UFOgate A lone chemist’s quest to expose the UFO cover-up
In the late 1950s, chemist Leon Davidson worked at Los Alamos, the research facility where the atomic scientists had endeavoured to control the force of the atom. But atoms were not the main thing on this scientist’s mind. Davidson was interested in UFOs and hunted down the then top secret CIA Robertson Panel report. This led him to the conclusion that the CIA were actively promoting UFOs as ETs, a conclusion few have been able – or willing – to accept since.
by Philip Coppens
Davidson was born on October 18, 1922 in New York and received his doctorate of chemical engineer from the University of Columbia in 1951. As early as 1949, when he started work at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, Davidson was interested in UFOs. His interest, however, was not that he wanted to have physical proof of UFOs as extra-terrestrial devices. He suspected the truth was quite the opposite. Later, Davidson would write: “It became clear [to me], early in the 1950’s, that the CIA, specifically Allen Dulles, had used legitimate ‘flying saucers’ events […] as a tool in the Cold War. Dulles wanted Russia to waste effort on defences against objects having the extreme capabilities implied by the public saucer stories. […] Dulles also adopted a concept from his old friend Carl Jung, and co-opted the myth that benign aliens have visited Earth for millennia. He used magicians’ illusions, tricks, and showmanship to blend in sightings, landings, and contacts, with the legitimate military test sightings. The public perception grew (from comic book to TV show) that space travel was a real possibility, easing Congressional appropriations for the ‘moon race’ with Russia. Later, Dulles found the saucer believers and their clubs an ideal propaganda vehicle.”
In short, Davidson believed there was a government conspiracy, but it was not hiding “aliens on ice”, but falsely promoting the belief that they were hiding “aliens on ice”. Allen Dulles At the time, a lot of emphasis was placed on UFO sightings that were confirmed by radar – as late as 1989 and the Belgian UFO wave, specific emphasis continues to be placed on this “technological confirmation”. But Davidson pointed out that as early as 1945, mechanical countermeasures against radar had become publicly known – and used. It was known that these could cause blips on the radar screen, resulting in incorrect range, speed, or heading. This was called Electronic Countermeasures and Davidson believed this method of counterintelligence was used to present the myth that “UFOs” existed. Davidson drew the infamous equation: ECM+CIA=UFO, suggesting that the CIA were creating ECM signals on radars, so that people would believe in the presence of UFOs, as they confirmed eyewitness accounts of anomalous objects in the sky. Furthermore, the anomalous blips were a perfect mechanism to distort the true capabilities of any new aircraft that was being test-flown – occasional sightings of which were passed off as UFOs too. Publicly, Davidson identified two incidents that were instrumental in forming this opinion. When he wanted to have access to the Grudge report (one of the first official government reports on the subject) and visited Lt. Smith on May 17, 1950, it turned out that instead of forwarding more data to Los Alamos, the Air Force took back the Los Alamos copy of the Grudge report. Davidson added: “The Los Alamos Lab. officials also ceased then to support our saucer research efforts.”
Later, Allen Hynek argued that in his opinion the green fireballs of the Southwest, which were discussed in the Grudge Report, were probably connected with US research activities. This opinion was shared by Davidson, who commented: “Another interesting item in the report was a copy of a RAND Corp. letter L-2563, March 29, 1949, asking for access to the Air Force files on the Maury Island incident.” Later, in 1968, when New Orleans DA Jim Garrison re-opened the Kennedy assassination case, Davidson informed Garrison that Ray Palmer and Fred L Crisman were instrumental characters in that Maury Island incident. The second series of events that persuaded Davidson was the “Washington invasion” of 1952, in which several UFO sightings occurred above the US capital. Davidson was working in Washington that year and saw classified photographs of a certain Navy guided missile which in itself disproved the Air Force denials that the US had no devices that looked like UFO sightings reported by the public. He also questioned several “incidents” that occurred during the “invasion”: jet interceptors were removed from Andrews Air Force (4 miles from Washington) to New Castle Delaware (90 miles) in the time framework of the sightings, so that no visual confirmation was possible. Did someone make use of this window to stage a UFO wave? Furthermore, Ruppelt, chief investigator of UFOs for the Air Force, was prevented from travelling around Washington to speak to eyewitnesses – all cars suddenly were required for other duties. He then proposed he would use taxis to visit the eyewitnesses, but was told that he would not be reimbursed for such expenses.
