Sunday, July 30, 2006

Doubters, Believers and the Wildcard: Part III

Budd Hopkins, the artist who founded the Intruder Foundation (IF), selected nine individuals (five male, four female) from his organization for blind psychological testing. The clinical psychologist who did the evaluation, Dr. Elizabeth Slater, knew only that some guy named Hopkins had sent her nine people for examination and evaluation. Neither Hopkins nor anyone else told her the reason, and no one alerted her to the fact that these people all claimed to be alien abductees.

In a true sense, Dr. Slater’s findings have become sort of the wildcard in the psychological assessment of abduction reality, for both doubters and believers cite her study to bolster their claims. Her 1983 paper “Conclusions on Nine Psychologicals” concluded:

While this is a heterogeneous group in terms of overt personality style, it can be said that most of its members share being rather unusual and very interesting. They also share brighter than average intelligence and a certain richness of inner life that can operate favorably in terms of creativity or disadvantageously to the extent that it can be overwhelming. Shared underlying emotional factors include a degree of identity disturbance, some deficits in the interpersonal sphere, and generally mild paranoia phenomena (hypersensitivity, wariness, etc.).
Dr. Slater stressed that these subjects did not suffer from any form of psychosis. Nevertheless some have used this finding to argue for that “certain richness of inner life” could equate with fantasy-proneness, “some deficits in the interpersonal sphere” as anti-social, and “mild paranoia phenomena” as clinically paranoid. As she put it, The certain richness of inner life is more akin to the phenomenon of the lonely child who creates imaginary friends for an afternoon tea party. The subject understands that this inner life is completely internal, and can easily determine whether an event actually occurred or if they made it up.

Dr. Slater also explains to some length that the “mild paranoia” that she refers to is not actual paranoia, but rather a developed suspicious nature. Unlike the paranoid who for no reason feels that everybody is out to get him, she considered these people simply a little more suspicious than most. Furthermore, they had reason to be, because they all suffered from something close to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Both she and clinical Psychiatrist Dr. Rima Laibow noted, however, that there were differences. These subjects often did not have the disfiguring marks often exhibited by many combat veterans who suffer from PTSD. And unlike veterans who are reacting to an isolated incidence in their past, these people seemed to be reacting to a series of events that were ongoing.

Simply put, something extraordinarily traumatic had happened to these nine people. Alien abduction would certainly qualify as a traumatic experience. Yet, the world is full of known truamas. Could any of them be the source for alien abduction memories? Although this would technically mean that the memories are false, might it be more helpful to think of the memories as metaphors?

In his 1957 book Flying Saucers: a Myth of Things Seen in the Sky, Dr. Carl Jung presented case studies of UFO experiences, and noted the similarity between them and other reports of unexplained phenomena throughout history and legend: the column of smoke that accompanied the Israelites during the Exodus; the mysterious lights reported by Christopher Columbus and his crew on their first trek to the new world; the frequent stories of flying ships in the pages of nineteenth-century penny presses (tabloids), and so on.

Jung came to the conclusion that some unknown reality occasionally intruded upon our own. Because the reality is beyond what we can perceive, our minds reinterpret the experience into something that we can understand. In days of yore, we had tales of leprechauns, sprites, pixies, fairies, and so forth. Nowadays, we have tales of little gray men and sophisticated technology. In other words, each generation forms an understanding consistent with its own experience, technical knowledge and history.

Furthermore, Jung conjectured that such experiences formed the basis of our religious beliefs. As a little kid growing up Christian, I was often told that no one was allowed to see the face of God, for the sight would be “overwhelming.” I could speculate that an overwhelming experience might be traumatic in its nature.

Dr. John Mack, in his later years, believed that Jung’s connection of the UFO phenomenon to spirituality might ultimately become the most fruitful avenue of further psychological research. It was for this reason that both he and Dr. Don C. Donderi strongly urged colleagues to take an interest in quantum physics.

Coralaries from Einstein’s theory of the Cosmological Constant hold that everything that we as human beings can experience--time, matter, energy—constitutes only 5-17% of everything there is in the cosmos. The rest of everything around us lies outside of dimensions that we cannot perceive. As Einstein theorized, these other dimensions constantly pop up in into ours on a sub-atomic level, and consequently exert a great amount of energy. Mack, Jacques Vallee and others interested in this line of thought wondered if larger fissures in dimensions could explain for UFOs. If so, then accounts of alien abductions might better be explained as encounters with extra-dimensional phenomena, or perhaps intelligence, which we, in our twenty-first century minds, can only understand as alien contact.

Dr. Leo Sprinkle (University of Wyoming), the psychologist hired by the United States Air Force to examine Sgt. Herbert Schirmer and others for the 1969 Condon Committee investigation wrote that because of his undisclosed knowledge of UFO activity, and his examination of abductee claimants, the two phenomena are definitely linked, and definitely originated from sources external from the viewer. (Jung also cites numerous UFO data to support his claim that these experiences are responses to external stimuli.).He further felt, like Mack and Jung, that alien abductions could originate in the communion of ideas between other Earthly intelligences that we rarely get to see.

Concurring with the above opinions, Dr. Kenneth Ring (University of Connecticut) started out researching the psychological elements of near-death experiences (NDEs). After reading Whitley Strieber’s Communion, he realized that both alien abductions and NDEs shared a number of common elements. Both develop in the experiencer an altered consciousness that renders a vastly comprehensive sense of reality. Another similar aspect is the life review, whether it is a holographic projection or the feeling that one’s life is “passing before one’s eyes.” Most importantly, both the near death experiencer and the abductee project profound compassion and personal responsibility for the world. Their understanding of how the cosmos works and what mankind needs to survive greatly expands. Their intuition develops.

Ring called those subjected to these experiences ‘Omega People’, a construct which closely parallels ufologist Jenny Randles’ notion of ‘Star Children.’ However one views this, the feeling of spiritual awakening bolsters Jung’s hypothesis that such encounters have always been the basis of our religious inclinations. The prophets that we speak of in our scriptures have a lot in common with Dr. Slater’s nine “psychologicals’: better-than-average intelligence (Zoroaster, Muhammad, Buddha), suspicion (e.g. Jonah and Niveah, Samson and Delilah); creativity (Christ and his parables) and interpersonal deficits (a lot of these guys were loners). They obviously have much in common with Star Children/Omega People.

Dr. Ted Goertzel, who doubts the reality of alien abduction, offered another opinion of the alien abduction as metaphor. In explaining a reason for false memory, he noted that a higher-than-average number of his 660-plus subjects also reported some kind of physical or sexual abuse as a child. This too could explain the presence of posttraumatic stress disorder in abductee claimants. If the trauma of the event is too hard to cope with, the subject might develop what Dr. Goertzel referred to as a “screen memory,” which symbolizes what went on, but does not accurately depict the event.

As strange as this might sound, some people describe their own recollections of alien abductions as screen memories. They believe they were abducted, all right. But not by little gray men. Instead their captors wore olive drab.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Doubters, Believers and the Wildcard: Part II

Same deal. I'm still in dissertationland. I'll try to revert to normal once this revision is done. More apologies for the length.

A number of psychiatrists and psychologists looking at the phenomena of alien abduction have pointed out that the methodologies and conclusions of the doubters contain grave errors in logic and unaddressed research biases. The most contentious area of examination has been the nature of false memories and the purported fallibility of hypnosis. Another has been the almost knee-jerk diagnoses of false memory without any corroborating empirical evidence, and despite physical evidence to the contrary.

The researchers mentioned below do not believe that alien abduction has occurred in every case, and carefully distinguish where their opinions differ from both doubters and other believers. Most of these researchers, howver, are far more open to the possibility that alien abduction has occurred. One point the believers agree on: once you rule out lying, psychosis and episodic hallucinations, alien abduction claims report something truly remarkable, truly profound, and physically real.


Believers

Dr. Rima Laibow, a practicing New York state psychiatrist (M.D.) , immediately recognized serious flaws in previous diagnoses of alien abduction as psychoses or false memories. In a paper titled “Clinical Discrepancies Between Expected and Observed Data in Patients Reporting UFO Abductions: Implications For Treatment,” she wrote:

If a patient were to confide to a therapist that he had been abducted by aliens who took him aboard a UFO and performed a series of medical procedures and examinations on him it is not likely that the patient would find either a receptive ear or a respectful and non-judgmental response from the therapist. The material presented would lie so far outside the confines of our personal and cultural belief system that it would seem intolerably anomalous to most of us. We would probably dismiss or repudiate it using a few comfortable and familiar assumptions which hold so much obvious wisdom that they do not require specific examination. When events which are too anomalous to allow their incorporation into our world schema are presented to us, we are likely to dismiss them by using assumptions based in our currently operative world view. This effectively precludes the open evaluation of the anomaly.
Dr. Laibow’s comments highlight two of the most serious concerns about the psychiatric evaluations of abductee claims. First of all, some professionals dismiss the claim after superficial examination, simply because it challenges the examiner’s personal belief system. Secondly, and most important, because they summarily dismiss the possibility of alien abduction, doubters don't tend to do further evaluations, testing, and examinations.

While not calling out specific groups by name, Dr. Laibow’s criticisms are directly applicable to the methodology of those claiming false memory as the primary cause of alien abduction reports. Dr. Susan Clancy, in her NPR interview, states quite candidly that she became interested in alien abductions because she wanted to examine issues concerning false memory. In other words, Dr. Clancy assumed a priori that alien abduction claims are false memories, even though she had no evidence to establish this as the case, nor offered any.

