I’m Not A UFO Expert But I Play One on TV

Smithsonian Channel’s New Debunking Series

Smithsonian Channel’s series UFOs Declassified, which originally aired in January 2015, is currently being rebroadcast. While attempting to appear objective—considering both sides of the UFO controversy—the carefully-crafted overall impression is that “science and logic” have clearly demonstrated that no credible evidence for UFOs as an anomalous phenomenon exists.

However, persons having a detailed knowledge of the cases covered will quickly discern that the impression is disingenuous, shaped by the misstatement of facts, the omission of other relevant facts, faux logic, and a reliance on skeptical “experts” who have never studied UFOs but nevertheless attempt to present themselves as authority figures on the topic.

One episode concerns the events at the twin bases of RAF Bentwaters and RAF Woodbridge, and nearby Rendlesham Forest, in December 1980. Despite verified reports of radioactivity at one UFO landing site, and authoritative testimony by the two U.S. Air Force air traffic controllers at Bentwaters who say they tracked a bona fide UFO, the program claims that there is “no hard evidence” to support the statements of USAF personnel who have long said that multiple UFOs were indeed present during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. (Radar data are empirical—hard evidence—as are radioactivity readings; the fact that reports detailing those data have been suppressed in no way alters this fact.)

The producers of the Smithsonian series contacted me in 2013 and asked me to participate in the Rendlesham Forest episode, presumably due to my having interviewed several former USAF personnel about their UFO sightings at the twin bases, primarily at the Bentwaters Weapons Storage Area (WSA)—a tactical or “battlefield” nuclear bomb depot—where a spherical UFO maneuvering at close range was observed by guards posted at the facility. I declined the producers’ offer, strongly suspecting a less-than-objective presentation.

Why? Smithsonian’s UFO-debunking track record was established long ago. For years, the only UFO book available at their National Air and Space Museum’s bookstore was Curtis Peebles’ Watch the Skies! A Chronicle of the Flying Saucer Myth—a notoriously facile assessment of the phenomenon based on U.S. Air Force propaganda, amateur psychoanalyzing and naked bias—published in 1994 by Smithsonian Institution Press.

Given that a long-time assistant director of the museum was Frederick C. Durant III—the CIA consultant responsible for the agency’s 1953 Robertson Panel Report, which secretly recommended that UFOs be “debunked” and further suggested that the media might play a key role toward that end—perhaps the bookstore’s choice of UFO literature is not surprising. More recently, Smithsonian Books published UFO Crash at Roswell: The Genesis of a Modern Myth. In short, anyone who hoped that the Smithsonian Channel’s UFOs Declassified television series might offer an objective assessment of the phenomenon was destined to be disappointed.

Shortly after telling the show’s producers to take a hike, I advised retired Col. Charles Halt—the highest-ranking officer to go on-the-record about UFO activity in Rendlesham Forest and the two bases—not to participate in the program as well. Fortunately, he took my advice. Last week, after I summarized the factually-inaccurate and highly-biased episode for Halt, he responded, “I’m sure you have figured it out—there’s a link between the Smithsonian Channel and what I’ll call the ‘group’.”1

Halt was referring to the U.S. intelligence community’s use of the mass media to spin or suppress UFO-related information, a practice thoroughly documented by the late journalist Terry Hansen in his book The Missing Times, which is available as a $2.99 e-book at Amazon.

In one article, Hansen wrote, “In my book … I reported on 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.’”2

Armchair Expert Analysis

One of the skeptics interviewed on Smithsonian’s Rendlesham Incident program, SETI astronomer Seth Shostak, mocked the idea that alien visitors—if they were indeed aboard the reported UFOs—would be interested in human military activity or show any concern over our possession of nuclear weapons, a great many of which were stored at the RAF Bentwaters Weapons Storage Area at the time, according to a former high-level NATO nuclear security specialist who I interviewed in 1994. This has been confirmed by the Natural Resources Defense Council whose 2005 report, “Nuclear Weapons in Europe”, estimated that Bentwaters’ “hot row” bunkers held up to 100 tactical nuclear bombs.3

Shostak, whose dubious insights into the behavior of alien races is best illustrated by his unshakeable conviction that those civilizations would devote time and effort to communicating with other races across the vastness of the universe via radio waves—a belief for which, after a professional lifetime of searching, he has zero evidence—is currently the go-to-guy for production companies seeking a supposedly astute-but-skeptical authority on the UFO phenomenon.

Referring to Shostak’s participation in the Smithsonian show, Col. Halt wrote, “I served on a panel with Seth. He was the least scientific ‘expert’ I’ve met in years. I suspect he really knows there’s no reason to search the heavens when whatever or whoever is already here! He’s obviously part of the problem and realizes his SETI program is a waste of money and the truth will kill it.”4

Regardless, on the program Shostak said that advanced aliens’ alleged interest in humans’ primitive nuclear weapons would be akin to “my going back to the Roman Empire and looking at the area where they make their spears”, a clearly implausible notion in his eyes. If they are “hundreds or thousands of years ahead of us”, he said, “it doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Oh yes, Seth, the Romans’ pointy-stick technology is clearly an appropriate analogy for our own potentially civilization-ending, planet-polluting nuclear weapons. Those spears’ impact on humanity’s long-term survival was exactly the same. And there is absolutely no reason why an advanced race of beings would be interested in monitoring a semi-savage, warlike species that suddenly came into possession of nuclear weapons at the same time it began developing space-faring technology. No reason at all.

