UFOgate MJ-12: Majestic, or Incredulous?
Nothing has changed the world of UFOs as much as the infamous MJ-12 documents, purported to be presidential briefing papers and evidence that the US government is covering up an extra-terrestrial presence on Earth. Always deemed too good to be true, is it the biggest disinformation campaign the field has seen?
by Philip Coppens
On December 11, 1984, UFO researcher and TV producer Jaime Shandera received a brown envelope with a roll of 35 mm Tri-S black and white film. When it was developed, the film turned out to be photos of eight pages from a November 8, 1952 Briefing Document, prepared for President elect Dwight D. Eisenhower concerning “Operation Majestic 12”. It read “TOP SECRET/MAJIC EYES ONLY”.
What was Operation Majestic 12? It claimed to be a secret operation, begun on July 7, 1947, to recover the wreckage of the Roswell crash, an alleged incident which has gone down the annals of history as a “UFO crash”. The alleged crash had allegedly led to the creation of this operation, which was a secret gathering of experts who had been placed in charge of secretly investigating and dictating the methodology through which the US government would handle the extra-terrestrial issue. It listed as members: Adm. Roscoe H. Hillenkoeter, Dr. Vannevar Bush, Secretary James Forrestal, Gen. Nathan F. Twining, Gen. Hoyt S. Vanderberg, Dr. Detlev Bronk, Dr. Jerome Hunsaker, Mr. Sidney W. Souers, Mr. Gordon Gray, Dr. Donald Menzel, Gen. Robert M. Montegue, Dr. Lloyd V. Berkner. All twelve MJ-12 members listed were dead, the most recent one, Hunsaker, having died just three months before Shandera received the documents. Hunsaker lived to the age of 98! It is clear that someone waited until they were all dead to leak this document… or someone made sure that none of alleged members could make any statements about their alleged involvement.
Though each of the members was a high-profile member of our society, with UFOlogy, Dr. Donald Menzel stood out as he was a notorious debunker of the phenomenon. His membership seemed “logical” for those who believed that Menzel’s preaching denials of the UFO phenomenon was part of a campaign through which the US government officially discredited the UFO phenomenon, but secretly was not only aware of, but possessed, evidence of extra-terrestrial artefacts.
Though Menzel was indeed a UFO sceptic, in 1949, he reported a UFO encounter to the US Air Force. That he did was not known for more than three decades. But if he truly was privy to secret UFO information since 1947, Menzel would have no reason to log a UFO report with the Air Force, seeing he had “above top secret” access to everything about UFOs via his MJ-12 membership.
Four other members of the list had reliably documented activities related to UFOs. Hillenkoetter was a member of NICAP and made public statements to Congress about the UFO reality. Twining and Vandenberg oversaw early US Air Force UFO investigations, like Project Sign and Project Blue Book, and made some public statements on UFOs. Twining had previously written a famous secret memo on September 23, 1947 (the day before Truman allegedly set up MJ-12) stating that flying saucers were real and urged formal investigation by multiple government organizations such as the AEC, NACA, NEPA, Vannevar Bush’s JRDB and the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board. This led directly to the creation of Project Sign at the end of 1947. Finally, Berkner was on the 1953 CIA-organised Robertson Panel that debunked the UFO phenomenon. A major problem of the MJ-12 story is that the recipient of the papers, Shandera, was co-operating at the time with Bill Moore, a famous UFO investigator who had co-authored a pioneering book on Roswell with Charles Berlitz, one of the leading lights of the alternative field following the publication of The Bermuda Triangle. Ominously, in 1989, Moore confessed that he had been involved with a government disinformation campaign directed against Paul Bennewitz, in which Moore had fed his fellow UFO researcher falsified UFO material. The question that had to be asked was whether this material was disinformation as well, either circulated with the help of Moore… or against Moore? For never think that you may not be an agent in one campaign, and a victim in another.
The biggest problem was this: in February 1981, Moore had given Bennewitz a pre-Majestic 12 document, known as the “Project Aquarius Telex”, which was a communication from AFOSI (Air Force Office of Special Investigations) headquarters in Washington to Kirtland AFB office. One sentence stated “The official US Government policy and results of Project Aquarius is still classified and with restricted access to ‘MJ Twelve’.” It was the first mention of “MJ-12” – made in the middle of a disinformation campaign, sent to the person who was the target of that campaign. (Research has since established that the National Security Agency did have a highly-classified Project Aquarius, but that this was concerned with the tracking of sea-launched missiles and low-flying aircraft. However, the very fact that the creators of the MJ-12 documents knew of the existence of a Project Aquarius, and wove it into their myth, suggests once again that they are working within the intelligence field, e.g. AFOSI.)