Dr. Clancy also outlined her methodology during the interview. According to her statements, she gathered her data from interviews collected from large number of subjects. But at no time did she actually examine the interview subjects. Also, during the interviews, Dr. Clancy tried to convince subjects that they were suffering from a false memory, not an actual event. Whether or not this might have skewed her sample, it clearly demonstrates a bias in approaching the subject, as does her frequent laughter at the subject and subjects (augmented by the chuckles and snide remarks of the NPR interviewer).

More importantly, the claim of false memory hinges on the alleged suggestibility of those prone to it. Yet, she further reported that when trying to convince subjects of her opinion, they stubbornly resisted her suggestion, despite the fact that as an authority, her arguments at least sounded reasonable. This implies quite strongly that the people who she felt were very suggestible weren’t really that suggestible after all.

In a tone that might strike some as condescending or patronizing, Clancy averred that the subjects’ refusal to accept her diagnosis came from their inability to challenge their personal beliefs. To me, that sounds like a good-old-fashioned psychological projection, for Dr. Clancy has given us no inkling that she has challenged her own personal beliefs.

Dr. Don C. Donderi (McGill University) expounded on the inflexibility of psychiatry on the subject of alien abductions by offering an example of how psychoanalysts hear reports of an anomalous nature as opposed to how the general public responds. If we are at a beach house, or a backyard barbeque, and one of the dinner guests gives an in-depth description of an alien abduction, the other guests might be amused, for abduction accounts make compelling stories. Because they can chalk up the report as an entertaining tale told by a colorful guest—the kind that most people actually want at their barbeques to liven things up—the other guests have little at stake personally or professionally concerning the validity of the story. They will thus leave the get-together, and get on with their lives without their world views significantly challenged if at all.

Both Drs. Laibow and Donderi believe that when it comes to the question of alien abduction, many psychiatrists have simply forsaken science, and instead have relied upon their preconceptions to find easy, risk-free answers instead of challenging their own viewpoints and exploring the subject. Most importantly, both would stress the need to evaluate reports on a case-by-case basis, especially since National Enquirer type stories, sensationalistic tales that receive the most exposure, often discredit more plausible reports that come with corroborating witnesses and evidence, thus making it easy for psyche professionals to dismiss.

Dr. Donderi isn’t a strong believer in the alien abduction scenario, although he is convinced that many abductee claimants have undergone a real, and profound experience. He nevertheless calls for his fellow psychologists to actively investigate reports and examine evidence, instead of dismissing reports out of hand, and ignoring corroborating evidence only to claim that no evidence exists. He also suggests that psychoanalysts learn something about quantum theory and theoretical science in order to see if some of the facets of abduction reports—e.g., abductees being transported through walls by light beams—can be explained.

Likewise, Dr. Laibow isn’t completely sold on the notion of alien abduction either. She firmly believes, however that abductee claimants have experienced something very important and traumatic; and at this time, alien abduction is the best explanation we have for this, for it explains more physiological and psychological symptoms than false memory syndrome, and does so after more thorough investigation.

The problems with the false memory premise, currently the most attractive argument against UFO abduction, extend far beyond the observations of a couple of shrinks. Even doubters have raised concerns about the methodology and ethics of those applying false memory syndrome as a one-size-fits-all diagnoses. Dr. James Chu (Harvard University) wrote Rebuilding Shattered Lives: The Responsible Treatment of Complex Posttraumatic and Dissociative Disorders in 1998. It has since become very influential in the pro-FMS crowd. Yet, Dr. Chu complained that other psychiatrists and psychologists distorted key parts of his findings in order to make a case that false memory syndrome is exceedingly pervasive.

In a 2002 letter to The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, Dr. Chu wrote, “I have never espoused the belief that memory retrieval--whether of true or false memories--creates posttraumatic stress disorder.” This is an important point, for one thing that distinguished the most plausible alien abduction claims from those worthy of The World Weekly News is the presence of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The doubters cite his work however, to claim that the PTSD found in abductee claimants was caused by iatrogenesis, or in other words by the therapy that helped them to remember.

Most importantly, Dr. Chu is an experienced practitioner specializing in clinical trauma therapy. The majority of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation board and membership lacked this experience and expertise. He pointedly criticized the aggressive tactics of false memory advocates to establish their pet diagnosis and recommend treatment based on it, writing:

The multiple parameters and the subtleties of therapy make psychotherapy outcome research very difficult. Therapy in vivo is very different from therapy in the laboratory, and is a highly complex interaction that is not easily analyzed or tested. Rather, the experience and benefits achieved by clients over time may [be] the best measure of the value of some forms of psychotherapy.
Fad therapies--some of which may be useless or even dangerous--continue to exist, and clients can be lulled into believing in their value. Such therapies should be exposed and discredited. However, we must be very careful not to attack the majority of mainstream mental health practitioners because of concerns about the practices of a minority group, as has occurred during the recent debate about the validity of traumatic memories. Advocates of the False Memory Syndrome (is FMS an empirically established diagnosis?) effectively used the poor clinical practices of a small number of therapists to tar the reputations and inhibit the practice of many legitimate and worthy clinicians who were wrongly accused of providing ‘recovered memory therapy.’
If I seem to have spent a good deal of this post trashing false memory syndrome, then it is because it remains the most visible, the most glib, and the most prosaically satisfying explanation for alien abduction and other extraordinary memories. When we realize that false memory hypotheses begin with assumptions of false memories that are not subject to methodological or empirical scrutiny, we consequently have to question its validity. Although an easy and safe explanation, FMS has yet to be proven in any serious traumatic memory case.

Likewise, researchers have not empirically proven sleep paralysis and temporal lobe distortion to be the causes of alien abduction report. True, they stand a good chance of explaining many UFO abduction reports. But they cannot explain all.

So, if you have cases that can not be explained by sleep paralysis, electromagnetic waves, false memory, psychosis or neurosis, what’s left?

After evaluating numerous abductee claimants in depth, the late Dr. John Mack (Harvard University) concluded that no evidence, psychiatric or otherwise, contradicts the story of some abductee claimants. Furthermore, he felt that sufficient evidence existed to bolster the veracity of some claimants.

In his 1994 book Abduction: Human Encounters With Aliens, and in numerous academic papers and articles, Dr. Mack described the subjects he researched to a great extent. Like his colleague Dr. Chu, he felt that the proper use of hypnosis could help recall certain memories. As he, and many other researchers explain, hypnosis parallels conscious memory recall. In other words, you don’t simply fantasize during hypnotic trances. If there is no leading by the hypnotist/therapist/examiner, then false memory is no more likely to occur than without hypnosis. When dealing with alien abduction cases, he sometimes asked other psychiatrists to monitor and audit his technique, which received no complaints.

Mack used hypnosis in trauma care and research because traumatic memories are qualitatively different than other memories. Citing previous research, he stated:

…traumatic memories, or experiences occurring under conditions of high arousal, may be stored differently in the limbic system of the brain than less intense….In these situations memory appears to be encoded along sensorimotor, olfactory and visual channels, rather than within the semantic framework of normal memory. This may make traumatic memories less vulnerable to the same reconstructive but distorting tendencies of normal memory processing
In other observations, Dr. Mack noted that patients who sought counseling for alleged alien abduction often did so after seeking medical attention for physical ailments that were consistent with the abduction scenario: trauma marks, radiation burns and contamination, conjunctivitis, and so forth. Because he examined them thoroughly, he knew the research subjects were anything but the compliant wanna-believers that the false memory crowd depicted them to be. They were skeptical, inquisitive and quite open to alternative explanations. They were also difficult to sway, either toward alternative explanations that did not fit their circumstances, or other alien abduction scenarios that did not fit their experience.

But here is the kicker. While one can implant memories of an unimportant or inconsequential nature through hypnosis or suggestion, absolutely no research indicates, or even hints at, the possibility of this occurring with traumatic memory (in fact this would be very difficult to test empirically since current psychiatry ethics prevent shrinks from attempting to induce trauma through artificial means). Again citing previous research, Dr. Mack stated that the more important an event is to the person remembering, the less chance there is for a false memory to be implanted, either consciously or through hypnosis.

For example, a husband and wife might argue about whether they attended an event at place A or place B. Surely, at least one of their memories is false. But people vary in the importance that they place upon certain things. If person X falsely believes that the event happened at place A, and person Y rightly believes that the event occurred at place B, then it seems reasonable to assume that person Y places a greater importance upon place, while person X might put more importance on the fact that the two of them were together.

One would assume that a person abducted by aliens would find the experience very important to their lives. As most trauma specialists would tell you, some people will repress the knowledge to an area of the brain not typically used for memory storage. Other people would not repress them at all. Either way, the importance of the event in the subject's life would suggest that there was little chance of altering the neural network in subsequent retelling, for the memory would have received sufficient reinforcement. For that reason, Dr. Mack felt it quite possible that some alien abduction claims are exactly what they appear to be.

Yet, like Drs. Laibow and Donderi, Dr. Mack was never completely sold on the notion of alien abduction. Up until the day he died, he looked for other explanations. He was quite convinced, however, that true abductee claimants had experienced something quite real, quite extraordinary and of significant importance. If the root cause of their reports was not alien abduction, then it was something close to it—an abduction, or an encounter with an out-of the-ordinary phenomenon or intelligence, perhaps.

