10 Cases from Project Bluebook: the CIA’s Secret Hunt for UFOs

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In 1947, World War II was over but tension between the United States and the USSR was still high. UFO sightings were abnormally high that year, because people were on high alert when looking at the sky. The CIA believed that it was always possible that the Russians invented weapons that were far superior to what America had at their disposal. After a few key incidents in the 1940s forced the government to question their understanding of UFOs, the CIA and the United States Air Force came together to create the top secret mission called “Project Blue Book.” The goal was to decide if these objects were a threat to the American people, and to also study the technology as much as possible.

Captain Edward Ruppelt was head of the project. He recorded over 12,000 individual incidents that had been reported to the government, and coined the term “Unidentified Flying Object.” Ruppelt used science and psychology to study the data on UFO sightings, eliminating the vast majority that had been reported due to logical explanations. He spent far more time studying the truly unbelievable cases that defied logical explanation. These fell under an “extraterrestrial theory” — as in, the possibility that these were objects from another world.

10. The Kenneth Arnold Sighting

In 1947, a pilot named Kenneth Arnold was flying a private plane in Idaho when he spotted 9 silver discs flying over Mount Rainier. They were moving so fast, he estimated that they must have been flying over 1,200 miles per hour, at least 10,000 feet in the air. This was nearly double the average speed of any airplane used during the war. Arnold estimated that these objects were more than 100 feet wide.

He reported this sighting to the authorities immediately. The government debated whether these objects were real, or if Arnold had imagined them. There were no weather balloons in that area, so there truly was no explanation they could come up with to explain what he saw. The press ate up this story, and after speaking to Arnold, they coined the term “flying saucer” to describe these flying objects that he had seen.

9. The Roswell Incident

Even if you’re not into UFO research, nearly everyone has heard of the Roswell Incident. This was yet another huge case in 1947 that lead to the creation of Project Blue Book. A silver disc crashed on Foster Ranch, which was just outside Roswell, New Mexico. Witnesses rushed to the crash site, and claimed that they saw a spaceship.  Members of the Air Force from a nearby base showed up to examine the crash site, and they carried away all evidence that they could find. Some witnesses claim that they saw the agents carry away small bodies of aliens from the crash. That same day, they told the press that they had discovered a real “flying saucer.”

The very next day, the government retracted their statement and released photographs of agents kneeling next to materials from a broken weather balloon. The Air Force said that the bodies people witnessed being carried away were actually test dummies that had been tied to the balloons. The space probes that fell from the sky truly did look like flying saucers, but the government was unwilling to explain this technology to the public until years later.

However, for UFO believers, this information was too little too late, and they believe the government is just coming up with rational explanations to satisfy public inquiry. On top of that, the Air Force officer who arrived on the scene, Jesse Marcel, gave an interview in which he said that he did not believe this crash was actually a weather balloon, but he was forced by his commanding officer to lie to the press for fear of losing his job. He said that the metal he picked up from the crash was as thin as the foil inside of a pack of cigarettes, and yet it was so strong he couldn’t bend or dent it — even with a sledgehammer.

8. Dahl and The Men In Black

In June of 1947, a man named Harold Dahl was on his boat in Puget Sound with his son and dog. About 1,500 feet above, they could see silver donut-shaped objects flying in the sky. One of the objects began to fall. The metal debris sliced his son’s arm, and it killed their dog. Dahl told his boss about the incident. He didn’t believe him, so he went to see for himself. He also witnessed these same UFOs in the sky. A few days later, a man wearing a black suit and fedora showed up, threatening to ruin Dahl’s life if he ever told anyone about what he saw that day on the boat. Obviously, Dahl still told people about it. This became known as the “Maury Island Incident.” This is considered to be the first sighting of “Men in Black.”

We now know that this incident occurred mere months before the Project Blue Book initiative started. It was incidents like these that made it necessary to have a task force looking after these UFO cases, and taking testimonies seriously with scientific inquiry, rather than threatening to silence the witnesses with Men in Black. 

7. The Kinross Incident

In 1953, air traffic command at the Kinross Air Force Base in Michigan detected an unidentified flying object soaring over Lake Superior at 500 miles per hour. The blip failed to communicate over the radio, so a pilot named Lt. Felix Moncla, Jr. and his radar assistant, Lt. R. R. Wilson, jumped in a jet to chase after this UFO. Air traffic control watched the jet and the UFO blip on the radar, and then, both objects suddenly vanished at the same time. They described it as the mystery blip “swallowing” the other.