Secondly, a nine page presidential Executive Briefing stating “This document was prepared by MJ-12”, was shown to another UFO researcher, Linda Moulton Howe, who stated she saw this document on April 9, 1983 – 18 months before Shandera found it in his letterbox. Howe identified the man that showed it to her as Richard Doty, an AFOSI agent who had been co-operating with Moore in the disinformation campaign direct against Bennewitz. At this moment in time, the rat was not only smelling, it began to stink. Furthermore, when the Aquarius telex was shown to the Air Force, you would expect to hear a denial, claiming the telex was a forgery. And indeed: the Air Force did claim it was a forgery, based flaws in style and format. But then Moore admitted that he had in fact retyped the document and added a date stamp – providing evidence that Moore had faked the document. Later, he claimed that it was based on an original, which as far as we are aware of, no-one had or has ever seen. This is coincidentally the same ploy used by Ray Santilli when he admitted that the 1995 “alien autopsy footage” was a forgery, but only because the original footage had become useless for public broadcasting, hence why he and his associates had “recreated” the autopsy footage. In short, there was little to be said in favour of MJ-12 as a genuine smoking gun. But then, in 1985, during a visit to the National Archives by Moore and Shandera, they claimed that they found an unsigned carbon copy of a memo to Gen. Nathan Twining from President Eisenhower’s special assistant Robert Cutler. Dated July 14, 1954, the memo’s subject was “NSC/MJ-12 Special Studies Project”. Of course, the confirmation would have been far more impressive if it had not come from Moore himself, even though in 1985 the world was unaware of his double life as a disinformation agent.
Nevertheless, the stakes were high and if the documents were genuine, it was indeed the smoking gun UFOlogy had been searching for over the past four decades. Hence, the Fund For UFO Research (FUFOR), headed by US Navy physicist Dr. Bruce Maccabee, paid researcher Stanton Friedman $16,000 to investigate the initial MJ-12 documents, who had also received MJ-12 material – also anonymously and also on a roll of 35mm film.
After Moore’s fall from grace and Shandera moving on to other projects, Friedman became UFOlogy’s resident MJ-12 expert. He, and others, quickly pointed the finger to Richard Doty, the AFOSI agent with whom Moore had worked together on the Bennewitz case and the man who had shown Linda Moulton Howe the material. Friedman commented: “Some have assumed that Doty provided the briefing document in the first place. Moore and Shandera have claimed that nobody has admitted sending the document, although the postmark on the brown envelope was Albuquerque. It is clear from their conversations with Doty that he knows about the document, but so far as I know, he has never admitted sending it. I doubt that he did.” This conclusion shows the gullibility of UFO researchers: it looks like a fake, it was posted from the town where the man who was involved in a disinformation campaign worked, posted to someone who was involved in the same disinformation campaign, at a time when the disinformation campaign was running, with a man in charge of the disinformation campaign claiming he knew of the document… yet UFO researchers conclude it is not part of this disinformation campaign! Still, we can agree with Friedman that “Whether the documents are valid or not, they must have been created by an insider.” Indeed. And we wholeheartedly agree with Carl Sagan’s assessment: “Where the MJ-12 documents are most vulnerable and suspect is exactly on the question of provenance – the evidence miraculously dropped on a doorstep like something out of a fairy story, perhaps ‘The Shoemaker and the Elves.’” Leaked or “seeded” in 1984, MJ-12 did not make an immediate impact on the UFO community. Everyone involved had kept the documents under wraps, afraid to go public with what could make someone an instant hero – or totally discredit one’s credibility if proven to be false. It seemed the UFO researchers needed some prodding in the back.
Thus, in the spring of 1987, Moore and Shandera were told that the story of MJ-12 would come out in Europe. Leaking false stories in the foreign press is a standard intelligence disinformation technique and seeing Moore learned it from their AFOSI handlers… And indeed, on May 31, 1987 the London Observer ran a story, from where it was picked up by the news agency Reuters. The article was by Martin Bailey but the man behind the story was musician and UFOlogist Timothy Good. The process by which the documents emerged in Britain makes it clear that a concerted attempt was being made to disseminate this material to the public. After a slow reception in the US, in 1986, the best-known British UFO writer of the time, Jenny Randles was working on a new book about the “official” UFO cover-up. “Coincidentally”, she was approached by an anonymous “deep throat” contact who offered her a collection of documents detailing the US government’s clandestine activity relating to UFOs – a smoking gun that could make her into the Woodward & Bernstein of the UFO community, the person who cracked the UFO conspiracy. However, like her American colleagues, Randles showed caution in accepting the material, and the informant broke contact. When the MJ-12 documents were released a year later, Randles realised that the material that she had been offered was part of these papers.