He suggested that one other line of investigation might yield important answers to the question of alien abduction. This line is based on a psychoanalytic approach that predates reports of alien abduction, and on the pioneering work of a wildcard clinician.

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Friday, July 21, 2006

Doubters, Believers and the Wildcard: Part I

As I mentioned in the last post, I am rather consumed by the dissertation at the moment. Consequently, here’s another post that’s longer than Fatty’s arm, for once again, my presence in the blogosphere will be down. Still, it won’t be out.

The alien abduction scenario dominates current ufology, and is arguably the most contentious issue within the subject. Naturally, such claims invite speculation as to the mental health of those reporting them. A number of serious psychologists, neurologists and psychiatrists have examined the alien abduction claims using various methodologies. In toto, they have yielded a number of differnt, and sometimes contradictory, explanations.

If you’re assuming that they have all come to the opinion that alien abduction claims result from psychosis, then you’re in for quite a shock. In fact, many discount psychosis as an explanation in general. Some examiners even believe that the claims have merit.

What follows are the arguments of the doubters, the arguments of the believers, and the opinion of the wildcard, an early examiner of the alien abduction scenario whose findings were used by both sides. In today’s post, we will exclusively outline the arguments of the disbelievers.


Doubters

The main explanations for those who doubt the reality of alien abductions broadly fall into six categories: (1) dreams, (2) sleep paralysis, (3) false memories, (4) abnormalities in temporal lobe function, (5) psychosis, and (6) neurosis.

Dreams are somewhat self-explanatory since we all do it. However, a few people can enter a state of dreaming while awake, and thus produce something called 'hypnopompic imagery.' Because the dreamer is awake, and his or her eyes are open, the brain still picks up and processes light as it normally does, and translates it into images, which are then superimposed upon the dream. If dreamers of this sort do not know that they are dreaming, then they could easily confuse dream experiences with real ones. Since little gray aliens and their abduction habits are now part of our culture and iconography, what they symbolize (strangeness, dominance, forced compliance, etc.) can, and does, show up in dreams.

Dr. Susan Blackmore (University of the West of England, Bristol), Dr. Susan Clancy (Harvard University), Dr. Nicholas Spanos and many other noted researchers believe that the primary abduction experience is caused by a phenomenon known as 'sleep paralysis.' Upon waking, the sleeper’s mind becomes conscious before the body has a chance to get into the "awake" mode. This results in a momentary paralysis lasting of a second or two. The above researchers and others strongly suspect that sleep paralysis can also trigger hallucinatory episodes lasting only a brief period of time.

Sleep paralysis aptly explains two of the most common facets of the alien abduction experience, particularly when such experiences occur in the bedroom as 85% currently do. Abductee claimants report some sort of paralysis in the vast majority of cases. If hallucinations typically follow, then the sight of gray aliens, blindingly bright bluish white lights and other things might therefore have little basis in external reality.

Sleep paralysis occurs most often in people who suffer from narcolepsy or other disorders. Even believers note that a significant percentage of abductee claimants suffers from some type of sleep disorder.

Dr. Michael Persinger (Laurentian University), a prominent neurologist and researcher, performed a series of experiments under the aegis of the US Navy to measure the effect of electromagnetic waves on the brain. He found that different people have varying degrees of temporal lobe sensitivity to magnetism. Extremely sensitive subjects, he found, were quite open to suggestion. More important, they became prone to a belief in what we might call, for lack of a better term, cosmic awareness. Subjects felt as though there were unseen ‘presences’ in the experimentation room with them. Some began to recall people that they knew. Interestingly enough, during such recollections, many of the subjects reported that those they knew had somehow turned gray.

Persinger also worked on a 1975 study showing how geophysical conditions might produce the amount of magnetic activity that he could in a laboratory. The Earth’s surface rests upon huge structures called ‘tectonic plates.’ When those plates shift to a significant degree, we have earthquakes and tsunamis. Sometimes, however, the plates shift microscopically. While we wouldn’t so much feel a brief tremor from one of these shifts, we can see the results. First of all, these movements cause a rise in electromagnetic activity, which scientists can measure. Secondly, they produce something called ‘earthlights,’ which, as the name implies, are lights that one can see darting across the sky, sometimes at very rapid speed. As you might expect, many people report earthlights as UFOs.

Psychosis does not play a large role in the debunking of alien abduction claims, although both believers and non-believers accept the probability that such is the most likely explanation in some cases. Once again, because of the prevalence of UFO symbology in our mediasphere, those suffering from schizophrenia or schizo-effective disorder (SED) could very well incorporate alien items into their delusions.

Neuroses constitute a much larger area of interest than psychosis, as evident in the study conducted by Dr. Ted Goertzel (Rutgers University), which challenged the claims of Budd Hopkins, a New York City artist who has become the most prominent proponent of the reality of alien abduction. According to Hopkins’ estimate, gray aliens abducted over 3.7 million Americans, a figure that would translate into over 100 million people worldwide. Goertzel set out to test this claim by interviewing 670 people chosen partially at random. He administered the same questionnaire that Hopkins designed, but also included features that would indicate traits of what he called ‘fantasy-prone’ individuals, among these traits the belief in ghosts and the belief in a conspiracy involving the JFK assassination. In a mathematically rigorous analysis Goertzel correlated fantasy/belief structures with the likelihood of experiencing alien abduction. He further noted in this study that two of the more fantasy-prone respondents actually reported abduction experiences.

Going one step further Drs. Leonard Newman and Roy Baumeister (University of Illinois) specifically linked the UFO abduction experience to sadomasochistic fantasy. After poring over claimant accounts, Newman and Baumeister concluded that one of the most trumpeted defenses of abduction reality contained a basic fallacy. Budd Hopkins has often questioned why people would develop false memories about situations that are themselves so painful that they repressed them. The Illinois psychologists responded by declaring such would not be surprising since some people thrive on experiencing pain and trauma.

Drs. Clancy, Persinger, Goertzel, Newman and Baumeister share a belief that any number of factors produces false memories in those reporting alien abduction.

For a good deal of the Twentieth Century, many psychotherapists believed that memories were stored in individual brain cells, or neurons. Consequently, recalling something meant accessing that particular cell. Nowadays, we see memory as a far more complex process. Instead of residing in one cell, memories come about through a networking of cells, and we make sense of them through emergence. For instance, a neuron fires at the color brown, another one fires at a specific smell. One fires at the sensation of wet, another with the sensation of heat. Meanwhile, a set of them fire at the sight of a Styrofoam container. When all of these cells fire in conjunction, our brain realizes that we’re holding a cup of coffee. A significant number of them will also fire in conjunction when we are only remembering that cup of coffee (which is exactly what you are doing now).

In other words, no memory exists in the past. All memories are constructed in the present, and will be freshly reconstructed in the future. True, the networks will become familiar and will remain mostly unchanged because of constant reinforcement. If you are married, for example, a number of things reinforce the reality of that situation: wedding photos, kids, the presence of the spouse, a wedding ring, reference to the spouse by others, and so forth. Rarely would you wake up one day and decide to create a memory in which that spouse does not exist.

Yet, in cases where adequate memory reinforcement is lacking, the brain might alter that network. In terms of alien abduction, however, inadequate reinforcement of experience has not been the problem, according to the above researchers. What they see as the problem is the reinforcement of memory that did not come by dint of sensory perception.

In other words, the false-memory explanation of alien abduction claims posits that a competing false neural network received sufficient reinforcement to alter the original and subsequently create a whole new memory. Sometimes, reinforcement comes from the claimant’s belief in UFO abduction and other related phenomena. If we believe that UFO abductions take place, then we become more likely to believe that they might happen to us.

Dr. Clancy has specifically cited the prominence of Budd Hopkins in numerous television shows and books as a source of many, if not most, present day reports. People who have experienced sleep paralysis, for instance, might first remember it as just some weird anomaly that had no meaning. But after seeing Hopkins on TV, these same people might think, “Hey, something similar happened to me.” Before you know it, that person is checking out library books on alien abductions. As they do, they reinforce a new memory, namely that they have experienced the same thing Hopkins described.

Hopkins often utilizes hypnosis in his sessions with alien abductee claimants. To make a long story not as long, the flaws of hypnosis as a method of recall are well documented. A 1984 study conducted by researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles found that hypnotic memory recall was no more accurate than conscious memory recall, as had earlier been believed. Moreover, because a subject becomes more susceptible to suggestion in a state of hypnosis, the hypnotist could possibly reinforce a false memory intentionally or unintentionally.

In watching video footage of Budd Hopkins working with different subjects, Dr. Elizabeth Loftus (University of Washington) noted that he induced his subjects to repeat their story. In addition, he gave off a number of cues that led Dr. Loftus to believe that he was in fact coaching them. A number of researchers, both believers and doubters, have complained that what emerges from Hopkins’ sessions is an alien abduction orthodoxy, a consistent narrative that renders identical features from subject to subject: paralytic helplessness, medical examination, impregnation (for female claimants) and an overall sense of abject terror.

The above is but a survey of the most prominent anti-abduction positions, false memory being arguably the most important one. As you can see, lying and delusions do not constitute the bulk of the doubter’s concern, even though both doubters and believers are quite aware that psychosis and hoaxes explain a number of reports.