The Air Force sent rescue planes to search for the jet, and even dove into the water all over Lake Superior looking for the crash. None of its remains were ever found. The agents of Project Blue Book investigated the scene of the missing aircrafts, and alluded to the fact that they had seen similar incidents happen before, but were not allowed to say what they knew. In later years, the US government tried to claim that the mystery blip was an airplane from the Canadian Royal Air Force, but the Canadian government has firmly denied that it was one of their planes.

6. The Levelland Case

In 1957, two men in Levelland, Texas, witnessed a “rocket” taking off in the middle of a field, and then flying toward their truck at full speed. Their engine failed, and it was impossible for them to drive away. They were scared for their lives, so they jumped out of the vehicle and into a nearby ditch. As they rocket flew over them, they felt an immense amount of heat. As soon as the rocket was far away, their truck started back up again. They drove home and called the police. Sheriff Weir Clem (as if you needed further evidence that this took place in Texas) thought this was a prank, and decided to brush off that first phone call. That same night, several other people called in to say that a glowing ball of light descended from the sky and hovered near their cars, causing all of their engines to fail simultaneously. After the ball flew away, their cars worked again.

There were a total of 15 calls to the police who all reported similar incidents at different times, in different locations around the city. Sheriff Clem jumped into his car to investigate, and at 1:30 a.m. that night witnessed the phenomenon first-hand. His police cruiser stopped working for a moment, until the UFO went away.

The government investigated the scene, and took the statements from the witnesses. They blamed it on a lightning storm, even though there was no storm that night. The government called it “ball lightning,” which is an unexplained phenomenon that has been recorded since the 1800s. This is interesting, though, because ball lightning is incredibly rare, and it only occurs during thunderstorms. So it doesn’t make sense that this would happen multiple times in one night, hours apart from one another, on a clear night. It also doesn’t account for the reports of the rocket. A professor named Allen Hynek, who assisted during Project Blue Book, wasn’t satisfied with the explanation either. He wrote that there is “absence of evidence that ball lightning can stop cars and put out headlights.”

5. The Lubbock Lights

In August of 1951, a group of college professors were sitting together in a backyard in Lubbock, Texas. They noticed bluish-green lights flying above them in formation, similar to a flock of birds. Over the course of that week, several other people in the town noticed these same lights appearing at night. A man named Carl Hart managed to take 5 photographs. While they were in black and white, it was clear these lights were clustered in a formation, and that it doesn’t look like any aircraft that we know of. The photographs were published in local newspapers, and even made their way into Life Magazine. When studying the photographs, Edward Ruppelt from Project Blue Book noted that every time a light moved, it was in a pattern. They were traveling at 600 miles per hour, over 2,000 feet in the air.

In 1997, an incredibly similar sighting happened over Phoenix, Arizona that was witnessed by over 20,000 people. Many witnesses claim that they saw one gigantic airship, and the lights were in a V formation on the edge of the UFO. The Air Force eventually came forward to say that they had been conducting a mission called “Project Snowbird” where they were test-piloting jets in the middle of the night, and dropped several flares from the sky. However, people have tried to recreate the phenomenon by dropping flares from planes, and it didn’t look anything like the Phoenix Lights. The timing reported by the government also didn’t add up. For both incidents, there is no rational explanation that actually makes sense.

4. The Washington DC UFO Incident of 1952

On July 19, 1952, air traffic control at Washington National Airport spotted 7 unidentified blips on their radar. Witnesses all over Washington DC could also see these objects. They were described as orange lights that would hover, and then randomly move at extreme speeds, before hovering in place again. People were so scared of what they saw in the sky, and they were calling the police so much, the city’s communication system completely crashed.

The government claimed that these were weather balloons. However, weather balloons are so small they don’t normally show up on airport radar, and there are never 7 in a cluster. They were also moving faster than any airplane the air traffic controller had ever seen. The agents working with Project Blue Book knew that these UFOs were very real, but the widespread panic in Washington DC was a sign that people could not handle even the possibility of aliens and UFOs. From then on, the government began taking the stance that if anyone claimed UFOs were real, they would start gaslighting them. Witnesses who reported incidents were now questioned about their sanity, or accused of using drugs. The public was no longer reporting everything they saw in the sky, for fear of earning a reputation of being crazy.  

3. Barney and Betty Hill

In 1961, married couple Barney and Betty Hill were on their way home from vacation. They were driving through a rural part of New Hampshire in the middle of the night when they spotted a flying object above them. They thought that it was a satellite, so they pulled the car over to look with their binoculars. At the time, satellites were still a very new technology, so it was exciting to spot one. The Hills could see that it was an aircraft roughly 1,000 feet off the ground, so they assumed it was a low-flying airplane. They describe the UFO as being shaped like a pancake with windows all around it. The craft did not need to turn around, and it could move back and forth freely at high speeds, so there was no way their car could drive fast enough to escape.

