Thursday, October 28, 2010

Legends, Hoaxes and the Big Lie: Libéérez les six!

The six young Army spies who deserted their post at the 701st Military Intelligence Brigade so that they could chase after the Anti-Christ were in heap big trouble. While many felt sure that they wouldn’t receive the death penalty for desertion, there was little doubt that they, in fact, deserted with no plans of coming back. Moreover, a court-martial would find them guilty, and at the very least give them many years of hard-time at Leavenworth. So, as a result of their quest to find demonic evil, they were destined for hell on Earth.

At least they would have, had a guardian angel not intervened.

On, or about 22 July 1990, someone sent a teletype directly to the Army. For good measure, they CC’ed the message to AP, UPI, ABC, NBC, and CBS. The press did not report the teletype’s existence to the public for about three weeks, but local affiliates, especially in Florida, shared its contents with other media, as WEAR’s (Pensacola) Mark Curtis did with the Gulf Breeze Sentinel. The message read:

U.S. ARMY:

FREE THE GULF BREEZE SIX. WE HAVE THE MISSING PLANS, THE BOX OF 500+ PHOTOS AND THE PLANS YOU WANT BACK. HERE IS PROOF WITH CLOSE-UPS CUT OUT. NEXT WE SEND THE CLOSEUPS AND THEN EVERYTHING UNLESS THEY ARE RELEASED.

ANSWER CODE AUGSBB3CM [caps original]
The proof, referred to in the teletype, consisted of a couple of standard UFO pics, which the stations additionally received. Shortly after the receipt of the terse missive, US Senator Robert Dole (R-KS) decided to take up the Gulf Breeze Six’ cause publicly. Ostensibly, as a result of his intervention, the Army dropped the case against the GB6, and released them immediately on 25 July 1990, three days after the mystery transmission. As reported on 26 July 1990 in the Northwest Florida Daily News, Army spokesperson Maj. Ron Mazzia suggested that they could receive “non-judicial” punishments instead, which could have meant anything from a reduction in rank to a docking of wages. But instead of punishments of the judicial or non-judicial type, the Army decided to discharge them with full military honors three days later.

You read that right. Unfortunately, for the GB6, Gen. Colin Powell objected to the leniency, so the Army reconsidered, and lowered their discharge status. Nonetheless, the Pentagon declined to discipline them in any other way.

Perhaps in return for their freedom, the Gulf Breeze Six took to the airwaves, granting interviews in which they said that the whole apocalyptic, anti-Christ thing was all a big misunderstanding. There was no End of the World cult, in Augsburg or anywhere else. They simply ditched their top-secret detail, at the risk of death and the certainly of a long prison sentence, to hang out with a friend of theirs. As Vallee said, “Of course, if you are ready to believe that Mr. Ed [Walters] was actually abducted by little gray aliens, then you might as well believe that six intelligence specialists will go AWOL just to see a friend across the ocean.”

The Army explained that it dropped the charges because they found no evidence that the Six had engaged in espionage against the United States. While that’s probably true, the charge was not espionage, but rather desertion, which in itself is quite serious (just ask Pvt. Slovik’s family). Given the public heat from Senator Dole, and the confidential, cryptic pressure from this anonymous teletype, the Army doesn’t appear to have dropped the charges as much as they backed off of them.

If we attribute the cryptic teletype as a contributing factor in the release of the Gulf Breeze Six, then it would constitute, in spy parlance,‘graymail’: i.e., the threat of releasing classified information unless certain actions take place. This used to happen in court cases, where spies would get caught for an unrelated, but serious, offense, and try to pressure the CIA, DIA or some other acronym to bail them out by threatening to spill the beans. This practice ended in 1980 when Congress passed the Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA), which denied a spy’s attorneys classified information for use in mounting a defense.