But the “best evidence” came when Ruppelt stated that a CIA employee had predicted the Washington events a few days before they happened. Davidson fully agreed with Keyhoe in his book, “Flying Saucers – Top Secret”, that the events had all the earmarks of a CIA “field evaluation” of a psychological warfare gimmick. 1952 Washington UFOs Such evidence convinced Davidson that the US government was behind the “flying saucer myth” – a position that he shared with many of his peers, such as Keyhoe and Ruppelt, but which in more recent years has been seriously downplayed when, as Davidson would no doubt agree, the CIA campaign to accept UFOs as ET had come to fruition – and public acceptance. But back then, things were different.
In November 1952, he was invited to the Pentagon, where he met with Col. W.A. Adams and Maj. Dewey J.J. Fournet, to discuss his contention that saucers, if real, were American. “I presented a four-page list of questions, the answers to which proved to me that the A.F. ‘investigation’ of saucers was completely a cover-up for something else. Col. Adams asked Maj. Fournet to give me a private showing of the ‘Tremonton films’ which, at the time, convinced me that the saucers must indeed be real.”
He felt, however, that the government was playing with fire. In a letter to the Secretary of Defense and others in 1953, he pointed out that the Air Force’s attitude of ridiculing and ignoring the UFO sightings could allow an enemy to send aircraft or missiles through the US defence system, merely by putting enough flashing lights on them to cause them to be reported as UFOs. Perhaps as a result of such arguments, the Air Force revised its position in August 1954, stating that UFOs should be taken seriously. Of specific interest to Davidson was that the Air Force also stopped denying that UFOs might be American devices when issuing press releases on the subject. Today, Davidson himself is best remembered for two incidents: Report #14 and one case in which his insistence brought the Air Force and CIA in serious disrepute.
The material in the Project Blue Book Special Report No. 14 was prepared in 1952 at the request of the CIA for presentation to a panel of scientists (the Robertson Panel). Though the existence of the panel was made public, the panel’s report itself was kept secret, until it was given to Keyhoe on March 8, 1958, for an interview with Mike Wallace of CBS. At the time, Keyhoe claimed that the CIA was involved with the Robertson panel. Both Keyhoe and Davidson wrote to the agency. In a meeting with Air Force representatives to discuss how to handle inquiries such as Keyhoe’s and Davidson’s, Agency officials confirmed their opposition to the declassification of the full Robertson report and worried that Keyhoe had the ear of former DCI Vice Admiral Roscoe Hillenkoetter, who served on the board of governors of NICAP, a civilian UFO organisation. They debated whether to have CIA General Counsel Lawrence R. Houston show Hillenkoetter the report as a possible way to defuse the situation.
But whereas Keyhoe was treated with respect, Davidson was singled out for harsher handling. CIA officer Frank Chapin hinted that Davidson might have ulterior motives, “some of them perhaps not in the best interest of this country,” and suggested bringing in the FBI to investigate.
Since first receiving this report, Davidson has nevertheless repeatedly published the report and his accompanying analysis. A total of 9100 copies have been printed, with the latest edition of the report appearing in 1976. Though having five editions and a firm print-run, the work is more legendary than well-known or accepted. Yet, it remains a pillar within the field – whether accepted or not. It should not come as a surprise that Davidson suffered persecution by the CIA. This is extremely telling when compared to the lack of action taken against other researchers who claim that the CIA and other agencies are engaged in a massive cover-up concerning alien contact. So it’s okay to say that the CIA is hiding little green men, but when you say the CIA has concocted the story of little green men, the CIA hunts you down…
In the end, Davidson was nevertheless successful in obtaining a copy. He wrote to each panel member, to clarify the purpose and meaning of their report. He thus confirmed that the main purpose of the panel was to prepare for a test programme to see why people reacted strongly to UFO sightings. From this, the CIA thought it might derive useful psychological warfare techniques.