In the next post, we will look at the argument presented by the believers. Although obviously not as numerous as the doubters, they are similarly credentialed and they present a number of compelling arguments that lead them to the opinion that actual alien abduction is the most likely explanation for what is occurring for some claimants. Most of their observations are based on clinical, hands-on examination of their subjects and responsible criticism of the observational biases, and the methodological and logical errors of the doubters.

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

Four Cases of Alleged Alien Abduction

Warning: this post is longer than Fatty’s arm. I intend to concentrate on dissertation stuff for the next few days, so I’ll leave this up for a while. Instead of breaking this post up into smaller ones, I figured you might read one subheading per visit. You can read them all at once if you like. Your call.

I’ll still visit and comment on your boards (especially since I’m dying to know who wins the poetry battle on Mayden’s Voyage) and respond to comments here; yet, I’ll do so far more slowly since I cannot get through the blogroll in the limited amount of blogtime I have budgeted for this week. Take care.

Even though Adamski’s accounts of sexual relations with aliens seemed risible, and components of Boas’ romp with a blonde beauty from another world seem utterly fantastic, other reported encounters with alien beings were not so easy to dismiss out of hand.

This writer neither believes in nor endorses the alien abduction scenario. He is nevertheless convinced that these people were telling the truth as they understood it.


Betty and Barney Hill

Alien abduction first came to public light by way of a 1966 Look article. Barney and Betty Hill (left) were driving down a rural New England road late one September night in 1961 when they saw lights in the sky. Barney pulled over to observe the craft, which he initially thought to be an experimental jet. He pulled over to get a better view of the lights, but got back into the car and zoomed away when the lights made a b-line towards him.
Suddenly, the Hills found themselves in the town of Ashla, NH, thirty-five miles from where they thought they were just a minute earlier. Little did they know that over two hours had elapsed since their roadside stop.

The next morning, Betty called Pease AFB and spoke with a Major Paul Henderson, who confirmed that the base had spotted an unidentified craft on radar. USAF Intelligence Officer Major James MacDonald interviewed the couple, and believed in the accuracy of their account.

In the spring of 1962, after suffering from various psychosomatic ailments including nightmares and ulcers, Betty and Barney sought treatment from Dr. Benjamin Simon, a prominent and highly respected neurologist. Simon separately hypnotized and recorded the Hills' accounts of that night. Betty and Barney told an identical story of being taken aboard a spacecraft and medically examined by a number of gray aliens, most of whom were short. Barney described their movements as "stiff, robotic." A dominant gray, the only one who spoke English, stood about six feet tall. Aboard were also very human-looking aliens with red hair and freckles who seemed to command the grays.

Betty recalled that the tall gray inserted a needle into her abdomen, explaining that it was a pregnancy test, and reassuring her that it wouldn’t hurt. Of course, it hurt like hell. Thinking quickly, it manipulated some nerve endings in her feet, and she felt fine. Later, according to Betty, the six-footer came next to her examination table, asked her to open her mouth, and then tried to pull out her teeth. She asked what it was doing, and it replied, “This must represent a gender difference.”

“What’s a gender difference?” she asked.

“Apparently, the male teeth come out. The female teeth are attached.”

Betty laughed, and then casually explained the concept of ‘dentures.’

Kinda makes you wonder how the aliens could know so much about the human nervous system, but know nothing about false teeth. Nevertheless, one facet of Betty’s story rang true. There were no such pregnancy tests in 1961. There are now.

One aspect of the Hills’ story that’s very difficult to dismiss as fantasy was the ‘map room.’ The “people” escorting them, separately led Betty and Barney to a room containing a number of mobiles and stalagmite-type projections from the floor. The aliens informed them that the objects in toto were a map, and then asked if they could tell where they were. Since neither had ever studied astronomy, they hadn’t a clue.

In 1969, during an interview given under hypnosis, Betty drew a picture of the map room. The reporter admitted that she couldn’t make heads or tails out of what Betty had just drawn. But astronomers could. Marjorie Fish, an Ohio schoolteacher, was the first to realize that it was a map of the Milky Way exactly as it would have appeared from Zeta Recticuli, a nearby star. Many of the stars Betty drew aren’t visible to the naked eye. Others had only been charted after 1961. The accuracy of Betty’s drawing is extraordinary by any standards, but it is really a feat for a woman who had no prior knowledge of astronomy.

Barney spent much of his remaining time doing volunteer work for the civil rights movements. He died in 1969. Betty devoted her life to researching UFOs and lecturing about them. She passed away in 2004. Their case remains the most highly publicized UFO abduction report, with a number of books, websites, and a television movie (starring James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons) to its credit.


Sgt. Herbert Schirmer

On December 3, 1967, Sgt. Herbert Schirmer of the Ashland, Nebraska Police Department radioed in what he thought to be a disabled truck on the side of Highway 6. A half hour later, he headed back to the station visibly shaken and suffering what would be determined later as radiation burns, and marks around his neck.

Under hypnosis, Schirmer recalled that a disc-shaped craft descended atop a hill, extended three landing legs, and pulled the squad car as it landed. A gray ‘being’ emerged from the vehicle and approached the policeman's vehicle carrying an instrument described as pen-shaped, with a ball-like extension on the end. The being applied the instrument to his neck, and that point Schirmer became quite compliant.
“Are you the watchman, here,” asked the gray, according to Schirmer.

“Yes,” the officer replied.

“Come, watchman,” beckoned the alien. Schirmer claimed that the alien then escorted him on a tour of his ship, and expressed an interest in helping humanity. Overall, they were quite friendly. After escorting him back to his patrol car, Schirmer watched as the craft took off on a vertical climb, and then took off down the road.

Schirmer filed an official investigation report that night, and was questioned by his superiors the following morning. The local paper got wind of the story, and interest in it began to grow. Finally, the Condon Committee, a US Air Force UFO investigation directed by University of Colorado physics professor Dr. Ed Condon, questioned the officer.

Schirmer was the only abductee claimant examined during the two-year study (1967-1969). Condon found the officer's claim not credible due to lack of corroborating evidence. Nevertheless, the committee psychiatrist assigned to examine him, Dr. Leo Sprinkle, concluded that Schirmer “believed in the reality of the events that he described.”


Travis Walton

Most people imagine the alien abduction scenario involving a person, alone at night. But none of these factors apply to a lumberjack named Travis Walton, who was allegedly abducted in broad daylight in front of six others on November 5, 1975.

After a long day of chopping down trees at the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, Travis and his fellow lumberjacks climbed onto the pickup truck that would take them back to civilization. Suddenly they saw a disc-shaped craft descend into the clearing that they had created. Walton, sitting in the back of the truck, hopped out to get a better view over the fierce objections from his colleagues, who more than anything else, wanted to flee. The six men claimed that they watched in horror as Walton levitated some fifty feet into the bottom of the craft, and then left to get the sheriff.

Over the telephone, Sheriff Marlin Gillespie ordered deputy Chuck Ellison to hold the five remaining lumberjacks for questioning. At the time, Ellison and Gillespie both thought that the crew had murdered Walton, disposed of his body, and concocted a ridiculous story in order to cover-up their crime. All five men were subjected to polygraph tests. Although each man told identical stories, the examiner, Cy Gilson, judged four of the men truthful, and one lumberjack, Allen Dallis, deceptive. As it turned out, Dallis had a criminal record, and was thus deceptive in response to questioning along the lines of past infractions. Gilson, nevertheless concluded that Dallis was truthful about the abduction.

The polygraph examinations occurred on the morning of November 10, 1975. Word had leaked about the claimed UFO abduction several days earlier, and reporters had descended upon the home of Mary Kellett, Walton’s mother. Walton’s brother, Duane, had pretty much shooed the last of them away by 2:15pm when he got a call from Travis.

Travis told his brother over the phone that he woke up just as a team of gray aliens were performing medical experiments on him. He said that he freaked out, jumped off the examination table, and the aliens fled in panic. He then left the room in an attempt to find a way off of the spaceship. After wondering around lost for a good while, he encountered two tall blond humans, one male, the other female. Neither of them could speak English. Nevertheless, Walton understood that the blonds were trying to calm him down. The next thing he knew, he had awoken on the side of the road. He wandered down that road until he saw the Exxon station where he called Duane at 2:15pm, November 10.

During the media blitz between Walton’s disappearance and re-emergence, Bill Spaulding of Ground Saucer Watch approached Duane, and told the elder Walton to call him if Travis ever returned so that they could send a doctor over to examine him. But the doctor Spaulding sent over was neither an MD nor a PhD.

The Waltons finally enlisted two real physicians, Drs. Joseph Salts and Howard Kandell, with the help of a rival ufologist group, the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization (APRO). James and Coral Lorenzen, the married couple who founded the group, then arranged for Walton to sell his first-hand account to The National Enquirer for an undisclosed amount of money.

Shortly afterward, Sheriff Gillespie arranged for Walton to take a polygraph test. Although his story matched those given by his colleagues, he failed—most likely for the same reason that Gilson initially judged Dallis to be deceptive. Like Dallis, Walton had a criminal background, which he also preferred to hide under questioning. Coupled with the fact that he sold his story to The National Enquirer, and the fact that his brother Duane exaggerated and fabricated parts of Walton’s life in order to make a more compelling story, the sheriff’s office eventually ruled the incident a hoax, alleging that Travis had been hiding out in the woods, with someone providing him food and water for five days until his re-emergence.

