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Books / September 7, 2010


There’s this woman making the rounds of the talk shows with her new book, UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go On the Record. She’s an earnest, homely progressive named Leslie Kean with a tan semi-afro, wire-rimmed glasses, and the humorless manner of a recent convert to a new faith. She’s arguing that the US government should re-open its investigation into UFOs, because of all the UFOs hovering around. Seriously, the sky is thick with ‘em, as described by all those generals and pilots and officials in her book.

Okey-dokey, I say. Seems like we’ve got kind of a full plate right now, but what the hell. I can always work up an interest in crazy shit going on in the universe. Plus, hiring a staff of sky-watchers would create a few good government jobs, wouldn’t it?

But with an easygoing attitude like that, I’m not the reader Leslie Kean is trying to reach. She’s aiming to shake up fervent skeptics who are sure UFOs are a complete load. So she’s spent ten years of her life compiling just-the-facts-ma’am interviews with “credible witnesses,” full of precise dates and flight coordinates and scads of acronyms.

Leslie Kean

Boy, what a slog! It’s not everybody who could take a subject as lurid as UFOs and make it read like homework.

Here’s a sample quote from a French government official in charge of investigating UAPs (Unidentified Aerospace Phenomenon, the term adopted by those who want to avoid the tainted UFO acronym):

“Captain Duboc reported the incident to authorities at the Reims air navigation control center, which had no information about any aircraft in the location. A report was then sent to SEPRA, which classified it as Type C, meaning it was insufficiently documented for identification. However, Reims contacted the Taverny air defense operation center, CODA, and we later learned something important that allowed us to reclassify this event as a clear Type D: CODA recorded a radar track at their control center in Cinq-Mars-le-Pile that corresponded in both location and time to the observation of the crew of Air France flight 3532…”

To stay interested in this account, you’d have to be Hermes the lovable bureaucrat on Futurama.


It’s not as if “a clear Type D” is anything thrilling like a space alien showing up carrying a book titled To Serve Man. No, it’s the same as all the other Type Ds in the book: something aloft that’s perceived by multiple credible witnesses and can’t be slotted into the usual weather balloon or swamp gas categories. But we don’t know what the hell it is.

Unless you’re a real fanatic, a little Type D goes a long way. But you can see how it all becomes part of Kean’s persuasive strategy: she’ll make UFOs so boring that they’ll become respectable, and then nobody will object to studying them. Boring things are supposed to be studied; exciting things are supposed to be rigidly ignored or condemned in a frenzied manner until they can be made boring through tedious pontificating and co-opting by earnest progressives. (See also: Sex, Movies.)

To be fair, there are some interesting parts of the book, usually when somebody’s first-person account conveys a little drama, despite the officialese. For example, there are recordings quoted at length between air traffic controllers and pilots who are trying to describe the weird things they’re experiencing in the air. The most enjoyably Twilight Zone–esque one is the tape of twenty-year-old Frederick Valentich’s last known words, spoken to Melbourne Airport air traffic controller Steve Robey in 1978. Valentich is clearly losing it as he pilots his little private plane on a night-flight over Australia and describes the UFO that’s harrying him. Robey keeps telling him no aircraft are showing up around him on radar. It builds to a nice incoherent flourish:

“Ah, Melbourne, that strange aircraft is hovering on top of me again…it is hovering and it’s not an aircraft.”

Metallic pulsating noise follows, then nothing. “End of transcript.” His plane is lost over Australia’s Bass Strait.

Of course, recreational drugs, pilot hallucinations, engine failure, and a crash into deep water might account for a lot of this too. Just saying.

There’s also an entertaining story by a retired pilot formerly with the Peruvian Air Force, Commandante Oscar Santa Maria Huertas, recalling his “close combat with a UFO” in 1980, when he was a young hotdog, a “top aerial marksman with great skill at shooting from the air.” He gets sent up to deal with a UFO hanging in their airspace that’s refusing to either communicate or shove off. It’s a huge round metallic thing with no visible means of staying aloft, and his mission is to shoot it down. But for all his “great skill” he can’t touch it. In split-seconds, it seems to hop up effortlessly out of the way of his shells. So he tries flying above it and firing down, and it bobs up to hugging distance with his plane, too close to shoot at.

The damn thing’s dissing him! And nobody disses Commandante Oscar Santa Maria Huertas!

Or as he tells it: “Then it became a personal thing for me. I had to get it.”