The Robertson Panel thus concluded what Walter B. Smith, then Director of the CIA, had stated in a Memo to the Director of the Psychological Warfare Board regarding UFOs: “I suggest that we discuss at an early board meeting the possible offensive or defensive utilisation of these phenomenon for psychological warfare purposes.” For Davidson, it was self-evident that the CIA was behind it all: “It delegated the Air Force to act as the official ‘investigator’ to stave off public enquiry. It secretly sponsored the formation of saucer study groups and contact clubs, including NICAP (under T. Townsend Brown, with whom, incidentally, I have had voluminous correspondence.) The CIA set up many saucer publishers, sponsored the publicity received by Adamski’s books and others, and sponsored the wave of saucer articles in 1952 in ‘Life’, ‘Look’, etc.” George Adamski All of this, he traced back to Allen Dulles, another Director of the CIA: “During 1950 Allen Dulles became actively involved with the CIA work on saucers, and saw the psychological impact which they had. He started a plan to build them up as a psychological warfare weapon. Ruppelt’s book clearly shows the steps the CIA took. Project Bluebook was warmed up in 1950-51, Ruppelt was selected by a screening process and groomed for the job of public relations cats-paw (without his knowledge), and a series of ‘incidents’ was planned and carried out involving regular military units, which led to cases considered as authentic evidence of saucers.”
Later, Ruppelt would reflect on the several instances in which he had been used – and would admit he had been played. A Life article of April 1952, “Have we Visitors from Space?” was under preparation for a year and its publication was promoted with the help from the government, he would later argue. Davidson felt that the in retrospect “ridiculously” looking UFO contactee period of the 1950s, in which people reported meeting aliens from Venus and having rides on their space ship, was equally part of a government campaign: “By Fall of 1952, the CIA had laid out its plans for the ‘landing’ and ‘contact’ stories. The warmup for this had been the fabricated and planted stories about ‘little green men’, such as the famous lecture at the University of Denver in March 1950, described in Scully’s book ‘Behind the Flying Saucers’. This was a psychological test, and showed that about 50% of college-level people would believe a well-presented story.”
Davidson presented various pieces of evidence that underlined that the government was deeply involved with George Adamski, the most famous of all UFO contactees. When controversy raged at its height, Dulles himself stated that he would prevent anyone from testifying in court concerning Adamski’s book, “because maximum security exists concerning the subject of UFOs.” For Davidson, it was an admission that if people dug into the story, they would uncover a CIA dimension.
Davidson felt that Adamski himself reported tell-tale examples of government “steering” – and was aware of their involvement: “Late in 1949 four men came into the café at Palomar Gardens. Two of them had been in before and we had talked a little about the flying saucers. We began talking about flying saucers again. One of these men was Mr. J.P. Maxfield, and another was his partner, Mr. G.I. Bloom, both of the Point Loma Navy Electronics Laboratory near San Diego. The other two men were from a similar setup in Pasadena. One was in officer’s uniform. They asked me if I would co-operate with them in trying to get photographs of strange craft moving through space… And finally the moon was decided upon as a good spot for careful observation… And it was not too long after this meeting that I succeeded in getting what I deemed at the time to be two good pictures of an object moving through space. I first saw it as I was observing the moon.” What an amazing coincidence, that a UFO appeared where these military officers stated Adamski should look towards…
Furthermore, Adamski later admitted that he did not write the text of his books himself: one “CLJ” wrote Flying Saucers Have Landed (which sold upon its release 80,000 copies in the US alone) and Inside the space ships (1955) was written by Charlotte Blodget. But most centrally, he believed that Adamski wasn’t taken into outer space by Venusians, but was escorted to Camp Irwin, California where agents and operatives faked his contact using movie technology and drugs.
Later on, Davidson also noted problems with the UFO abduction scenario. In the preface to the fifth edition of his book (1976), he wrote: “In 1956, Long John Nebel was the first to publicize this book, over WOR Radio, New York. […] In 1972, Long John married Candy Jones of NBC Radio “Monitor”, who in the 1960’s was a CIA courier to the Bahamas. […] Candy was also unwittingly, used by the CIA in hypnosis experiments in 1961 […] Candy’s story, although not about saucers, has many similarities to Betty Hill’s story of being hypnotized in 1961 […] by men from a flying saucer. (Would you believe CIA employees?) Both books refer to strange sounds inducing hypnosis […] Both hypnotized women were victimized by men ‘playing doctor’.” Betty & Barney Hill The second UFO case for which Davidson is remembered occurred in 1957, when he was working on a case involving a strange tape recording made by Mildred and Marie Maier of Chicago. The sisters taped a “space message” and other ham radio operators claimed to have heard the same. This tape had been analyzed by the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI), which reported that it was “nothing more than Morse code from a US radio station.” When Davidson wrote to Dewelt Walker, the CIA officer who had contacted the Maier sisters, Walker continued his pretence that he worked for the Air Force.