The type of graymail likely practiced here, however, would have been a direct threat from someone who had the wherewithal to carry it out. Jacques Vallee, in his assessment of the Gulf Breeze UFO Saga, hypothesized that the mysterious character string, “AUGSBB3CM,” at the end of the teletype might have actually been an encoded message to the Army that the sender somehow outranked the military, who had better play ball or else:

The existence of the strange message raises an interesting possibility. Could it be that the deserters did not simply hold top-secret clearances, but were also cleared for CRYPTO, giving them access to critical encoded security material? Was the alphanumeric code in the signature a hint of an actual cipher demonstrating the identity or the level of the access of the sender?
One could speculate that Senator Dole’s clout alone helped save the day for the Gulf Breeze Six. But that, in itself is odd. After all, as a young military officer during World War II, Dole became permanently disabled when a German machine gun ripped his arm to shreds. One has to wonder, given his ordeal, why the Senator would have bothered to gain the release of six slackers who couldn’t even hack a peacetime army. Let’s face it, there had been tons of army deserters between WWII and 1990. One would have difficulty explaining why Sen. Dole would have specifically taken an interest in these six, unless he genuinely believed that they were acting in accordance with their mission.

One could also posit that The End of the World members left behind in Augsberg were the ones responsible for sending the threatening telex. After all, they could have had CRYPTO clearance, and they could have very well have classified information coming out of their pores, enough to have threatened graymail. Moreover, they could have conceivably had access to any scary codes that could make the Army turn tail and run. But what flies into the teeth of such a proposition is the likelihood that such a ruse wouldn’t work. After all, the military doesn’t run by the same rules as general society. If police know that a crime could have been committed by someone on, say, a specific street, they can’t round up everyone on the street, guilty and innocent alike, and then sort out the culprits from the victims. Yet, the Army could have confined every single person in the 701st to the brig or quarters either immediately, or after the release of the Gulf Breeze Six, identified the guilty party, and prosecuted them at some other time. In other words, graymail of that type would have backfired, for Uncle Sam would hardly have taken such a threat lying down.

It’s more likely that the NSA, the spy network for which the Gulf Breeze Six worked, might have sent the teletype. They would have the necessary knowledge, access and muscle to get the Army to change its mind. Furthermore, they would hardly fear reprisal. If that were true, that could only mean that the defection of the Gulf Breeze Six didn’t happen because of some whippy-dippy spiritual belief in UFOs and anti-Christs, but because they were doing the job someone ordered them to do. So that makes one wonder what they were really doing there.

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Legends, Hoaxes and the Big Lie: Anti-Christ Season

On 9 July 1990, six soldiers of the 701st Military Intelligence Brigade, a unit that works in conjunction with the National Security Agency, suddenly vanished from their station in Augsburg, Germany. Because Privates Michael Hueckstaedt, Kris Perlock, William Setterberg, Specialists Kenneth Beason, Vance Davis, and Sergeant Annette Eccleston all required top-secret clearance for their work with the NSA, one could easily see why this was a major problem. If Soviet (note the year) intelligence captured them, and compelled them to talk under mind control, US national security could have suffered considerable damage. Any one of these people could have given substantial information about the status and methodology of American signals intelligence (SIGINT), so you’d reckon Uncle Sam would spare no effort and expense in retrieving them, alive if possible.

Five days after their disappearance, the Army finally learned of the soldiers’ whereabouts. Were they captured by the Soviets, and held for ransom? Were they liberated in a daring rescue mission deep inside the USSR? Did the Army finally round them up after a five-day drinking binge in some German beer hall?