When they looked at their watches, they realized that 2 hours had passed the blink of an eye, and they had no memory of that lost time. After this incident, they both began to have horrible nightmares almost every night. It got so bad, they needed to seek help from a psychiatrist.

Both Barney and Betty Hill went under hypnosis separately to help them recover their suppressed memories of that night. They both remembered identical incidents of being abducted by the beings on the craft, and having experiments conducted on them. There are over 10 hours of these interviews.

When Barney goes through his memories, he is very calm and rational for most of the interviews. Then, in the moments when he describes interacting with the aliens, he has fits of screaming and extreme fear. He talks about trying to run, or reaching for his gun. At one point, as he is reliving his memories in a dream-like state. He says, “I don’t understand. Are we being robbed?” When he is asked to describe what the aliens looked like, he said that one was like a friendly red headed Irishman, while another had an “evil” face, “like a German Nazi.” Everyone on the ship wore black military uniforms, and they all had “slanted eyes.” He also insinuated that he could communicate with these people without speaking. He said, “They’re in my brain.”

In the adaptations of Barney and Betty Hill’s encounter, artists always make these men in uniform out to be far more alien-like than described in their testimony. However, they repeat on multiple occasions that they were abducted and experimented on by men. The agents from Project Blue Book interviewed the Hills, and they were told to keep their story a secret. This case is considered to be the first recorded alien abduction story.

Since the Hills were a mixed race couple in the 1960s, they began receiving death threats. In a lot of ways, this incident ruined their reputations. They would not have gained anything from lying about this. Something clearly happened to them — but whether it was aliens, or some advanced technology here on Earth, we may never know.  

2. Portage County UFO Chase

In 1966, a Portage County, Ohio police officer named Dale Spaur was investigating an abandoned vehicle when he witnessed a glowing aircraft rising out of the woods. He could hear a loud engine, and feel a huge amount of heat blowing on him as it rose into the air. When it was in the sky, he could see that it was a silver, disc-shaped UFO. He chased after it in his squad car, and got on his radio for backup. Other police officers joined in the chase, and they followed the object for 86 miles.

Government agents from Project Blue Book showed up to listen to testimony from the police officers. The officers were told that they saw light refracting off of the planet Venus, which was apparently visible that day. At this point, new leadership had taken over Project Blue Book. Instead of performing experiments and making actual scientific inquiry into the cases, they would just show up and debunk everything. This incident completely ruined Spaur’s life. He became the laughingstock of the town, labeled as “crazy” for believing in UFOs. His wife left him and took their kids, he was fired from his job, and he had almost nothing left. He had to move to West Virginia to work in a coal mine, where he fell 70 feet down a shaft and broke his back. He never backed down from his story, but says that he wished he’d never seen anything that day. 

1. The Phenomenon of Blank

The CIA hired a nuclear physicist named Edward Condon to go through Edward Ruppelt’s reports with the goal of debunking his findings. Condon had worked on the Manhattan Project, and he was an expert in nuclear weapons. In 1968, he released what is now known as the Condon Report, which basically declares that an extraterrestrial explanation of UFOs is unlikely.

Project Blue Book was disbanded in 1969, and the internal government memo claimed that the CIA had concluded that UFOs were not dangerous, and that extraterrestrial life did not exist. But 20 years later, someone high up in the government was sending letters to William Sessions, who was the director of the FBI at that time. Even though these were declassified documents, the identity of the writer was still redacted. This person wrote several letters to Sessions about the possibility of having the FBI pick up where the CIA and Air Force left off.

Apparently, they had both agreed that UFOs and aliens may actually be real. In one of the letters, the anonymous writer says to Sessions, “You may recall that while you were in Fort Smith visiting your father, I called and briefly mentioned my desire to discuss the phenomenon of (BLANK) in general, and the role of the U.S. government participation.” In the same letter, the writer mentions a government cover-up involving “alien bodies.” For whatever reason, the FBI redacted a single word — The phenomenon of what, exactly?

Whoever wrote these letters had an incredibly powerful position in the government. They had access to top secret information. They mention receiving phone calls from the Pentagon, and having the director of the FBI’s personal phone number. Whoever this person was, the government doesn’t want us to know — possibly because it may have been a well-known name. At the very end of one of the letters, the anonymous person writes about their mutual friend, “P.S., As the ultimate challenge, why not ask President Bush himself?”

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