Davidson wrote to Walker, believing him to be a US Air Force Intelligence Officer from Wright-Patterson, to ask if the tape had been analyzed at ATIC. After a nonsensical, non-committal reply, Davidson wrote to Allen Dulles demanding to learn what the coded message revealed and who Walker was. The Agency, wanting to keep Walker’s identity as a CIA employee secret, replied that another agency of the government had analyzed the tape in question and that Davidson would be hearing from the Air Force. On August 5, the Air Force wrote Davidson saying that Walker “was and is an Air Force Officer” and that the tape “was analyzed by another government organization.” The Air Force letter did confirm that the recording contained only identifiable Morse code which came from a known US-licensed radio station.
Davidson wrote Dulles again. This time he wanted to know the identity of the Morse operator and of the agency that had conducted the analysis. Both thw CIA and the Air Force were now in a quandary, as the CIA had previously denied that it had actually analyzed the tape. The Air Force had also denied analyzing the tape and claimed that Walker was an Air Force officer. What to do when caught in a web of lies that is about to be exposed? Do something sillier, seemed to be the answer.
The CIA decided to dress up officers in an Air Force uniform and contact Davidson in New York City, claiming to speak on behalf of the Air Force. The CIA officer explained that there was no super agency involved and that Air Force policy was not to disclose who was doing what. While seeming to accept this argument, Davidson nevertheless pressed for disclosure of the message and its source. The officer agreed to see what he could do. After checking with Headquarters, the CIA officer phoned Davidson to report that a thorough check had been made and, because the signal was of known US origin, the tape and the notes made at the time had been destroyed to conserve file space.
When confronted with a letter from Congressman Joseph Karth related to Davidson’s claims that he was being lied to by the CIA, the CIA chose to lie outright to the Congressman. Karth was told that other than a brief involvement with the Robertson panel, the “CIA has not participated in any flying saucer activities and has referred all correspondence to the Air Force.” As to Davidson’s charges, the CIA wrote to the congressman: “Mr. Davidson’s belief that this agency is involved in the ‘flying saucer furore’ and is using this as a tool in psychological warfare is entirely unfounded. His indication that CIA is misguiding persons in leading them to believe in Flying Saucers is also entirely unfounded.”
As to how Davidson handled the situation himself: he told the CIA officer that “he and his agency, whichever it was, were acting like Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamster Union in destroying records which might indict them.” Believing that any more contact with Davidson would only encourage more speculation, the Contact Division washed its hands of the issue by reporting to the DCI and to ATIC that it would not respond to or try to contact Davidson again. In short, Davidson was out to catch the CIA red-handed and he was succeeding. In retrospect, he did succeed. The incident was used by government historian Gerald K. Haines in his report on how the CIA was interested and involved in UFO investigation and government UFO policy from 1947 until 1990. Haines argues that all of this was merely the CIA being “inadequate” in properly dealing with issues and that “inadequacy” is all there is to it: “Thus, a minor, rather bizarre incident, handled poorly by both the CIA and the Air Force, turned into a major flap that added fuel to the growing mystery surrounding UFOs and CIA’s role in their investigation.” This is true, but the big lie is that at the time, the CIA was not officially involved at all. So if Davidson would have had absolute proof that the CIA was indeed running the show, with the Air Force mere hired actors, Davidson would have broken down a big lie. Some decades later, Haines, however much he played it down, did actually confirm what Davidson had been saying all along. Davidson himself concluded that every aspect of the mystery led back to the CIA. He argued that they had deliberately concocted the major UFO reports and fed them into the public arena as a cover for experimental aircraft and rocket tests at best and psychological warfare experiments practiced on its own citizens at worst. This was, at the time, a radical overhaul of the status quo, which argued that UFOs seemed to be extra-terrestrial and that the US government had suppressed evidence of their existence. Davidson went against this and wrote that the CIA “was solely responsible for creating the Flying Saucer furore as a tool for cold war psychological research.” But in this battle, however Davidson may be right, he lost and the CIA won: today, the extraterrestrial interpretation of UFOs is the most commonly proposed and accepted explanation, with a benign alien presence if not on than at least “near” Earth here to help us. And Davidson, though known, is ill-understood by most UFO researchers and either accidentally or knowingly misrepresented by even more writers on the subject. What Davidson predicted, has come true.