Of course, Walton and his brother were not well off at the time, far from it. So, one migh expect them to take a rumoured $10,000 (easily a year’s salary in 1975), even if they lost credibility, and even if they colored the story somewhat. Nevertheless, there were aspects that make this case a difficult one to dismiss out of hand. First of all, elevated levels of radiation were found at the supposed abduction site. Secondly, Drs. Saults and Kandell took a urine sample from Walton almost immediately. In their report they noted:

Urinalysis—volume 560cc; normal, with good concentration [SpG 1.032]; however, there was no acetate present, which is unusual, considering that any person who is without adequate nutrition for twenty-four to forty-eght hours will break down his own body-fat stores, which should result in ketones being excreted into the urine. The absence of ketones in his urine, considering a ten-pound weight loss, is difficult to explain.
In other words, Walton underwent a noticeable weight loss conservatively estimated at ten pounds. Doing that within five days would have been difficult enough through exercise and starvation. But had he actually starved, there would have ketones (acetates) in his urine. Had he been eating in seclusion for five days, he most likely wouldn’t have lost ten pounds or more. The only thing that could account for weight loss and the absence of ketones is intravenous feeding.

Walton nevertheless passed two subsequent polygraph tests, one administered by Gilson, the other by George Pfeifer of Ezell Associates, a private polygraph firm located in Phoenix. Gilson doubted the worth of the second polygraph, for Walton had retold the story to the press many times, by then. Consequently, any deception might not show up in a second polygraph. Pfeifer’s ruling was overturned by his boss Tom Ezell, with no reason given.

Walton wrote Fire in the Sky, a bestselling book on his experience. D.B. Sweeney starred in a made-for-TV movie based on the book.


Charles Hickson and Calvin Parker

Amid a flurry of reported UFO activity near their hometown of Gautier, MS, Charles Hickson, a forty-two year old Korean combat veteran, and his young friend Calvin Parker went fishing on the night of October 11, 1973. At about 9:00, according to them, they saw an egg-shaped UFO land on the opposite shore. Unlike the short, gray aliens reported at most of these encounters, the abductors Parker and Hickson described were tall, gray, had tiny slits for mouths, lobster-shaped claws, and conical shapes where one would expect eyes and ears. Despite the fact they had legs, the aliens allegedly floated across the water to abduct them back to their ship, where they scanned them with a bright light emanating from a large eye-shaped surface. Twenty minutes later, the beings released Parker and Hickson back on the pier where they had found them.

On the ride home, Hickson and Parker debated whether or not to call police. After some discussion they went to the local newspaper instead, only to find that the offices had closed for the night. They called Kessler AFB in Biloxi. An officer there told them to see the local sheriff in Pascagoula, which they did. Jackson County Sheriff Fred Diamond interviewed both Parker and Hickson. He found their story unbelievable, due to the fact that they had each drunk a few shots of whiskey after the incident (allegedly to calm their nerves).

Hickson and Parker returned the following morning to the shipyard where they both worked. Their superiors were apparently alerted by the sheriff’s follow-up investigation (Parker and Hickson swore they told no one), and began to court publicity. Northwestern University astronomy professor Dr. J. Allen Hynek, who participated in the 1953 Robertson Panel, the CIA’s only public UFO investigation, flew to Mississippi to interview them. He requested they take polygraph tests, which they passed.

Since 1973, the stereotypical abductee claimant has been portrayed in popular media as uneducated hicks, fools, morons and conmen. The stereotype originated in how the press reported on the Parker and Hickson case for the next several weeks, when virtually all US dailies and many international newspapers reported their story. Although both men were largely uneducated, and spoke with deep southern country accents (often mimicked by comedians, most hysterically by Richard Pryor) they were (and still are), nevertheless fairly sharp individuals. Moreover, they refused many lucrative offers that came their way because movie producers and publishers could not give them adequate reassurance that their story would not become over-sensationalized or inaccurate.

Over the next several years Parker was hospitalized for depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Whether or not Parker saw UFOS, aliens, and weird scanning eyes, the diagnosis and successful treatment give substantial evidence to the argument that something anomalous had occurred that night in Mississippi.



Are these people deluded? Insane? Lying? Coming next: psychiatry tackles the alien seduction issue.

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Kinky CE7: The Distracting Kook

George Adamski (left) made numerous television appearances describing his 1952 encounter with visitors from Venus. According to him, these EBEs looked exactly like humans, and could pass for one. They had blond hair, blue eyes, and tended to be rather tall. The only differences between them and most humans consisted of an extended trunk in comparison to their leg size, an abnormality they usually hid by wearing only tailor-made clothes when on Earth. The men tended to be barrel-chested, the women well endowed.

Despite his high media presence, Adamski’s personal demeanor made him look awful on television. In fact, he came across as a kook. When he started mentioning beautiful, blonde space aliens with large breasts, many thought that he was simply spending too much time at the local drive-in. Nevertheless, he managed to compound public disbelief by claiming that he had made love to some of the women.

Later on, we would find large huge faults in Adamski’s accounts. All in all, Venus isn’t a great place to visit, and I wouldn’t want to live there. Venus has huge gaps in its ozone layer, and these have resulted in a rather nasty greenhouse effect. It’s literally much hotter on Venus than it is on Mercury, the planet closest to the sun. Mercury, in fact, has places where the temperature averages about fifteen degrees Celsius. By comparison, a frigid winter’s day on Venus’s north pole might get as cold as a bone-chilling 600 degrees Fahrenheit. Now if that doesn’t ward you off, then there’s the planet’s little acid rain problem. The concentration of the acid would literally melt a spaceship in seconds. You couldn’t really land on Venus either. The atmospheric pressure is such that it’s much like taking a submarine to the bottom of the ocean. Assuming that your ship didn’t overheat, or land in a rainy spot, the atmospheric pressure would crush it like a beer can about halfway down.

When Adamski announced his extraterrestrial sexpertise back in 1960, few could challenge his declaration that the visitors were from Venus, for we did not know then what we know now about the pretty, silver planet. But other evidence offered by Adamski was not worth believing in any decade. He snapped a number of photos that he claimed were of alien spaceships. Yet, the fake models that he used were so obvious, they wouldn’t convince a ten-year old.

Over the past five decades, a number of people were deemed cranks, hoaxers or loonies within ufologist circles, and as such their stories were pretty much dismissed, their names forgotten. But we remember Adamski’s. In fact, his stories have wielded tremendous influence on modern ufology. Just about all of the space-brother scenarios championed by various UFO aficionados trace their roots back to him, despite the fact that the man seemed two pancakes short of a stack.

In his book, Alien Agenda, former New York Times correspondent Jim Marrs offered one explanation for why Adamski’s seriously flawed account gained traction. To put it simply, he had help from his Uncle Sam.

Born in Poland on April 17, 1891, Adamski immigrated to the US two years later with his parents. He served in the US Cavalry during World War I, and enlisted in the National Guard at war’s end. During the 1920s, he made a living as a sort of guru. By 1930, he had founded his own monastery, where he exploited a special federal license that allowed him to make wine despite Prohibition--ostensibly for religious purposes, but Adamski engaged in rampant bootlegging. During the war years, he operated a hamburger stand next to the Mount Palomar observatory, where he would later claim to have gathered personal knowledge of alien visitation.

When Jacques Vallee interviewed Adamski, the latter let slip that he had consulted with Point Loma Naval Electronics Laboratory near San Diego. One of the scientists Adamski mentioned by name, Gene Bloom, denied having ever met Adamski, let alone worked with him. But if Bloom contradicted Adamski on this point, Adamski nevertheless admitted to working with Uncle Sam on other occasions. During a 1953 speech, for example, he calmed an anxious crowd by assuring the audience that the CIA and the FBI had cleared his statements.

Uncle Sam actually bailed Adamski out when he had became embroiled in a civil case in 1954. Another ufologist, Thomas Eickoff, sued Adamski for fraud after the release of his book Inside the Spaceships, in which Adamski claimed that the aliens actually took him to Venus, and that two government scientists could corroborate the trip. Eickoff hoped that the government scientists would testify as to the utter falsehood of Adamski’s claim, and thus expose the burger-flipping guru as a charlatan. Allen Welsh Dulles, future director of the CIA, immediately came to Adamski’s rescue by denying Eickoff’s attorney the opportunity to question or subpoena the scientists because of national security interests.

By hogging the mediasphere, Adamski drew attention away from such contemporaries as Major Donald Keyhoe, co-founder of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP). NICAP conducted thorough and thoughtful investigations of UFO reports, and had the wherewithal to entice a number of Congressmen into informally reviewing their research on Roswell and related topics. A number of legislators seriously considered formal hearings on the matter. But Adamski’s lurid tales of horny blonde aliens thoroughly discredited ufology in the eyes of anyone with a three-digit IQ. Without public support, Congressional interest died out.

Although definitely a proponent of the space-brother scenario, ufologist Jenny Randles rued Adamski’s influence, “his views having split the UFO community into two camps which still exist today.”

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Kinky CE7: The Lucky Farmhand

Warning: depending on the anal retentiveness of your workspace, this post may or may not be work-safe.

Bruce Rux began his book Hollywood vs. the Aliens with the tale of two travellers, an engaged couple, who were driving one night on the deserted country roads of Ohio. They met with a gaggle of space aliens, who performed incredible experiments right before their eyes. Before the night’s end, they would be drugged, and submerged in breathable water. With the help of a former Nazi scientist, they made their escape, but not without experiencing sexual delights that were as foreign to them as the visitors.

