Recent tranches of declassified documents released by the CIA have re-kindled public interest in UFO spotting ahead of the new series of The X-Files. The documents, most of which were already declassified under a 1978 Freedom of Information request, have now been compiled in one handy location on the CIA website. From the traditional flying saucer sightings in the ’40s and ’50s to later cigar shaped sightings and lights in the sky, the CIA UFO files make fascinating reading for both skeptics and believers alike. But it’s not just grainy archival photos and wild-eyed witness reports. Alongside the UFO files is a ten point CIA guide to investigating UFO sightings.
Now, we might be forgiven for thinking that the CIA UFO chasing would just be a distraction from their immediate national security function, but the background provided in the CIA UFO guide shows that this isn’t the case. Basically, an uptick in UFO sightings immediately following the end of WWII appears to have resulted in the creation of a specific directorate (or “desk”) for investigating these sightings. A division of the Air Force Technical Services Command initiated a project called SAUCER in 1947. This project team was exclusively tasked with collating and investigating UFO sightings. The project went through various iterations, being renamed SIGN, then GRUDGE, and then finally the Project BLUE BOOK that many UFO chasers are familiar with today.
Parallel to this, the CIA itself invested a significant amount of interest in UFO research. There were several factors driving this, and it appears that the prime motivator for this interest was the Cold War. The CIA UFO watchers had a three-fold brief: to study the national security implications, to recover and assimilate any potential technology and to find explanations for the sightings themselves. It was further pointed out in both CIA and USAF documentation that UFOs were seen as primarily terrestrial (read Soviet) not extraterrestrial phenomena. So really, it’s not as crazy as we might think. And BLUE BOOK, until its termination in the ’60s, had a remarkable success rate. Of more than 12,000 sightings, only about 700 remain unsolved.
Drawing on the lessons of BLUE BOOK, as well as their own allied investigations, the CIA provides a 10 point plan for investigating UFO sightings. On their website, they say that while UFO sightings have been relegated by many as quaint relics of the past, “there’s still a lot that can be learned from the history and methodology of ‘flying saucer intelligence’.” The 10 point plan runs as follows.
- Establish a group to Investigate and Evaluate Sightings
- Determine the Objectives of Your Investigation
- Consult With Experts
- Create a Reporting System To Organize Incoming Cases
- Eliminate False Positives
- Develop Methodology To Identify Common Aircraft and Other Aerial Phenomena Often Mistaken for UFOs
- Examine Witness Documentation
- Conduct Controlled Experiments
- Gather and Test Physical and Forensic Evidence
- Discourage False Reporting
Those readers familiar with police methodology may be struck by the similarities between this list and the organisational framework of many major criminal investigations. Whether searching for UFOs or hunting a multiple murder, the steps appear to be pretty well the same. A taskforce is established, criteria set, expert witnesses and consultants sourced and a process of poring over documents and conducting re-enactments and reconstructions begins. It would seem that it doesn’t matter what one is investigating, the process of investigation remains the same.
One of the more interesting points to note is that the CIA recommends that UFO investigations are most likely to be successful if they are viewed from a “terrestrial framework,” i.e., from the point of view that UFO phenomena are most probably events originating from an earthly source.
That being said, it will be very interesting to see if this apparent crowdsourcing of investigative materials and techniques will clear up any of the 700 odd unsolved UFO cases.
[Photo by Barney Wayne/Getty Images]