow here:
A group of more than 50 top commercial airline pilots, all veterans of more than 15 years with major companies, yesterday blasted as ‘bordering on the absolute ridiculous’ the Air Force policy of tight censorship, brush-off and denial in regard to unidentified flying objects—flying saucers.
One termed the Air Force policy ‘a lesson in lying, intrigue and the Big Brother attitude carried to the ultimate extreme.’ Each of the pilots has sighted at least one UFO, the majority several [my emphasis]…‘ We are ordered to report all UFO sightings,’ said one, ‘but when we do, we are treated like incompetents and told to keep quiet…’ This pilot also pointed to a Joint Chiefs of Staff order giving top radio priority to UFO reports anywhere in the world and specifying that any pilot who fails to maintain absolute secrecy afterwards is subject to a maximum of ten years in jail and a fine of $10,000.’
Unfortunately, this rare breach in security, by dozens of highly respected professional pilots, was not widely reported. By 1958, most of the elite media had ceased to publish/broadcast stories about UFO sightings, in part due to CIA pressure. (See The Missing Times.)
In any case, according to the newspaper article’s author, journalist John Lester, over 400 commercial pilots later added their names to the 50 interviewed for this published protest. All of the pilots requested anonymity but were to be publicly identified once the Joint Chiefs’ policy of secrecy regarding pilot UFO sightings had been lifted; unfortunately it never was.
Now, if Smithsonian Channel had wanted to do an honest, historically accurate documentary on UFO sightings by commercial pilots, it could have highlighted the explosive revelations mentioned in the Newark Star-Ledger article, which provide insight into the actual, ongoing situation regarding (government-suppressed) airborne UFO sightings. After all, the published piece has been featured in a number of books by UFO researchers over time and, had the producers of UFOs Declassified instructed their research assistants to do a thorough job of investigating the history of pilot UFO sightings, in preparation for the episode, they could not have failed to find references to the article. But, of course, objectively-presented research is clearly not a high priority for this bunch.
Instead, the network spent as much of the episode as possible attempting to discredit most of the pilots in the cases it covered, as well as one retired Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) manager, John J. Callahan, who openly and adamantly supports the reality of a bona fide UFO-involvement in one of them—the 1986 Alaskan UFO incident. At that time, Callahan was the FAA’s chief of Accident Investigation and Prevention and was charged with overseeing an analysis of the case.
I earlier wrote that the show’s producers presented the Alaskan case in such a way as to downplay the nature of the intelligence community’s interest in the incident. True, the episode did mention Callahan’s public admission that he had been ordered to review the aerial encounter with members of President Ronald Reagan’s scientific advisory team, three FBI agents and three CIA officers, among others, at FAA headquarters in February 1987.
So far so good. But given that Callahan has repeatedly discussed this technically-still-classified event in various video interviews, easily accessible on YouTube, it would be difficult for UFOs Declassified not to at least mention it. That omission, were it to occur, would be instantly suspicious to many of the program’s more informed viewers. Nevertheless, a central, very significant portion of Callahan’s public testimony about the meeting was pointedly and very intentionally passed-over by the producers.
Specifically, the former FAA administrator has emphatically noted that one of the CIA officers had forcefully directed the classified briefing, afterward telling those present, “This event never happened, we were never here, we’re confiscating all this data, and you are all sworn to secrecy.”2 And why was such secrecy warranted? According to Callahan, the CIA officer said that if the government “ever came out and told the American public that [the aircraft crew] ran into a UFO out there, it would cause panic across the country.”3
But does UFOs Declassified mention this very important part of the story? Of course not. If it had, not only would CIA’s central role in the cover-up of the event—as opposed to the U.S. Air Force or the FBI or any other group—be exposed, but the reason for the secrecy would also be highlighted—the agency’s deep concern about public panic should the truth emerge.
Instead, the show’s producers very deceptively mention that Callahan had asked the CIA officer, just moments before he swore the group to secrecy, what he thought the unidentified object was. “Why, a UFO!” the officer responded.
Then the producers pounced: “But did the CIA agent mean that the UFO was an extraterrestrial craft or [just] unidentified?” they asked. Well, if these willing/unwitting shills had honestly told the whole story, it would be quite clear to the audience that the CIA would not have been concerned about public panic if the huge, unknown craft were merely unidentified. But, on the other hand, Americans—at least some number of them—might indeed freak-out if the FAA or some other governmental group acknowledged the extraordinary, almost certainly extraterrestrial nature of the case.
This is the kind of very clever, premeditated debunking the public can expect from the UFOs Declassified series. While perhaps a few thousand people will read this article, the Smithsonian Channel will garner millions of unsuspecting viewers for its highly-misleading fare. And the CIA, whether covertly involved with this bogus show or not, will be very happy about that.
2. Leslie Kean, UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record, Harmony Books, New York, 2010, pp. 222-229