As it turns out, a Gulf Breeze, Florida policeman, Don Stevens, hauled in Pvt. Hueckstaedt after stopping him for driving with a busted tail light. Despite Hueckstaedt’s insistence that a computer check on him would result in his death, Officer Stevens ran his license anyway, and found him listed as AWOL from the Army. Ed Walters’ nemesis, Police Chief Jerry Brown, alerted the Pentagon, who told him not to question anyone in the group. Special Agents and case officers from the local FBI and CIA field offices needed only a day to track down and round up the remaining five. Four of them were staying in the house of a local woman named Anna Foster. They found Sgt. Eccleston camping out at a site in nearby Ft. Pickens. After taking them into custody, the Bureau turned them over to Army intelligence, who then held them in custody at Ft. Benning, home of the infamous School of the Americas, before shipping them off to Ft. Knox (KY). At this point, Pvt. Hueckstaedt’s fears became justified.  These soldiers could conceivably get the death penalty for their near-week in the States, because the Army decided not to charge them with the lesser crime of being Absent Without Leave (AWOL).  Instead, the soldiers faced the far more serious charge of desertion.

Local Florida papers covering the event unfolded a story that explained the motive behind the soldiers’ disappearance. To paraphrase the Blues Brothers, they were on a mission from Gad.

The Gulf Breeze Six, as the press dubbed them, apparently belonged to a cult called The End of the World. They believed that the Apocalypse, as described in the New Testament, would begin any day with a war in the Middle East.* That meant that they had to prepare for it. Among other things, they would first have to kill the Antichrist, who supposedly lived in the Sunshine State. Most important, they believed that Christ would return in a spaceship. The End of the World seemed to have made serious inroads into US Intel, especially at the 701st MIB. The 20 July 1990 edition of the Northwest Florida Daily News reported:

...‘Stars and Stripes’ quoted [another] soldier from the Augsburg unit as saying that the cult has additional members in the area.
There are others who are upset because they didn't get invited, 'to go along on the search for the AntiChrist,' the newspaper quoted the soldier as saying.
Spec. Beason aided this perception in a sworn statement made to 713th Intelligence Headquarters, writing:

Since an early age, about 5 years old, I have had a belief in the paranormal and psychic phenomenon [sic]....I have also had various dreams about armageddon [sic] since about age 9. These dreams have depicted the end of the world in various ways. Earlier in my life, I tried to dismiss the dreams as not having any significance. However, I know now that my dreams were sent to me as visions by God....My friend, and co-worker, Vance Davis, and I decided to take out [my] Ouija board to disprove that it would work....One particular spirit named Saphire [sic] established a bond with me and asked why I stopped believing in my dreams....My recurring messages from the spirits and disciples included [sic] that the world would end soon, and that I needed to leave Germany to flee to the wilderness and learn to survive on the land.
Figure 1.  Spec. Beason's statement 


The sincerity exhibited by group members, in particular by Spec. Beason, seemed to make this an open-and-shut case of religious nuts getting out of hand. After all, if you’re looking for spaceships, you might as well go to UFO central, which in 1990 was Gulf Breeze, Florida. MUFON itself descended on the town to hold its convention a few days earlier (the weekend of July 6). But here’s something else: all six were, at one time or another, assigned to an installation located in nearby Pensacola. So they knew about the Gulf Breeze UFO sightings all too well. Moreover, they had already become acquainted with Ms. Foster, a medium with whom Beason had consulted earlier.

Beason somehow managed to convince five fellow soldiers to help him fight the anti-Christ. He went on to say that they flew directly from Augsberg to Atlanta (with he and Hueckstaedt making an additional trip to Knoxville, TN to visit his sister). A couple of days later, they reunited with their comrades at Gulf Breeze, where they could have furthered their plans to save the world had the meddling Officer Stevens not pulled over Pvt. Hueckstaedt.

Yup, the desertion of six military spies to save the planet from its most evil inhabitant and help the world prepare for its end sounds really crazy, all right. But if you think that’s bizarre, then what followed would prove that you don’t know what bizarre is.

__________________________
*In case you’re wondering, Saddam Hussein precipitated the Gulf War by invading Kuwait on 2 August 1990, less than a month after the defection of the GB6.