Within weeks of the abortive attempt to pass the documents to Randles, Timothy Good – who was also working on a book about the UFO conspiracy, Above Top Secret (1987) – was offered another part of the MJ-12 material. Unlike Randles, Good accepted, and this led to the article in The Observer in May 1987. The article then persuaded the American researchers to finally release their documents. Another modern myth had been created and the goal of a three year long disinformation campaign had finally bore fruit.
Good went on to write a series of international bestsellers about contact between aliens and world governments, which raised the public profile of UFOs and extraterrestrials and opened the way for other mainstream books on the subject. The result has been a greater acceptance of the Contact Scenario in Britain and the belief in extra-terrestrial lifeforms. What is less known, is that in later years, more MJ-12 documents were “disseminated”. In late 1992, three new MJ-12 documents were received by Timothy Cooper… who would later end up writing a book with Richard Doty. In his discussion of these documents, even Friedman admits that these papers are reproductions, retyped and slightly changed versions of old memos or letters. In short: forgeries, in which a “standard” classified memo is altered to make it appear as if it originated from the fictional MJ-12 group, whereby references to aliens and UFOs have been inserted in the memo. In March 1994, Don Berliner, a member of the board of FUFOR, received another MJ-12 document. It was once again on a roll of film, this time mailed from Wisconsin. It purported to be the “Majestic 12 Group Special Operations Manual: Extra-terrrestrial Entities and Technology, Recovery and Disposal, dated April 1954.”
Indeed, FUFOR, under the leadership of Maccabee, was the “UFO authority” that had adopted the documents and through Friedman promoted them. A former US Navy physicist, Dr. Bruce Maccabee is a leading and influential advocate of the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis and the Contact Scenario. Maccabee became prominent in the UFO field in the mid 1970s, and his rise was due to his claim that he had evidence that the CIA were withholding thousands of files relating to UFOs – a claim that has greatly encouraged the belief in a cover-up and, by extension, that there is something to be covered up. While supporting many of the more sensational UFO cases, Maccabee has also used his influence to down-play evidence that supports a more conventional explanation. For example, when the declassified CIA documents relating to the use of UFOs as a cover for spyplane sightings were released in 1997, he argued vociferously – and successfully – that these were of no significance. Maccabee worked closely with William Moore, for example on the alleged UFO landing near Kirtland AFB in 1980 – using information supplied by Sergeant Richard Doty.
When Moore made his confession in 1989, he stated that four other very prominent American UFO researchers were also working for AFOSI, but refused to name them. In 1993, fellow UFO researchers discovered that Maccabee maintained closer links with the CIA than he had publicly revealed. When challenged, he admitted that, since 1979, he indeed had regularly briefed the CIA at their Langley, Virginia headquarters on developments in the UFO field, but denied that his involvement went any deeper than that. What Maccabee failed to explain is why he kept this secret for 14 years.
It is ironic that a leading member of an organisation that is pledged to challenge official secrecy about UFOs – and one of the main proponents of the idea that the CIA are withholding thousands of documents on the subject – should have such a long-standing, secret relationship with that very agency. Maccabee’s reassurances failed to convince many, including his close friend and fellow FUFOR board member, Richard Hall. But if anyone should be seen as “Mister MJ-12”, it is Richard Doty. When Doty approached Moore, the latter stated that his reason for cooperating with AFOSI was the promise that, in return for passing that agency information about his fellow researchers and for disseminating disinformation to throw certain researchers off the track, he would be given privileged information about the US government’s knowledge of UFOs. Somewhat naively, Moore accepted this story – although the evidence is that the information that he was given, and on which he based his books, was the actual disinformation. It was Doty who told Moore that a live extraterrestrial had been captured after another crash in New Mexico, and had lived until 1952. Since then, a series of other extraterrestrials had allegedly been sent as “ambassadors”. Doty also spoke of a treaty between the US government and the aliens. It was Doty who showed Linda Moulton Howe the “classified document” in 1983. Like Shandera, Howe was contacted by Doty and Jerry Miller, a former researcher on Project Blue Book, in 1982 after she had made a TV documentary on “cattle mutilations” that argued in favour of a link with UFOs. Doty promised Howe film footage of the aliens which, needless to say, failed to materialise. Why did Doty approach documentary producers? Why not leading academics? Or politicians? As is well-known, documentary makers are out to get sensational angles, in which whether