Why did Rux start out with this? He wanted to describe what most of us would recognize as the classic abduction/close encounter scenario. It also happens to be the plot of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Jacques Vallee, a computer scientist often consulted by the US government on UFO matters, popularized the term ‘close encounter’ during the 1960s. Eventually, mankind came to regard such experiences in terms of degrees. Have you ever seen weird lights in the sky that danced and zig-zagged across the horizon, then disappeared? Have you seen a flying disc hovering over your head? If so, you’ve had a close encounter of the first kind. If you've seen evidence of extraterrestrial visitation (footprints, high radiation, wreckage, etc.), then you’ve had a close encounter of the second kind. Some people say they've seen grays or other hominoids hanging out on the lawn, or next to the portholes of their spaceship. Those would be close encounters of the third kind.

If the occupants of the spaceship abduct you, or interact with you in any other way, then congratulations. You’ve just had a close encounter of the fourth kind, or CE4 for short.

Since Vallee, others have broken down CE4s even further. Direct conversation with the gray alien next door about the White Sox’ chances of winning the World Series constitutes a CE5. If your gray neighbor gets in his flying saucer after a bit too much tequila, and crashes rather unceremoniously into your barn, killing three of your best horses, then your dead livestock have experienced a CE6.

Then, there are CE7s.

On October 15, 1957, twenty-three year old Antonio Boas (left) plowed on into the night, in order to make up for lost time on the farm near Minas Gerais (Brazil) where he worked. Suddenly, a shiny red egg-shaped UFO hovered into view. Boas tried to amscrae, but his tractor conked out on him. He then realized he couldn’t even move himself.

Four gray aliens in metallic suits hopped out of the craft, and took skin and blood samples from him. After collecting their goodies, the spacemen disappeared in a cloud of noxious gray smoke that made Boas wretch. When the cloud lifted, a short, shapely naked blonde approached the young farmhand, and had her way with him. She appeared human to him in every way. But instead of speaking, she grunted and barked, sounding almost indistinguishable from man’s other best friend.

Figure 1: Composite drawing based on Boas' description of the blonde visitor



After climaxing, the woman still did not speak to him. She did, however, point to him, then to her belly, and then up to the sky. Boas woke up the following morning next to the tractor. It took him awhile to notice that he had been clutching something: a piece of paper with a warning to pursue nuclear energy for peaceful purposes only. The note was in pencil, and in Boas’ own handwriting.

Now that’s a CE7.

Although covered in the local press almost immediately after the above incidence allegedly took place, Boas' story was not picked up by any major US media until almost eight years later. By then, however, the public had already heard quite a bit about another man who claimed to have had wild, grunting sex with beautiful blonde aliens.

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Monday, July 10, 2006

The Summer of 1947: Epilogue

The popular television show The X-Files exploited public distrust in government, particularly in regards to UFOs. The premise is not only that flying saucers exist, but they have either had, or will have, critical consequences for humanity. The plotlines consisted of an effort by some unknown alien species to colonize humans. Aiding them in this task is a secretive Earthling organization that functions somewhat as we imagine the Bilderbergers must. Aliens themselves are pretty much absent from direct involvement, except when they’re hanging out at Fox’s place or shagging fly balls at the ballpark. Otherwise, what we see of them is their effect. We see the black oil that infects a number of characters, making them unbelievably sick. We see the terror of those who were visited or abducted. In short, the hype surrounding their presence makes them seem utterly ruthless, and omnipotent.

The X-Files and other narratives really harped on the theme of our own helplessness in the face of such brutal, unreasonable, alien forces. Many people outwardly cite this as the reason for official cover-up. Some argue, “Disclosure would only lead to panic. After all, look at what happened when Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre on the Air did their rendition of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. Legend has it that people committed suicide rather than die in the hands of Martians. Also, any government seen to be powerless over extraterrestrial intruders would have no authority on Earth. Therefore, existence has to be denied.”

So much bullshit, so few shovels.

The above arguments are glib, all right, but if you take a minute to think about them, they don’t make much sense. I don’t care what the legend says about the effects of the "War of the Worlds" broadcast, because it is mostly that: legend. True, there were some abreactions to the broadcast, but they were straightened up in pretty short order. Listeners who tuned in the show from the beginning heard the disclaimer and automatically knew it was fiction. Many people were confused until the commercial break made it clear that it was only a radio show, nothing more. The stories of people en masse jumping out of windows are simply apocryphal.

Scary movies and TV shows make it seem as though the only aliens who would visit Earth would do so for reasons that are nothing short of evil. Of course, UFOs, flying saucers in particular, have been part of public consciousness for millennia. We can see them in artwork dating back to the ancient Egyptians. We can read the Bible passages where Ezekial saw the wheel, or when a fire chariot swooped down and took Elijah. We can see them in Byzantine art, and in paintings and frescoes of the Middle Ages. The Merkaba (Holy Chariot) is a very important subject in the Sefer Yitzirah, the Kabbalah's running commentary on the book of Genesis. If the “aliens” plan on eating us for dinner, they’re sure taking their time about it. And while such may be child’s play to them, a nuclear missile is a far more potent weapon than a spear. Are these alleged maneaters waiting for us to overtake them technologically before they launch their attack?

Figure 1. Scene di vita eremitica, by Paolo Ucello (c. 1460)



Figure 2. Ancient Amerindian Petroglyph (date unknown)


As for the existence of aliens challenging government authority, that makes little sense too. Over the span of sixty years, the political West has come face to face with three, super-scary threats: Hitler’s fascist Germany, Stalin’s communist USSR, and Osama Bin Laden’s terrorists. Instead of driving people away from leadership, the fear and the terror of colonization against a menacing enemy consolidated power to fewer people within the already established channels of the elite. On the other hand, such fear also led to the development of talents and skills by segments of the population who did not previously have the opportunity to exhibit them. How many American women in 1941 thought they could build a fighter plane (very good fighter planes at that)? How many African-Americans would never have gone to college without the Civil Defense loans and grants given in the late-1950s and early-1960s to battle communism?

In other words, there’s nothing to suggest that the West, in fact the entire population of Earth, would counter previous tendencies. We would instead, most likely, react in the same ways that we always have, and rally around those most powerful, those with the biggest guns and might. Were we truly in danger of an alien invasion from outer space, we would at least attempt to rise to the challenge.

So what would be the true reason for a cover-up of the events occurring during the summer of 1947?

That concludes the story of Roswell, for a while. But we haven’t finished with the UFO story yet. We now move to the arena of the weird, the wacky, and the nutty. Next stop: Tinfoil Hat Land.

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Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Summer of 1947: Colonel Goodwrench

This post was written with the assistance of JohnB, and with input from Angie. My thanks to you both.

Colonel Philip Corso (USA) literally opened up a whole new chapter in Roswell lore with his book The Day after Roswell, which gave a startling account of what happened politically in the years after the alleged crash. Corso had impressive credentials. He had served as an Army Intelligence officer in Italy where he recruited anti-communist agents during the latter stages of World War II. He then served as President Eisenhower’s military attaché, and as a member of the NSC. All of this has been documented. Corso was precisely who he claimed to be. At the time of this writing, he remains one of the highest official sources to declare that a UFO indeed crashed near Roswell.

After the election of 1960, Corso didn’t know whether or not President-Elect JFK would keep him on or kick him to the curb. Eisenhower eventually informed him of a new assignment under Lt. Gen. Arthur Trudeau, chief of Research and Development at the Pentagon. Despite the name, this was simply another facet of Army Intel. R&D spent most of their time trying to reverse engineer foreign (usually Soviet) gadgets they found in the field.

Trudeau gave Corso a brief interview, and showed him to his new office. The General then warned that this new assignment would be different from any other in his life. With no further explanation, Trudeau went into the hall, signalled two young soldiers, then went back to his own office. The privates wheeled in a file cabinet and left.

Upon opening what he would later call his “nut file,” Corso found an assorted array of junk. One of the scraps consisted of a eerily tenacious metal-like cloth, just like that found thirteen years earlier on the Brazel ranch. He then went to the top drawer where he allegedly found copies of autopsy reports done on one of the aliens found in the Roswell crash. At this point, Corso knew the foreign technology he was now asked to analyze. He also feared that somebody knew of his sneak peak at one of the Roswell aliens in 1947, while stationed in Kansas.

Corso marched back upstairs to Trudeau’s office, and demanded an explanation. Somewhat amused, Trudeau explained that these were indeed the remnants of the Roswell crash--at least, what he could get his hands on. In those days, the CIA, the FBI and a hundred other acronyms wanted to study the object more closely. A verified, handwritten memo from J. Edgar Hoover requested “access to discs recovered” as if their existence had been established as fact, and the FBI had to fight the other bureaucracies for their little piece of the puzzle.

Corso wrote that he would take out various items from the nut file and try to figure out what they were, or how they could be used. He would then go to myriad defense contractors and show them the hardware, suggesting what they could make of it if successfully reverse-engineered. The metal-like cloth found at the crash site and the Brazel farm, for instance, would later be patented as Kevlar, a material used in bulletproof vests and other armor. (He also mentioned that Dwyer’s daughter submitted her dollhouse sample to Army researchers, who found that it was, in fact, Kevlar.) Corso went on to make the bold statement that much of the critical technology developed during the latter part of the 20th Century came from the spaceship: the isolinear chip; infrared cameras and night vision; fiber optics, just to name a few.