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Legends, Hoaxes and the Big Lie: Company Hearsay, Ufological Heresy

The term “hearsay” denotes the practice of telling someone that somebody else said something. One can easily imagine that one engaging in hearsay might not have heard the first person’s words correctly, or comprehensively. Thus there could be some distortion in the retelling, like there is in the party game of telephone where one person passes along a message to another, who then tells another, and so on. Consequently, the message you start off with often bears little resemblance in meaning to the original message.

Most important, hearsay allows people to put words in the mouths of others. Sometimes, as in political ads, people do this in order to discredit someone.

Whether steeped in good intentions, or deliberately used to defame someone, hearsay provides very weak evidence, even if the retelling of a story is accurate. Thus, courts of law, with a few exceptions, dismiss hearsay evidence.

Weak or not, hearsay is still evidence. Although we have to take it sometimes with a truckload full of salt, we still have to deal with it, especially if it comes into conjunction with other evidence. It is in this light that we have to deal with a rather thorny subject brought up by other UFO researchers in conjunction to Dr. Bruce Maccabee’s handling of the Gulf Breeze incident and Ed Walters’ photographs.

In July 1993, UFO magazine received a report from a collection of researchers calling themselves The Associated Investigators Group (AIG).  The report cast aspersions on the nature of Dr. Maccabee’s involvement with the UFO community, stating quite baldly:

One of the nation's leading sponsors of UFO research and investigation, the Fund for UFO Research [FUFOR], has had a long-standing secret relationship with the CIA and the U.S. Intelligence community. Dr. Bruce Maccabee, an optics and laser specialist with the Naval Surface Weapons Laboratory near Washington, D.C., one of the Fund's founders and member of the group's Executive Committee, has been secretly meeting with CIA officials since 1979, briefing them about various UFO matters and investigators.
W. Tod Zechel, one of the co-founders of Citizens Against UFO Secrecy (CAUS), and the only admitted author of the AIG report, explained that he received word of Dr. Maccabee’s connection to the CIA from none other than Dr. Maccabee himself. Zechel said that when he directly asked Maccabee if he worked for the CIA, the optical physicist replied “You might say that.” This naturally set off alarms within ufology:

One of the concerns we had with all this was that Maccabee felt more loyalty to the CIA than he did to his friends at the Fund. [FUFOR] ...One of the inferences that you can draw from the situation is that before 1979 Bruce was quite cautious, seemingly afraid that he might lose his government classified research job, and after 1979, when he began meeting with the CIA, he seemed to abandon all these cautions and got involved with a lot of things that *seemingly* (were) going up against the government.
The report said that Dr. Maccabee began his cooperation with the CIA in 1979, and has since worked under a number of handlers, among them Dr. Christopher Green (called ‘Kit’ by friends), and Dr. Ron Pandolfi. Further implications are obvious. In such cases as the Gulf Breeze incident, this revelation would paint Dr. Maccabee with the stigma of UFO disinformation specialist, and thus explain more fully his actions in championing Ed Walters’ hoax, which was obvious to anyone who looked carefully at it.

The extent and scope of Dr. Maccabee’s connection to the CIA is, in many respects, a matter of hearsay. The most damning evidence exists of statements purportedly made by Maccabee to Zechel and other ufologists. So in this case, it’s not the actions themselves, but rather the implications that they raise that constitute the weakness of the evidence against Dr. Maccabee as a CIA UFO disinformation specialist. After all, a responsible researcher goes to the horse’s mouth when he or she has the opportunity. If Dr. Maccabee had a chance to ask questions of importance to the CIA from someone within the CIA, then that seems like a fairly reasonable thing to do.  In a written response to the AIG report, he purportedly gave a more mundane and innocent explanation of his connection the Agency:*