But he doesn’t get it. He keeps madly harassing the UFO till he’s almost out of fuel and finally has to coast back to base on fumes. But nothing human could have eluded his tremendous shooting skills!

Pilot Chasing UFO

Kean spends almost 300 pages documenting these international puzzlers. She uses this evidence to further her overarching goal, which is to demonstrate that there’s something fishy about way the US government refuses to investigate the odd stuff people see in the sky. In places like France and England and Brazil, they go right on patiently logging in the reported phenomena, figuring out that 95% of it is really military flares and that sort of thing, but 5% is unidentifiable and merits study. Is this 5% evidence of the existence of extra-terrestrial beings visiting Earth? They don’t know. They just put it in the file. And anyone who wants to can pore over the blurry photos and crudely drawn diagrams and official accounts of shiny saucers flying at impossible speeds.

But not in America. In 1970 the US government shut down “Project Blue Book” and classified all the documents related to UFO sightings. According to Kean’s reporting, a strident publicity campaign followed intended to debunk all UFO sightings, past, present, and future. It worked so well that to this day the vast majority of Americans sneer automatically at the mention of UFOs. Apparently there are still a lot of UFO sightings, even mass ones, like the mystery disc-shaped craft that hung over O’Hare Airport for at least five minutes in broad daylight on November 7, 2006, while crowds stared and air traffic controllers speculated. Then it “took off and left a hole in the clouds like Wile E. Coyote” as Stephen Colbert aptly summarized it during his interview with Kean.

ufo over O'Hare

But such is the force of the forty-year debunking campaign, Kean says, that nobody wanted to talk about the O’Hare UFO publicly. Aviation industry employees feared for their reputations and jobs; the media didn’t cover it till months later, starting in January with a Chicago Tribune article; then the FAA trotted out a pat weather-related explanation for the cloud-hole effect, which was generally accepted by the media etc.

Kean says this policy of “Move along, folks! Nothing to see up there!” only serves to ratchet up the level of paranoia and conspiracy theory as people come up with crazy X-Files-type explanations to account for what the big secret is. So the government should declassify the UFO docs and then set up an investigating body to look into further sightings, run by NASA or somebody. And in his forward to the book, John Podesta, former President Clinton’s chief of staff and current honcho at the Center for American Progress, agrees with these worthy goals.

UFOs Leslie Kean

Okay, fine. But with all Kean’s investigative journalism going on, I couldn’t help but wish she would advance a theory of her own, even a crazy one, about what the US government is getting out of this UFO policy. In a chapter entitled ”The Roots of UFO Debunking in America” Kean seems like she’s teeing up to offer a theory when she documents the CIAs close monitoring of UFOs after World War II, and subsequent manipulation of public opinion:

In short, a group of scientists selected by the CIA advised our government to encourage all agencies within the intelligence community to influence mass media and infiltrate civilian research groups for the purpose of debunking UFOs. Media could then become a tool for covertly controlling public perception, a mouthpiece for government policy and propaganda, to “debunk” or ridicule, UFOs. Public interest in UFO incidents was to be strongly discouraged and diminished through these tactics, and intelligence operatives could make sure that the facts were kept from leading researchers through disinformation. In the name of national security, the subject was fair game for the entire U.S. intelligence apparatus. All of these recommendations were written in black and white and by the CIA panel and then classified….

You can see where the plot of The X-Files came from. But what’s the real story underneath the UFO debunking, if it’s not a covert human-alien breeding program? Kean doesn’t say. Though there are some good theories out there. Thanks to Mark Ames for tipping me off about this one:

…[T]he UFO thing—it’s often used as a “cover” for the crazy shit that the CIA or intel ops like that get involved in, those weird human experiments that they’ve done over the years. They conflate it a lot with UFO stuff to automatically discredit the real shit that’s going on–dosing unwitting people with psychedelics to “peel open their minds” and induce amnesia and control behavior and all that. So that when journalists or investigators get on the trail, they’re also on the trail of UFO hunters, and then they make fools of themselves. Actually quite a clever cover.