Critics rightly assailed Corso on many points. First of all, Corso had no background in electronics or engineering. How could he simply play with a gadget and determine what it was used for? That would be like taking a cathode ray tube back in time to Archimedes, expecting the ancient sage to invent television. In other words, if you’ve never seen the application of a technology, then it’s unlikely that you can even conceive what somebody might have used it for.

More important, the history of many of the technologies he lists indicates that their sources and inventors were known all along, and these sources had nothing to do with alien technology. According to all official versions, DuPont chemist Stephanie Kwolek (left) invented Kevlar in 1966. The composition of this fiber certainly seems within the ken of homo sapiens. Furthermore, the material found at the Brazel ranch had properties that Kevlar does not. As JohnB, an engineer, explains:

Kevlar is actually a type of polymer (plastic) generically called ‘aramid fiber,’ or ‘para aramid fiber.’ The molecular structure of aramid fiber actually resembles nylon most, except that its molecular chains are crossed-linked (imagine a net instead of tangled string) and have a smattering of benzene rings within the structure. The cross-linking--it's synthesis--is done by some strange spinning process that is not entirely clear to me. . . .

Now "Kevlar" is stronger than steel for its weight, has extreme tensile strength, and a very high Young's modulus (very stiff). It also is very hard to break down, to where it is practically indestructable to heat. So what is left is a bunch of aramid string, which is typically woven into sheets. These sheets are then immersed into what is called a ‘matrix.’ A matrix is a material that surrounds the fiber in a liquid state then cures. What you have left is called a composite. A very well known composite is fiberglass-like the material for small boat hulls. Kevlar is usually seen by the end user as a composite. Composites typically are created to obtain end materials which are lighter and stronger in the required stress modes than their metal counterparts.

I sincerely do not believe the material that the Brazels found to be Kevlar. . . Kevlar is very [susceptible] to chemical attack from alkalis, and also is no good under compressive force. From what you described in your post the other day, the Brazels were able to bend the material, and it would return to its original shape. The act of bending is unique, since it contains both components of tension and compression. So whatever this mystery material is, it can resist both of these stress modes-something that Kevlar definitely cannot do.
Corso was a career spy. Critics are right to point out his admitted lack of engineering expertise as a significant hole in his story. Of course, he could very well have been protecting a whole team of people, some of who live to this day. In fact, the only names he mentions are those of men who have long since died. Some of his staff might have had the wherewithal to find some use for this junk, even (or especially) if, as Angie has pointed out, they couldn’t duplicate all of its properties, or if that use wasn’t what it was originally designed for. After all, Archimedes might find that cathode ray tubes make pretty good projectiles. Nevertheless, the documented history and nature of Kevlar casts serious doubt on at least that aspect of Corso's story, and serious doubt on Corso himself.

I should also point to something in Corso’s defense. He didn’t like his own book. In late-1997 and early-1998 he contacted a number of ufologists, explaining that his publisher had completely changed its text in some places, and omitted qualifying and explanatory statements that would have altered the meaning of some passages. In March of 1998 to July 1999, determined not to make the same mistake again, Corso battled Hollywood until he suffered a massive stroke. Although his doctors believed that he had recovered, Corso died eight days later, allegedly from the same stroke. He was just a few weeks shy of his eighty-seventh birthday.

Despite his advanced age, the timing and nature of Corso’s death gave him a new credibility among the very ufologists who once criticized him. Ufologist Glenn Campbell (no relation to the famous musician), who railed against Corso after the release of The Day after Roswell, reassessed his position in an obituary published in his online newsletter, unsure that Corso’s story doesn’t at least have some merit. Indeed, “natural causes” seem to be an occupational hazard among ufologists – especially those who seem to be on the verge of some exciting discovery, among them Congressman Schiff, Barney Hill, Captain Edward Ruppelt, and many others.

I dedicate the remainder of this series to Libby, a fellow blogger and Buckeye who also knows much about this subject.

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Friday, July 07, 2006

The Summer of 1947: Weather Balloons and Witnesses

Gen. Ramey held a press conference at Roswell Army Air Field on July 8. Holding up a picture of debris, he proclaimed that the Air Force had only retrieved a weather balloon. The weather balloon explanation served as the official one forty-seven years. Finally, in 1994,the Air Force announced that the weather balloon line was a hoax. Instead, they claimed that a then-Top Secret spy device called Operation Mogul crashed on the Brazel property. Furthermore, the bodies seen at the main crash site were those of dummies, not aliens.

Obviously, if Maj. Jesse Marcel and Col. William Blanchard were trying to put a lid on some sort of super-secret project, then they might have capitalized on the Arnold sighting by inventing a story about downed flying saucers in order to conceal Mogul. The Pentagon, perhaps feeling that the Roswell story was a little too over-the-top, might have therefore found it necessary to invent a more plausible cover story.

The Project Mogul explanation, however, becomes so improbable upon inspection that it’s nearly impossible to know where to begin any criticism of it. Marcel, a veteran Army Air Officer, served in the Pacific Theatre during World War II and had launched a number of weather and spy balloons during his tour of duty. He certainly knew what one looked like when it crashed, since he also had to recover them. On July 5, 1947, Pickaway County Sheriff Sherman Campbell and his daughter Jean (left) had been playing in a field close to their Circleville, OH home when they actually found a crashed weather balloon. Although an amateur in weather balloon recovery, Campbell correctly identified the object as such. Footage of Sherman and Jean holding up the remains made newsreels all over the world. Yet, for some reason, Ramey claimed that the professional Marcel misidentified something that he had recovered many times in his life. Even if this were a Mogul balloon, it would have been the same size as a weather balloon and would have contained similar equipment. At worst, Marcel would have mistaken one for a crashed weather balloon, the story that Army maintained for years.

Secondly, the remains of a weather balloon are small enough to be held up by a man and his daughter. They would easily fit into the backseat of an automobile. Yet, the debris from the Brazel ranch alone was far greater in volume, and that found at the main crash site required three flatbeds. This defies the description of either a weather or Mogul balloon. Also, the records of Mogul balloon activities were released long before 1994, as it had become really obsolete. The logs don’t indicate that any balloons went missing during the time in question.

The US Army also didn’t use crash-test dummies until 1955. Even if they had used them secretly before this date, wouldn’t it make sense to use dummies that approximate the physical dimension of human adults? Were they planning on sending nine-year olds in as paratroopers? Ones with oversized heads at that?

Moreover, it’s clear that the Army knew the artefact was neither a weather nor Mogul balloon. In a memo to his superiors, Gen. Twinning recommended that:


Headquarters, Army Air Forces issue a directive assigning a priority, security classification and Code Name for a detailed study of this matter to include the preparation of complete sets of all available and pertinent data which will then be made available to the Army, Navy, Atomic Energy Commission, JRDB, the Air Force Scientific Advisory Group, NACA, and the RAND and NEPA projects for comments and recommendation, with a preliminary report to be forwarded within 15 days of receipt of the data and a detailed report thereafter every 30 days as the investigation develops [sic]. A complete interchange of data should be effected.
Earlier in the memo, Twinning regretted "the lack of physical evidence in the shape of crash recovered exhibits which would undeniably prove the existence of these objects." Yet this passage does necessarily negate nor challenge anything offered in Roswell lore. Twinning isn't exactly saying that they recovered nothing, or that physical evidence doesn't exist. He's saying HE (i.e. the Army Air Force) doesn't have physical evidence at his disposal (at least at this time).

He also adds the word "undeniably" which is pretty general. Anyone can deny just about anything. Proof is also a very general word. Are we talking about A preponderance of the evidence? A reasonable doubt? An academic proof?

Then again, if the Army did not specifically have crash remains (and Roswell would be the most obvious place, unless a completely unknown crash also occurred in 1947), then there's no reason to add the word 'undeniably.' The statement could only be accurate had the passage read: "The lack of physical evidence in the shape of crash recovered exhibits which would prove the existence of these objects."

Then again, if the object were a Mogul balloon, then there would have been no reason for Twinning to have requested an investigation of it.

There were a number of witnesses to these events. The July 3rd recovery operation took longer than expected, and couldn’t get back on the road until 6:00am the next morning, when a number of people were awake to witness the caravan. Army intelligence officers canvassed Roswell citizens who lived along the route taken by the three, flatbed trucks. In later years, many of these people have stated that the Army threatened them with disgrace and death in order to ensure their silence. In 1993, US Rep. Steven Schiff (R-NM), representing those threatened in 1947, asked Contress to launch a federal investigation of the Roswell incident. Schiff made numerous inquiries, and was primed to open hearings into the matter. Before he could, he died of skin cancer in 1998 at the age of fifty-one.

As I mentioned in the last post, there are conflicts about the date of the alleged crash, for many credible witnesses reported the downed saucer during daylight hours of July 3rd--which makes you wonder who phoned in the airplane crash to Wilcox and why (this would imply that crash actually happened on the night of July 2nd). Army airmen constantly shooed away a number of passersby, who had seen the disc while travelling down a nearby road. Among these civilians were a bevy of nuns, who were just as curious as anybody else is when they see a flying saucer. Two of them, Mother Superior Mary Bernadette and Sister Capistrano, had watched it go down. A group of graduate students and professors under the direction of Dr. C. Bertrand Schultz from the University of Nebraska Archeology Department came by. The airmen found it a little bit more difficult to get rid of them. After all, they had come to survey ancient Native American sites, and they wondered if this might be related.