I never contacted any companies. What I did was tell Jack Acuff, Director of NICAP at the time, that I would like to speak to experts in the field of radar. He, in turn, put me in contact with a scientist, Dr. Gordon MacDonald, at the MITRE corporation. I was invited to discuss the NZ sightings with him and several other scientists at MITRE in McLean, Va. and I did (and they generally agreed with my conclusions). Then, a week or so later, I learned that MacDonald had contacted a man at the CIA who contacted me and offered to provide technical consultation if I would provide a briefing to some CIA employees. At first I was leery of doing anything with the CIA, but I knew they had radar experts, so I stipulated that if they would give me some feedback I'd tell them what I know. So I briefed them and I received some helpful comments... 
After I discussed the NZ case one employee, Dr. Christopher "Kit" Green (KG), invited me to visit the CIA again a week or so later to have a general UFO discussion with him and a couple of other employees...

After that last meeting with KG in the spring of 1979 I didn't see him again and had no contact with the agency until June, 1984 when I was contacted by Dr. Ronald Pandolfi regarding my Navy work. He had been tracking developments by the "other side" in that field of research and wanted to know what the US state of the art was.
As to whether or not Dr. Maccabee actually wrote the above passage (see footnote), I cannot determine. Yet, I would guess that he actually wrote it. After all, in this account Drs. Green and Pandolfi are hardly handlers, but simply two, unconnected CIA connected people. The first gave him rather sensitive information in exchange for information about the UFO community, a quid-pro-quo deal. The second simply asked him an offhand question, which he answered off-the-cuff. While ufologists might understandably be somewhat leery in his divulging information regarding its members to someone who has the ear of Langley, one could certainly see this exchange in a non-conspiratorial light. So while the rumors that the CIA (wittingly or unwittingly) compromised Dr. Maccabee are intriguing, they’re highly speculative and could very well be untrue.

While Dr. Maccabee’s actual connection to the CIA, not to mention the scope of his involvement with the Agency, is questionable, one thing is not: Dr. Maccabee spent his professional career with the United States Navy as an optical physics researcher. In this light, we can see him as another person employed by the United States’ military and/or intelligence services who has disseminated information about unidentified flying objects. Like the military officers–Sgt. Richard Doty, Captain Robert Collins, Cols. William Coleman and George Weinbrenner, Gen. Robert Scott and Glenn Miller, and so on-- responsible for perpetuating the MJ-12 story, Dr. Maccabee’s work on the Gulf Breeze case and elsewhere upholds a certain orthodoxy regarding UFOS: (1) the craft are real; (2) of intelligent extraterrestrial origins; and (3) are known to, or perhaps working with, officials in US Intelligence.

Most important, the Gulf Breeze encounter would have serious repercussions within ufology. Furthermore, had the ruse remained intact, someone might have used the Gulf Breeze sightings to set the table for something larger, something even more sinister.  As Jacques Vallee wrote in his 1992 book Revelations:  Alien Contact and Human Deception:
But the most curious chapter in the sleazy chronicles of Gulf Breeze was still to be written. It exploded suddenly in a very unexpected form. This time, the US intelligence community was right at the center of the controversy.
__________________________

*If you note I qualified this statement by saying that Dr. Maccabee “purportedly” wrote the statement in question. I saw this statement, or references to it, in a number of different webpages that documented it with this link to Dr. Maccabee’s official website. If you click on it yourself, you’ll arrive at a page discussing CIA involvement in ufology, but nothing close to what’s quoted here. So, either this is another example of false attribution due to hearsay, or Dr. Maccabee later edited the page’s content to omit the statement.

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Legends, Hoaxes and the Big Lie: The Ties that Blind

With the exception of Rex and Carol Salisberry, Jerry Black harshly criticized MUFON’s investigation of the Gulf Breeze UFO incident. First off, he felt that the initial investigators were too inexperienced to handle a case of that magnitude. Moreover they had become personally close to Ed Walters, and the resulting friendships with the claimant biased their investigation of his claims. As he told Kenny Young:

Maccabee and Andrus allowed rookie investigators, Charles Flannigan, Don Ware and others, to run with the case and use their own judgment. MUFON itself, I believe, wanted this case to be real....When I talked to Don Ware and told him about all the red flags and what was going on, he became real quiet and said: ‘Jerry, I don't care what evidence comes out. Ed will still always be a friend.’ He had got to close to Ed Walters. You can't do that. You can't get that close to a claimant where he's your buddy or your friend, you're not going to investigate sincerely.
Investigating friends would be a bit awkward, right? There theoretically might not be any conflict of interest in one friend investigating, or pronouncing judgment on the other. But most of us understand that a negative judgment might have later repercussions (e.g., the loss of that relationship). Worse, a positive verdict gives off a definite impression of impropriety.

It would be one thing for Flannigan and Ware to conclude the investigation, let the chips fall where they may, and then develop a friendship with Walters after that determination. It’s quite another for them to develop a closeness to him while the investigation’s still ongoing (if that indeed was the case). If so, then Walters could have played a substantial role in directing the investigation of himself. Somehow, I don’t think he would find himself to be a fraud.

Black leveled more substantive criticism at Dr. Bruce Maccabee for having not only emotional ties to Ed Walters, but also financial ties, which called into question the credibility of Walters' story. Sometime in 1988, Maccabee agreed to co-author a book with Ed Walters titled UFO’s Are Real: Here’s the Proof, originally published by Avon in 1990. As part of the agreement with Walters’ literary agent, Dr. Maccabee received a $20,000 advance (minus the agent’s 10% cut). According to Maccabee, the agreement and final deal came about in November 1988, six months after he presented the Walters’ case as factual at the annual MUFON Symposium. But Black said that Walters had made an undisclosed payment for “professional services” as early as July of 1988, much closer to the time of the MUFON symposium. This gives the impression (although certainly doesn’t prove) that Maccabee’s affirmation of the Ed Walters photos at the Symposium, and his subsequent support of them in the future was contingent on a bribe. Black felt that this “professional fee” was in addition to the advance (and subsequent royalties) from their book. He based this suspicion on a postcard Walters sent him.

Figure 2. Postcard from Ed Walters to Jerry Black, dated 26 November 1991




In order to save your eyesight, the above card reads:

Jerry,

I did not pay Dr. Maccabee $5,000.

I did not have an appointment w/Mr. [illegible, but refers to the independent polygraph examiner originally scheduled to interview Walters]. (Flannigan asked me if I would agree to a p. test. I was offended but a week or so later I had it done. Flannigan might have talked to Mr. [illegible polygraph examiner] but I never heard of him.) Dr. Maccabee received a professional fee in 1988 Dec. for the work he had finished almost 2 years before the book was published. (July 1988). Book pub. March 1990) [sic]

You have been told ½ truths–and your voice is full of hate. I’m sorry for you. May God bless and keep you.

Ed W. [emphasis X. Dell]
Obviously, Black made an error here. By both Maccabee’s and Walters’ accounts, the payments didn’t begin in July 1988. Nor did Maccabee conclude his investigation at the time, but rather a couple of months earlier, before the symposium.  That jibes completely with Walters' statement here. Moreover, both Walters and Maccabee agreed that the later received payments in the fall of 1988; although there is a tiny discrepancy in the date–Nov. as opposed to Dec.–it’s close enough for general agreement. Since the only payment Walters alludes to here (the “professional fee”) fits with the advance checks Maccabee received from the publisher (via Walters’ agent), there’s no reason to believe Black’s contention that there was a second payment of unspecified amount. We also have every reason to believe that Dr. Maccabee is telling the truth when he says he only received royalty advances starting months after he had concluded his research.

While Black does come across as “full of hate,” as Walters suggests, he still has a valid point in all of this. Whether or not the payment was eighteen grand or more, and regardless of whether it was in the form of a professional fee or a book advance, the problem remains that Maccabee had a financial incentive to maintain and perpetuate a provable hoax. It’s a conflict of interest that forces us to question his final analysis.