Shostak’s perpetually clueless attitude toward the revelations contained in hundreds of declassified documents and scores of military witnesses’ statements—regarding a UFO-nuclear weapons link—is well-known, having been smugly expressed in both published articles and private correspondence. Those documents confirm numerous UFO incursions at nukes-related facilities—by aerial craft having capabilities orders-of-magnitude beyond human technology, according to the radar data—decade after decade.

More importantly, the military witnesses who have belatedly gone on-the-record—including former U.S. Air Force ICBM launch officers whom the U.S. government trusted to initiate World War III, if it ever came to that—have implicated UFOs in the shutting down or temporary activation of American nuclear missiles, repeatedly, during the Cold War era.

Furthermore, documents smuggled out of Russia substantiate the occurrence of such incidents at Soviet missile sites. Apparently, someone having advanced technology—an outside third party—is intent on blunting both American and Russian, uh, spear-tips.

Not that any of this is meaningful to Shostak. No, unless there was a scientist sitting in the missile launch capsule taking notes, along with the launch officers, when one of these dramatic incidents occurred, he thinks there is no reason to take seriously anything the witnesses have to say.

As the program’s narrator expressed it, all of these nuclear weapons-related UFO sightings—as reported by military eyewitnesses, including those at RAF Bentwaters and RAF Woodbridge—can be explained as due to a collective “extraordinary imagination” and a psychological “overreaction” to prosaic phenomena resulting from the witnesses’ anxiety about possible enemy penetration of nuclear sites.

The reason the Air Force suppressed these incidents, the producers claim, stemmed from the tensions of the Cold War whereby the military brass frantically attempted to hide from the Soviets the fact that persons guarding our nukes would so easily freak-out over unexplained events that, according to the narrator, cooler heads would later discover to have ordinary explanations.

Yeah, that might be the reason, Smithsonian dudes, however, the orchestrated cover-up—as confirmed by Col. Halt—was far more likely the result of the Air Force’s now-documented knowledge of, and anxiety over, the great many other UFO incidents at bases involved with nuclear weapons over the previous three decades, during which the mysterious interlopers were often tracked on radar and sometimes chased unsuccessfully by jet fighters, after first hovering at low altitude over ICBM silos, strategic bomber alert pads, and Weapons Storage Areas. Indeed, declassified files and vetted eyewitnesses, presented in my book and at my website, identify no fewer than eleven UFO incursions at such sites during the previous six years alone.

In short, by the time of the Rendlesham Forest incidents, Air Force counterintelligence agents—primarily those assigned to the Office of Special Investigations—had already debriefed hundreds of missile launch and targeting officers, bomber crews, fighter pilots, radar operators and Security Policemen regarding their knowledge of UFO activity at nuclear weapons sites. The fact that those persons’ testimony was taken deadly seriously is illustrated, in one instance, by the Air Force implementing a Security Option 3 alert for all nuclear weapons facilities in the fall of 1975, following the so-called “Northern Tier [Base UFO] Incursions.”

Maybe, just maybe, that’s the reason the Air Force chose not to publicize the events at the twin RAF bases and in the nearby forest. Far from being an embarrassing episode for the top commanders—who supposedly attempted to hide what the program’s producers portray as panicky behavior by USAF security forces—the incidents were actually the latest confirmation for those in-the-know at the Pentagon that someone, clearly not the Soviets, was intent on monitoring and even tampering with its nuclear weapons—an ominous situation that would definitely have to be kept from the American public and yes, the Russians, for as long as possible.

More Fallacious Claims

Tim Printy, another self-appointed UFO expert interviewed on the Smithsonian program, is a veteran himself, having been a career U.S. Navy submariner. Obviously confident in the wisdom of his insights, Printy helpfully noted that although the horrific effects of a nuclear blast are dramatic close-up, they would be barely noticeable “from space”. In other words, arriving aliens would surely monitor human activity from afar, perhaps from the Moon or in Earth-orbit, and probably wouldn’t even know that humans had detonated nukes—at least 2,053 times—over the past 70 years.

Printy’s irrelevant, faux-logical statement rests solely on his own steadfast rejection of the testimony of scores of veterans who insist that UFOs have hovered at low altitude over ICBM silos at Malmstrom, Minot, Ellsworth, F.E. Warren and other Air Force Bases—or those I’ve interviewed who say that several UFOs were detected on radar, maneuvering near the huge Castle Bravo hydrogen bomb mushroom cloud in the spring of 1954.