Kean doesn’t go into a lot of things that might have goosed up the read considerably, like “mind-peels” and alien abductions and anal-probes and all that. She also doesn’t discuss the sober, institutionally validated, highly public scientific pursuit of alien life forms that’s currently in progress. How come scientists who are working hard to locate extraterrestrials don’t seem impressed by these flocks of UFOs? There’s no secret about their ET-hunt; actor Morgan Freeman just told us all about it on that Science Channel series Through the Wormhole. (Yeah, I do like my scientific information presented at a ninth-grade level by actor Morgan Freeman—you wanna make something of it?) They’re aiming huge zillion-dollar radio-receivers at the sky trying to record even the tiniest alien cough, and so far coming up with nothing, while all the time there’s a flying saucer hanging out over O’Hare Airport? Hm!

They don’t call it “unexplained phenomena” for nothing.


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Add your own

  • 1. Damn  |  September 7th, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    I think “tan semi-afro” is a fancier way to say curly hair.

  • 2. Delahunt  |  September 7th, 2010 at 9:02 pm

    I was going to write “UFOs killed JFK” because I thought that someone would pat me on the head for it. Guess not.

  • 3. Iok Sotot  |  September 7th, 2010 at 10:14 pm

    I saw a UFo once. It was night and a wierd shining light hung over my campfire for a few minutes like it was scoping me out . My buddy says it was refracted sunlight or something in the mushrooms we ate a little while before but I know, I know…

  • 4. Commandante Oscar Santa Maria Huertasosmh  |  September 7th, 2010 at 10:23 pm

    ¡Qué montón de mentiras de mierda! Yo, Oscar Santa María Huertasosmh, perseguido, abordado y capturado a toda la tripulación de ese hijo de puta platillo volador! Ver mi página de Facebook!

  • 5. badnewswade  |  September 8th, 2010 at 3:00 am

    I saw a UFO once. On closer inspection it turned out to be the planet Jupiter.

    Most UFO sightings are similar- optical illustions caused by staring at unexpectedly bright planets too long, satellites, aircraft, swamp gas etc. The remainder are almost certainly highly classified military experiments – like that Russian missile thing that went wrong over northern Europe some months back, only so fucking secret that the government would rather you believed that little green men were responsible rather than big men in green.

  • 6. badnewswade  |  September 8th, 2010 at 3:08 am

    Oh, and the rest of the rest of them? Hoaxes. This O’Hare thing stinks of tomfoolery.

  • 7. ed gehrman  |  September 8th, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    Truman was an honorable man, as was V Bush, and they decided to
    keep the Knowledge secret. Every administration since then has followed the same behavior. Perhaps they think humans might be troubled by the Knowledge that they are being randomly abducted and subjected to experimentation, and there’s not a thing our collective governments can do about the situation. Or they could be intimidated by acivilization that could be millions of years more advanced. It might disrupt trade.
    Folks might begin to question the meaning of life. I guess that wouldn’t be so bad, but it might be dangerous.

  • 8. Alien Research  |  September 8th, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    I’m all for UFO’s. ET tech and communication might discover just how fucked we are, as in “We heard about a planet 63,000 light years out with a screwed-up little tribe, and you’re in their league. Sayonara.”

  • 9. Allen  |  September 8th, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    There are a number of fairly interesting “sightings” regarding UFOs; the most interesting are mass sighting/military connected like when some pilot is sent to intercept one … or things like the Shag harbor incident in Canada.

    What’s interesting is that because of misidentification and a few hoaxes this becomes a secret that can just hide in plain sight. This is the power of authority. Until the U.S. government openly admits such phenomena exist, and does a mass press conference or something, it doesn’t “exist”.

    Not saying alien spacecrafts are actually visiting Earth, but, contrary to what some people think, it would be the easiest secret to keep … so long as our alien “visitors” continued to prefer to (ostensibly) observe passively and not try to make contact.

  • 10. zhubajie  |  September 8th, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    On various spy agencies using UFO rumors to cover up nefarious activities, check out the books of Jacques Vallee. At one point, the Soviet were passing off satellite launches as UFOs.

    Vallee is trained as an astronomer, but his ideas are pretty colorful, more imaginative than you get from most scientists. (He has also written science fiction). He suggests that the UFOs come from another dimension, not another planet. I don’t particularly believe his ideas, but they are a different approach.

  • 11. FOARP  |  September 9th, 2010 at 4:45 am

    Probably the most interesting thing I’ve read in the eXiled in a long time. What’s with all the re-hashes of old pieces recently?

  • 12. Tyler Bass  |  September 9th, 2010 at 5:24 am

    @Allen re: “Until the U.S. government openly admits such phenomena exist, and does a mass press conference or something, it doesn’t ‘exist,'” this is about as close as we’ve gotten to that:

    Is this not at all compelling to you?