Of course, I don’t believe that financial reasons influenced Dr. Maccabee’s opinion on this matter. If nothing else, one can argue that the desire to prove the existence of extraterrestrial visitation is so strong that some people (including Andrus) believed in things in spite of what their good sense told them. And if the thoughts of other researchers (including Dr. Jacques Vallee) have any merit, then we can see the Gulf Breeze hoax in an entirely new light.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Legends, Hoaxes and the Big Lie: Hey, Nineteen


Cincinnati-based ufologist Jerry Black (left) began his study of the Gulf Breeze UFOs sightings in 1990. Something bothered him immediately about the case. All the photographic evidence had come from a single source, some guy named Ed Walters. As someone who had studied the UFO phenomenon for decades by that point, Black knew that past single-source stories turned out to be hoaxes. As he recalled in a 2003 interview with Covington (KY) local access cable host Kenny Young:
I became involved in the case shortly after 1990 when I began to realize that all these pictures had come forth from Ed Walters, and yet thinking back through all the years of ufology, we've never had a person present that many pictures and be considered a valid case: George Adamski being a good example, Daniel Frye and others. So I thought this was a unique and tremendous situation, here was a man who took picture after picture of alleged UFOs and had actually been abducted, according to his testimony. It didn't take long after being involved in the case to learn that there were a lot of holes in the story.
In order to resolve the issue, and verify that Walters was on the up-and-up, Black approached MUFON head Walt Andrus about getting a second, independent assessment of the Gulf Breeze photos by William G. and James B. Hyzer, two photo analysts recommended by Polaroid (Walters’ preferred camera). Andrus agreed. But after several months, MUFON still hadn’t sent the photos to the Hyzers. Black sent instead a cover of a MUFON Journal to the analysts, who told them him they couldn’t determine anything from a multi-generational photocopy. Black then telephoned Andrus, encouraging the MUFON founder to send more pictures, since the one he had already sent couldn’t be proven fraudulent (Black admitted this was a mild ruse to get Andrus to get off the stick). Andrus sent the Hyzers ten more photocopies of Walters’ photographs within twenty-four hours of Black’s call.

The copies were good enough to prove that beyond doubt that Walters faked at least one of his pictures by means of double exposure. Photograph #19 provided the smoking gun in terms of Walters’ expertise with trick photography, and his intent of hoaxing the public.

Figure 1. Ed Walters Photograph #19, and comparison of a photograph taken at the identical location



Photograph #19 shows an appropriate reflection of the UFO on the road’s surface. Note the lack of light from the sides of the craft, which could explain why the trees behind the putative disk were not illuminated. But the problem here is not the reflection of the road or the trees, but rather the reflection off the car. As grainy as the copy of Walters’ was, one can still discern the tree line on the hood of the car. The comparison shot shows the tree line more clearly. But what the original Photo #19 doesn’t show is a reflection of the saucer on the hood of the car.

In a rebuttal to the Black interview, Dr. Bruce Maccabee defended the honor of Photo #19.  He insisted that the lack of corresponding reflection resulted from a car defect, specifically a dent on the hood that blocked the reflection from the camera’s lens. Dr. Maccabee also (rightfully) pointed out other factual errors in Black’s TV interview. Moreover, Black made further accusations against Maccabee (more about that in the next post) that were more or less overgeneralized, and black-and-white. Maccabee, like most of us in that situation, was inclined to defend himself with a (more likely) accurate version of events.

Of course, a TV interview isn’t the same as a written piece. Personally, I deal with so information that I’m constantly double- and triple-checking various items before committing them to screen, and then check again before posting them here. Were I to go on a TV show, I’m fairly sure that in order to provide substantive commentary I might mangle a minor detail here or there, for I wouldn’t have my notes with me. So, if Black occasionally fractured a factoid, that wouldn't bother me all that much. But when maligning someone’s character and conduct, one should make sure that they portray the grievances as they are, and without embellishment.

