Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Did CIA U2 flights really cause 50% of UFO Sightings?

Once again, the claim has resurfaced that, during the 1950s and 60s, high-altitude CIA manned reconnaissance flights involving the U-2 and the later SR-71 were responsible for half of all UFO sightings. 

The CIA's Lockheed U-2 spy plane
This claim is now all over the internet, and treated in the usual uncritical manner.

CIA admits: All those UFO sightings in 1950s? 'It was us'
CIA: All Those 1950s UFO Sightings? 'It Was Us'

One thing this CIA UFO claim has accomplished: it has united UFO skeptics and proponents in proclaiming it untrue. We might agree on little else, except that this claim is nonsense.

The claim is contained in a report issued by the CIA, The CIA and the U2 Program, 1954-1974. The once-secret document was written back in 1998. In it (on PDF (not document) page 84-85), 
"High-altitude testing of the U2 soon led to an unexpected side effect — a tremendous increase in reports of unidentified flying objects. In the mid-1950s, most commercial airliners flew at altitudes between 10,000 and 20,000 feet and military aircraft like the B47s and B57s operated at altitudes below 40,000 feet. Consequently, once U-2s started flying at altitudes above 60,000 feet, air-traffic controllers began receiving increasing numbers of UFO reports.”
Can that claim be substantiated? Nope.
 Not only did the airline pilots report their sightings to air-traffic controllers, but they and ground-based observers also wrote letters to the Air Force unit at Wright Air Development Command in Dayton charged with investigating such phenomena. This, in turn, led to the Air Force’s Operation BLUE BOOK. Based at Wright-Patterson, the operation collected all reports of UFO sightings. Air Force investigators then attempted to explain such sightings by linking them to natural phenomena. BLUE BOOK investigators regularly called on the Agency’s Project Staff in Washington to check reported UFO sightings against U-2 flight logs. This enabled the investigators to eliminate the majority of the UFO reports, although they could not reveal to the letter writers the true cause of the UFO sightings. U-2 and later OXCART flights accounted for more than one-half of all UFO reports during the 1950s and 1960s.
Mark Rodeghier of CUFOS contacted Lt. Col. (Ret.) Robert Friend, who was the head of Blue Book from about 1958 to early 1963. If anyone should know about this, it is him. "Absolutely not true," he said.
Friend "found the whole idea laughable, and he knew Blue Book did not receive more reports from pilots and air traffic controllers after the U-2 began flying."
It may well be that a few UFO reports were caused by U-2 flights, but when Friend was asked by Rodeghier if he could recall even a single such case, he said, to his recollection, no. (Frankly, I can't think of one, either.)
"Once again, he chuckled about the idea of half of all UFO reports being caused by manned reconnaissance flights."
The U-2, with its 80 ft long by 6 ft wide (front to back) wingspan flew at 60-70,000 feet and at that altitude was essentially invisible during the day. It created no contrail because of the lack of moisture at that altitude. It was, after all, intended to be invisible! During the hour before sunrise and the hour following sunset it would be possible for an unpainted aircraft to reflect the sun enough to be visible, perhaps with a reddish glow resulting from the reddening of sunlight
Maccabee used the Richard Dolan press to issue a press release that was widely shared:
Maccabee is right about this. The Blue Book files are now public records, and anyone can verify when and where sightings were reported. The bottom line is: there is absolutely no correlation between the times and places of UFO reports, and U2 flights.

Back in August of 2013, Alejandro Rojas of Open Minds pointed out another problem in the CIA's claim about the U2 flights, which began in 1954:  It says witnesses began to write letters to the Air Force, and “This, in turn, led to the Air Force’s Operation Blue Book.”
While it is most certain U-2 flights did lead to an increase in UFO reports [I would not even grant that - RS], this did not lead to the creation of the Air Force’s Project Blue Book. Project Blue Book was an official U.S. Air Force investigation of UFOs established in 1951, and was actually the third Air Force project to investigate UFO sightings. The first was Project Sign, set up in 1948, which then became Project Grudge in 1949, and finally Blue Book in 1951.
The CIA's claim that the U2 flights led to the creation of Project Blue Book is impossible, because Blue Book predates the U2 flights by several years. Other Air Force projects to investigate "flying saucer" sightings were created several years earlier still.

Why did the CIA make such an absurd claim? It's hard to say. Some see in this a sinister attempt at disinformation. I don't think that's the case, because if the CIA wanted to issue disinformation, it would have come up with a story that is not so transparently bogus as this. The footnote accompanying the "one-half" claim simply reads, "Information supplied by James Cunningham to [co-author] Donald E. Welzenbach." Who is James Cunningham? Under "Key Personnel" in Appendix B, we find:
James Cunningham, Jr. An ex-Marine Corps pilot, he became the administrative officer for the U-2 in April 1955. Cunningham handled the day-to-day management of the U-2 program and brought only the more complex problems to Richard Bissell's attention. Later he served as the Deputy Director of the Office of Special Activities and then Special Assistant to the Deputy Director for Science and Technology.
In other words, a bureaucrat in the U-2 program. What does he know about the history of UFO reports, and UFO investigations? Nothing, it would seem, except for what he has made up. The world of UFOlogy is filled with Boasters who exaggerate (if not fabricate) events to make themselves seem important. The authors of the CIA report seem to have immortalized a groundless boast by a program bureaucrat, and turned it into one of those "facts" that practically everyone has heard, and practically everyone believes, but has no foundation in truth.