In addition to firefighter Dan Dwyer, we have further eyewitness accounts of the recovered bodies. Roy Danzer, a civilian contractor working near the base infirmary, had snuck out for a cigarette break just as medics allegedly hustled the surviving alien inside. Danzer sensed that the creature felt helpless and afraid, for it seemed to implore him, with its facial expression, to do something to free it. An officer saw Danzer and the EBE looking at each other, and threatened the contractor with death if he ever disclosed what he saw.

The corpses, according to Marcel, were retrieved under the command of Captain Darwin E. Rasmussen. Elaine Vegh, Rasmussen’s cousin, later stated that she had overheard a conversation between the Captain and her father, in which the former claimed to have been in charge of collecting the bodies. Marcel added that he accompanied the corpses to the Fort Worth installation, where they were then offloaded, and shipped via truck to Wright Field (now Wright-Patterson AFB) near Dayton, OH. In his 1997 book The Day after Roswell, Col. Phillip Corso confirmed this, claiming that when stationed in Kansas he saw the bodies, preserved in formaldehyde, en route to the Buckeye State.

In the interest of clarification I edited this post on June 8, 2006. Red text indicates new material.

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Summer of 1947: Word Gets Out

By the time Major Marcel and company reached the Brazel ranch, darkness had fallen, so they decided to look in the morning. Marcel, and the other military men had already investigated the main crash site by this time, and sorely afraid of what might be waiting for them in the dark, they kept watch in shifts. The next morning, they went back to the clearing. Plenty of the junk still cluttered the yard, so Marcel filled the back of his jeep with the material, not making any noticeable difference in the remaining amount, and then drove back to Roswell Army Air Field.

In the meantime, Wilcox had given news of the events to the press, who were now all clamoring for a story. After talking it over with Marcel, the Base Commander, Col. William Blanchard ordered Press Officer, Lt. Walter Haut, to issue the following press release:

The many rumors regarding the flying discs became a reality yesterday when the intelligence office of the 509th Bomb Group of the Eighth Air Force, Roswell Army Air Field, was fortunate enough to gain possession of a disc through the cooperation of one of the local ranchers and the Sheriff’s office of Chaves County. The flying object landed on a ranch near Roswell sometime last week. Not having phone facilities, the rancher stored the disc until such time as he was able to contact the Sheriff’s office, who in turn notified Major Jesse A. Marcel of the 509th Bomb Group Intelligence Office. Action was immediately taken and the disc was picked up at the rancher’s home. It was inspected at the Roswell Army Air Field and subsequently loaned by Major Marcel to higher headquarters.

You’ll note several things about this press release that contradict the points that I alluded to earlier. First off, the clutter at the Brazel ranch was just that: clutter. Anybody who could tell the original shape of this object deserved a cigar. Secondly, Marcel did not recover the “disc” from the Brazel ranch. He and his men simply filled the back of the jeep with as much material as they could stuff in there. They recovered nothing intact, as the release would imply. The release also makes it seem as though Roswell Army Air Force personnel had no previous idea of any anomalous operations. Yet, our knowledge of the July 3nd events come from Marcel, Wilcox and Dwyer, who had no obvious reason to lie.

It would all seem a moot point once the upper echelons of military brass saw the press release quoted on the front page of virtually all US dailies. Air Materiel Commander, Gen. Nathan Twining, left his post at Wright Air Field, near Dayton, OH, and flew directly to an Army Air Base outside of Fort Worth, TX. Gen. Roger M. Ramey, Col. Thomas Du Bose, and others flew into Roswell directly from Washington, DC.

From that point on, the Pentagon attempted to curtail media interest in Roswell. Art McQuiddy, editor of the Roswell Morning Dispatch, had received calls from all over the world asking for information and contacts. He cooperated as much as he could, but stopped after receiving a telegraphed order from Washington reading, “ATTENTION ALBUQUERQUE: CEASE TRANSMISSION. REPEAT. CEASE TRANSMISSION. NATIONAL SECURITY ITEM. DO NOT TRANSMIT. PLEASE STAND BY.”

KGFL announcer Frank Joyce scheduled an interview with Brazel on the morning of July 9, 1947. Military police arrested Brazel at the station, and held him for questioning. As they dragged him off, Brazel shouted to Joyce, “Frank, you know how they talk of little green men? They weren’t green!” Unnamed Pentagon officials then visited KGFL’s station manager and owner, threatening possible revocation of their broadcast license if coverage of the crash did not stop.

After Brazel’s release, he again went on the station (per Army suggestion) in an attempt to undo what he had started. Brazel only admitted to being sorry that he ever reported the incident to the Sheriff. He did not, however, deny or negate any of his earlier statements about UFOs. His son, Paul, later explained that because of his honesty, the senior Brazel couldn’t really go along with the cover story. His cryptic remarks were only intended to discourage future reports. Since Brazel never discussed the matter again, not even with his family, the military apparently left him alone.

In fact, by the winter of 1947, Brazel seemed to have a lot of money. Marcel once indicated that the Brazels’ poverty really struck a nerve in him. It seems logical that he might have persuaded the Pentagon to shunt some hush money their way. Despite Paul’s insistence that his father never received anything for his silence, one would be hard pressed to explain how his dirt-poor dad managed to pay for a brand new pick-up truck with cash, or how the Brazels managed to keep the deed to their ranch during tough times.

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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Summer of 1947: Shiny Cloth

There are many disputes about some of the actual dates here, with some sources claiming they occurred as much as a week earlier, or a couple of days later. After my own research, I’ve settled on the dates you see below. But be aware that you might find conflicting dates in other literature.

On July 3, 1947 William “Mac” Brazel, a local rancher, had retired to bed with his family when he heard a commotion in the stable. Fearing the worst, Brazel went to investigate. One of his horses had broken through its stall and escaped. The others had obviously been spooked. Brazel high-tailed it out, and checked the stable again the following morning after the remaining horses had calmed down. With his children, he then went in search of the missing colt. He never found it. Instead, he found a mess--a metallic mess of junk strewn all over a clearing in his yard.

This didn’t sit too well with the Brazels, for they had a lot of work to do now. If the animals wondered over to the clearing they might accidentally eat some of the junk and get sick, or choke to death. They started the clean-up, and then noticed something strange. There were no birds chirping in the above trees. Also, what they picked up shined like metal, but was extremely light, and supple, feeling more like cloth than anything else. After playing with it awhile, they found that they couldn’t poke holes through it, nor could they tear it, dent it (it would always spring back into shape when they tried), scratch it or char it with a cigarette lighter. It eventually dawned on them that there had to be some kind of wicked force to blow a material like this into the gazzillion little pieces now littering their ranch.

At the center of the junk pile lay larger scraps. Brazel found a few, wooden-looking bars marked with purple writing resembling ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. Even though they had worked diligently gathering up this junk, they could hardly make a dent in it. Brazel eventually took some of the larger pieces and made the seventy-five mile trek to the seat of Chaves County, Roswell, where he showed them to Sheriff George A. Wilcox.

Wilcox had a pretty interesting night himself on July 3. He and some of his deputies went to investigate a reported plane crash about sixty miles due east of Brazel’s ranch. Wilcox also summoned a pumper to put out the flames that one would expect at a crash site. They arrived only to find that a number of Army Air Force personnel had beaten them there. Soldiers were hauling something onto three flatbeds, from what he could see.

Before he could get out of his squad car, an MP ordered him to stay put until somebody talked to a superior. The Sheriff had always received cooperation from the local military base, and he gave it as well. Now they were dissing him, and he had no clue as to why, except that the plane that went down did so without any flames, and it was huge--after all, three flatbeds.

Dan Dwyer, the fireman manning the radio, didn’t feel like following the Army’s orders. He got out and tiptoed around the perimeter of the site. He found a piece of the strange metallic cloth that the Brazels would discover the next morning on their ranch, and stuffed it in his pocket. He then ventured more closely and saw what appeared to be a malformed child, partially covered by a blanket. He wanted to take a closer look, but an MP caught him. The military cop escorted him to the officer in charge, Major Jesse Marcel, Commander of the 509th Bomb Group Intelligence Office at Roswell.

Marcel ordered Dwyer not to tell anyone what he had seen. The fireman told his family anyway, and gave the illicit scrap in his pocket to his young daughter who (successfully, I might add) hid it in her doll house. The following morning, two unnamed officers from Roswell Army Air Field questioned him and his family. The Dwyers lied successfully enough to get the army airmen off their backs

Dwyer also told Wilcox, who was still fuming over the curt treatment that he had gotten from the military. Now everything made sense. The flying things reported by the locals, in conjunction to what they had seen, plus numerous rumors of radar sightings indicated that something really strange had happened that night. When Brazel brought in physical evidence, Wilcox knew that his suspicions were justified. He immediately phoned the Air Field. Marcel, an anonymous intelligence officer, and a counterintelligence NCO (presumably Sgt. Lewis Rickett—Rickett, citing a secrecy oath, neither confirmed nor denied any rumors as to his involvement in these matters) rushed right over. Brazel offered to take them back to his ranch and show them the debris. The airmen accepted.

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