  • 13. badnewswade  |  September 9th, 2010 at 10:12 am

    Oh, and as for all those military pilot sightings… are you aware that military pilots are routinely dosed up on amphetamines?

    Worth bearing in mind when reading the testimony of someone who just spent an hour chasing a giant bulletproof UFO.

  • 14. CB  |  September 9th, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    Making UFOs boring isn’t that big a crime.

    UFOs are only exciting to people who don’t think the life, earth, and the universe are exciting enough on their own (which probably means they don’t know enough about it).

    Oh and the only reason the government was ever interested in UFO reports is because they wanted to know if 1) people had seen any of their secret experimental aircraft, and 2) if people had seen any Russian spy planes that might have seen their secrets.

  • 15. GollyGee  |  September 12th, 2010 at 10:09 am

    I want see my comment questioning the gratuitous nastiness of describing a female anus as succulent.

    Has a male writer ever been described as homely? No.

    I guess that’s what The Exiled has come to. I think you all need to read more Carroll Gilligan and Erica Jong. Then you will appreciate what I appreciate–the power of Woman.

    Adios. I don’t suppose you’re getting many dipshit idiots like me wasting your time anymore anyway.

  • 16. GollyGee  |  September 12th, 2010 at 7:21 pm


    I posted the above comment.

    Why would my first idiotic comment get posted
    in the garbled filth of my mind?

    Is my herpes under some kind of attack?

  • 17. Strelnikov  |  September 12th, 2010 at 10:49 pm

    What I found interesting with UFOs was that the US government was willing to waste time spying on the various flying saucer clubs and research groups like NICAP and MUFON, which either means the CIA/USAF was afraid these groups would find “the secret” to UFOs, or uncover how many of these sightings were unconventional military planes and secret missile launches. But then, the 1950s-60s was an era when spooks wrote disinformation in national newspapers and the FBI somehow believed that antiwar protestors were getting directions from Moscow.

  • 18. Myf  |  September 13th, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    I read something, that could easily be typical psyop, but whatever. Some military psychologist was writing about all of the pilots seeing ufos (foo fighters? whatever the word was back then) and he said the most apt thing about pilots I think anyone has ever said.

    “Pilots do not have sufficient information about phenomena of disorientation, and, as a corollary, are given considerable disorganized, incomplete, and inaccurate information. They are largely dependent upon their own experience, which must supplement and interpret the traditions about ‘vertigo’ which are passed on to them. When a concept thus grows out of anecdotes cemented together with practical necessity, it is bound to acquire elements of mystery. So far as ‘vertigo’ is concerned, no one really knows more than a small part of the facts, but a great deal of the peril. Since aviators are not skilled observers of human behavior, they usually have only the vaguest understanding of their own feelings. Like other naive persons, therefore, they have simply adopted a term to cover a multitude of otherwise inexplicable events.”

    And it really made me laugh.

    Friends and I heard a freaky alien noise for about 2 hours, when we were 9. We camped out the next night to find the aliens. A racoon scared me and I walked back to my friend’s house and slept in his bed.

  • 19. CB  |  September 15th, 2010 at 10:37 am

    “What I found interesting with UFOs was that the US government was willing to waste time spying on the various flying saucer clubs and research groups like NICAP and MUFON… [to] uncover how many of these sightings were unconventional military planes and secret missile launches.”

    Yes, that’s exactly what they were doing. Was it a waste of time? Maybe. But it seems like a reasonable precaution to take. They knew there was a chance that these folks weren’t actually crazy, because they might have actually seen either a secret U.S. craft, or a secret Russian spy craft. So, infiltrate and find out if they know anything real.

  • 20. twentyeight  |  September 22nd, 2010 at 7:44 pm

    @14: “are you aware that military pilots are routinely dosed up on amphetamines?”

    OMG drugz. you don’t spend much time here, do you?

  • 21. Juliano  |  November 2nd, 2010 at 3:14 pm

    I couldn’t resist commenting. LOL–yeah they sure make it sound borin, and it made me remember this MAPS videos at youtube the other week. MAPS is a psychedelic studies association, and we had this ‘expert professional’ giving a lecture about the benefits of psychedelics for healing and OMG it was deadly boring–it was medicaleeese (if thats the term) and he was stuttering –oh shit it was horrendous

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