Indeed, the declassified deck log from the U.S.S. Curtiss AV-4, the Navy’s flagship during the Castle series of tests, states that on “7 April … an unidentified luminous object passed over ship from bow to stern, yellowish-orange in color, traveling at a high rate of speed and a low altitude”.5 One of those aboard, former U.S. Marine Joseph Stallings, told me that once the UFO was clear of the ship astern, it suddenly performed a series of zigzag maneuvers before racing away at extremely high speed.

So, visiting aliens would only observe our nuclear testing from space, Mr. Printy? Or perhaps you have another plausible explanation for what your fellow veterans fearlessly report? Rather than dismissing their testimony out-of-hand, as you’ve done for years, can you explain how either U.S. or Soviet technology could account for the many incidents they report? Or were they all just being “overly imaginative” when they sighted anomalous aerial craft penetrating restricted airspace over various nukes-related sites?

Regarding the Rendlesham Forest Incidents, Printy—taking his cue from statements made years ago by skeptics Phil Klass and James McGaha—claims that Col. Halt’s sighting of what appeared to be a winking, eyeball-shaped object moving through the trees, was actually the flashing beam of the nearby Orford Ness lighthouse. Printy says that because Halt’s repeated, tape-recorded exclamations, “There it is again”—when observing the periodic “winking” of the eyeball—occurred at five-second intervals, the same duration between the beam’s flashes, Halt had to have been looking at the lighthouse, not a UFO.

Of course, Printy (and the others) completely ignore the fact that Halt has publicly stated, for decades, that the UFO and lighthouse were both visible at the same time. He said, “The lighthouse was visible the whole time … it was readily apparent, and it was 30-to-40 degrees off to our right.”6 Printy probably isn’t even aware of this fact, given that his, ahem, expertise on the Rendlesham Forest incidents primarily involves repeating the skeptical claims of others while at the same time ignoring those Air Force personnel whose eyewitness testimony undercuts his own knee-jerk rejection of the UFO reality.

Printy also ignores—or is unaware of—Halt’s statements regarding the reflection of another brightly-glowing UFO he saw in the windows of a nearby house, after the Security Police team he was leading moved from the forest into an open field. While the windows were facing Halt and the SPs, they were not facing the coast and the lighthouse and could not, therefore, reflect the Orford Ness’ flashing beam.

If the producers of the Smithsonian program were aware of these facts, which completely refute Printy’s bogus claims, they sure as hell weren’t going to share them with the audience, given their obvious intention to debunk the case.

Piling On

A third naysayer interviewed on the show, Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, delivered all of his predictably dismissive lines with his trademark smirk, undoubtedly meant to convey just how silly and pointless any discussion of UFOs is. He did, however, make one arguably valid observation: “We need physical evidence or we just don’t have a case.”

Yes, physical evidence, if it’s available, is indeed important—which is why I earlier mentioned the much-higher-than-background radiation readings taken in the three landing gear impressions found in the forest on December 26th, whose significance has been confirmed by scientists working for the British Ministry of Defence, according to retired MoD UFO specialist Nick Pope.

Although this information has been in the public domain for years, skeptics almost always ignore it or, on rare occasions, try to explain it away. This is a classic case of their moving the goalposts: fervently lamenting the lack of physical evidence in most UFO cases but then ignoring or rejecting that evidence, when it’s available, as inconclusive.

At the other end of the spectrum, one scientist who actually studied the UFO phenomenon for years, the late Dr. James E. McDonald, wrote:

From time to time in the history of science, situations have arisen in which a problem of ultimately enormous importance went begging for adequate attention simply because that problem appeared to involve phenomena so far outside the current bounds of scientific knowledge that it was not even regarded as a legitimate subject of serious scientific concern. That is precisely the situation in which the UFO problem now lies. One of the principal results of my own recent intensive study of the UFO enigma is this: I have become convinced that the scientific community, not only in this country but throughout the world, has been casually ignoring as nonsense a matter of extraordinary scientific importance.7

Courageous visionaries like McDonald are few and far between in the scientific community, while persons incapable of thinking outside of the box, like Seth Shostak, are much more numerous and far more vocal—haughtily dismissing a topic they know little or nothing about. Meanwhile, the very few scientists who have actually investigated UFOs—despite the distain and ire directed toward them by their dubious-but-uninformed colleagues—are almost always ignored by the media.

Consequently, persons such as astrophysicist Bernard Haisch or psychologist Don Donderi—who have analyzed UFO sightings and/or alien abduction reports, and have concluded that they point to anomalous phenomena worthy of study—would never be invited to participate in Smithsonian’s UFOs Declassified farce. However, for those who are interested in facts, not disinformation, their informed findings are available online including at Amazon’s book store.

Personal communication, Charles Halt to Robert Hastings, November 16, 2015.
Hansen, Terry. Close Encounters of the Nuclear Kind
U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe [PDF]
Personal communication, Charles Halt to Robert Hastings, November 16, 2015.
Defense Nuclear Agency (DNA), Castle Series, 1954, DNA 6035F, United States Atmospheric Nuclear Weapons Tests, p. 341.
Col. Charles Halt to A.J.S. Rayl, recorded interview, May 13, 1997
McDonald, Dr. James E. “Prepared Statement before the House Committee on Science and Astronautics”, July 29, 1968.