Black’s badmouthing of Dr. Maccabee detracted somewhat from what would have been substantive criticism of the Navy analyst’s handling of this particular case. After all, one thing we can certainly see about Photo #19 is that a possible ding would not explain the lack of reflection on the hood. We can clearly see parts of the background trees that the putative UFO should have obscured. If nothing else, the are-you-going-to-believe-me-or-your-lying-eyes explanation given by Maccabee should give us pause to wonder why the good doctor insists on maintaining this version of events.

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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Legends, Hoaxes and the Big Lie: Doubly Exposed Parties

Tommy Smith and Hank Bolland weren’t the only teenagers involved with the Gulf Breeze UFO hoax. Ed and Frances Walters often hosted parties for their son, and his friends. Consequently, they had access to a number of teenagers. But unlike some chaperones who would avoid the party in some other room and be on call for an emergency, or others who would watch every minor every second for any signs of hanky-panky, the Walters seemed to actively engage the teenagers in attendance. As Tim Printy noted, researchers found rumors of strange, if not untoward behavior at these parties:

In a series of interviews that summer, [conspiracy theorist Zan] Overall learned much about the parties thrown by the Walters and circumstances surrounding the photographs. He discovered that the parties were often ritualistic, had seances, and highlighted Ed's ability as a storyteller and trickster. The kids recounted numerous stories that Ed had told. Many of these tales seemed to have been made up on the spot! Frances, demonstrating that she tended to be involved with Ed's pranks, also played a part. It seemed that these parties were far from what Ed and Frances tried to present.
MUFON relied heavily on the analysis of naval optical physicist Dr. Bruce Maccabee in declaring the photos genuine. Part of Dr. Maccabee’s opinion stemmed from his disbelief that Ed Walters had sufficient photographic knowledge to fake a UFO picture by means of double exposure. While admitting Walters could have taken the photos that way, Dr. Maccabee nonetheless pointed out the difficulty in doubly exposing a photo using a Polaroid camera. In order to do that, you’d have to have the coordination to activate the button, keep the print from ejecting out, and keeping your hands out of the range of the camera lens at the same time. A bit tricky, but far from impossible.

One of the teenaged partygoers, Nick Mock, told investigator Don Ware that Walters indeed knew how to make double exposures using a Polaroid, and had discussed the matter with him. He mentioned a specific photo in which Walters superimposed a sort of ghostlike image of a demon behind the smiling face of an unsuspecting young lady. Moreover, Mock said that Walters ruminated about something he called “the ultimate prank.”

Walters reacted to Mock’s insinuations by labeling a troublemaker, a druggie who most likely had a criminal record. Furthermore, Walters said that he had to eject Nick from one party, and subsequently banned him from future ones.

Investigators found that Mock had no criminal record, or history of drug abuse. And he wasn’t quite the rowdy described by Walters. Moreover, Mock could provide concrete evidence he was telling the truth. He simply went to the girl in the ghost-demon photo, and asked her for it. She gave it to him.

Figure 1. Ghost demon photo



The above image is a reproduction of the original photo, so the details of the ghost image aren’t as clear as they are in the original, a fact that Printy and others point out. But taken in account with other information, it becomes clear that this is a double-exposure.

Walters first claimed that he created the effect by playing around with the focus. The effect cannot be reproduced that way. Defenders tried to say that the image was caused by a reflection from a glass door on the other side of the room. Dr. Maccabee instructed Walters to recreate the effect. Ed took some similar photos using balloons as a subject. The reflection provided by the door produced ill-defined blobs of light, but nothing resembling the ghost image.

With nothing else to account for the image, the only thing one can conclude is that it is a double-exposure. Thus Walters knew how to fake Polaroid shots before the UFO photos he produced in November 1987.

That would appear to end the discussion of whether Walters hoaxed UFO photographs. But there’s one big nail for this coffin, and it comes from one of the most spectacular of the photos.

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