or not the story is factual, is often of secondary importance. The MJ-12 papers were, of course, the “right stuff” to dangle in front of television producers’ noses. And Doty did precisely that. It seems, however, that none took the bait and instead, three years later, the British waters were tested, where the search for a person who would go public with the documents was successful. In the 1980s, Doty had focused on television documentary makers in his efforts to spread the word of the MJ-12 documents. In the 1990s, UFOs went mainstream, largely with the help of Hollywood and “The X-Files”. The similar “Dark Skies” was a somewhat popular but not long-lived series about MJ-12, showing the success of MJ-12 within the context of Hollywood and television. But what is perhaps less known is that Doty resigned from the Air Force… to become a consultant for “The X Files” and Spielberg’s “Taken”, probably the most notorious fictional promotions of MJ-12 and a government conspiracy aimed to keep the “alien truth” hidden. Hollywood helped cement the idea of a government UFO cover-up and the existence of MJ-12, whereas within the UFO community, the MJ-12 documents remained extremely controversial. Remarkably, books that promoted the idea of a government UFO cover-up were able to win massive contracts, whereas dissenting voices, or more technical analyses such as Friedman’s review of the MJ-12 papers, received a much smaller distribution. If there was a massive UFO cover-up in place, why did “the government” allow so many books arguing for this cover-up to be published? Why were they not debunked, for many contained errors, exaggerations and often plain lies.
In 2005, Robert Collins and Richard Doty wrote “Exempt from Disclosure”, with additional material provided by Timothy Cooper. In the book, Doty claims to be part of the group within the US government that wanted the existence of aliens and aliens in the captivity of the US government to become known. Unfortunately, the book – though a collection of writings is perhaps a better word – reads more like disinformation. The spine of the book is of course MJ-12. Doty has woven together a string of various UFO reports into a theory that makes “sense”, but only to a UFO believer. It involves crashes such as Socorro, Roswell, etc., each of whom has individually been shown to be exaggerated, erroneous or false. As to the evidence they present for their claims? “Contact us or my co-author”. Indeed.
Still, amongst the sadder highlights of the book is the inclusion of Carl Sagan as a member of MJ-12 (no doubt for making disparaging comments about the documents).
There is this jewel: “The Hebrew Bible was confirmed as the long sought after key to understanding extraterrestrial UFO sightings, and this information was shared with the Vatican as early as 1949.” Or that JFK was briefed on MJ-12 too, but that he wanted disclosure. DCI Allen Dulles and CIA’s CounterIntelligence officer James Angleton were unwilling to co-operate, as allegedly Kennedy was going to share UFO data with the Russians. In short, the book is – wilfully or “coincidentally – following the lines of well-practiced disinformation: state a fact, then speculate, then add on a lie. And it is either Doty and Collins’ style of writing, but this sequence is repeated ad infinitum if not ad nauseam throughout the book. On example is the statement that the atomic build-up was to prepare against an alien attack, which is the “conclusion” of a previous sequence. Then they add: “Of course, this decision coincided with the Soviet build up” of atomic weapons, to make it seems as if that the American build-up of atomic weapons at a time of Soviet escalation was actually coincidental, rather than the true cause.
Amongst the “evidence” presented is Doty stating that his uncle Ed Doty was a fellow UFO investigator for the military too and that he and Richard spoke about UFOs and their knowledge of visiting aliens and more. You might think that Ed Doty would confirm this is true, but when asked, as written down in the book, Ed Doty actually denies, in the friendliest of ways, so even his uncle is not acknowledging what his nephew is saying!
The book also includes classic statements that the aliens specifically like strawberry ice cream, but specifically that they communicated with the aliens in sign language – as if sign language is a universally understood language, rather than a purely human and rather recent fabricated mechanism to aide human communication. No alien would be expected to “know” or “understand” sign language upon their arrival on Earth. It has left the MJ-12 documents as one of the best-known and most important “leaked” documents, documents which are widely believed by many, largely through Hollywood – and Doty’s – efforts, as genuine and evidence of the US government’s fifty year long successful cover-up of extra-terrestrial life on this planet. In truth, it is a disinformation campaign, largely carried out by one man… but no doubt not acting alone… with someone pulling the strings further up the chain of command. The central question that should really trouble the UFO community, if not the US population as a whole: who within the US government wants to portray that government as possessing “aliens on ice”? And if it is not a lone individual, then that group might be the “real” Majestic 12.