Date: Sun Jun 27 1993 10:15:00
From: SHEPPARD GORDON
Unidentified Flying Hypothesis
OUT THERE The Government's Secret Quest for Extraterrestrials by
Howard Blum (Simon & Schuster: $19.95; 288 pp.)
Byline: Philip J. Klass
Credit: Klass, senior avionics editor for Aviation Week &
Space Technology magazine for nearly 35 years and now a contributing
editor, is a skeptical UFO investigator. He has authored four books
on the subject, including "UFOs: The Public Deceived" (Prometheus
THE LOS ANGELES TIMES
"This is a true story," former New York Times reporter Howard
Blum assures his readers in the opening page of this book. "I
verified every name, every incident, date and conversation."
The publisher's blurb on the review copy characterizes the book
as a "startling expose that reads with the dramatic narrative drive
of a novel but . . . it is absolutely true!"
The cornerstone of Blum's book is his claim that in early 1987,
the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) secretly launched
a new investigation into UFOs-unidentified flying objects.
Approximately 18 years earlier, the Pentagon had announced it was
closing down the U.S. Air Force's investigatory effort after two
decades because it had found no evidence that any UFOs were either
extraterrestrial or Soviet craft.
Blum, whose earlier books include one on the Walker spy family,
claims that the Pentagon's new interest in UFOs was triggered by an
extraordinary incident that occurred shortly before Christmas,
1986. It allegedly involved the Navy Space Surveillance System
(NSSS), a key element in the global Space Surveillance Network
operated by the U.S. Space Command.
The NSSS is an "electronic fence" that stretches across our
Southern states from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. It was
built in the late 1950s, following the launch of the first Soviet
satellites, to enable Washington to maintain a running inventory of
all objects in space-both satellites and space debris-that pass
over the United States.
As Blum describes the incident, Navy Cmdr. Sheila Mondran was on
duty in Space Command's underground command center, deep inside
Cheyenne Mountain near Colorado Springs, when a computer display
showed a strange, uncatalogued space object passing through the
electronic fence. According to Blum, the object was performing
"crash dives followed by sudden climbs at astonishing speeds."
Had Blum checked, he would have discovered that the Navy's
electronic fence could not possibly have detected such maneuvers-as
I earlier learned when I wrote a technical article on the system.
Furthermore, the system does not provide a "real-time" display at
Space Command's center, which Blum claims Mondran was viewing.
Blum's dramatic scenario of events alleged to have triggered the
Pentagon's renewed interest in UFOs is riddled with errors. For
example, he reports that Cmdr. Mondran, after parking her car
outside Cheyenne Mountain, rode a military bus inside and "took a
polished steel elevator . . . descending almost 2500 ft." There is
no such elevator-as I know from my several visits to the
underground center. The only elevator is a three-story freight
The military bus would have delivered Cmdr. Mondran to the
"ground floor" of the command center inside Cheyenne Mountain. She
would have walked up one flight of stairs to the Space Defense
Center, which is on the second floor, not the third floor as Blum
reports. (Blum claims he called Space Command to ask which floor it
was on, as an example of his meticulous research.)
In response to my request to Space Command's public-affairs
office, Maj. Tom Niemann told me he could find no record that a
Cmdr. Sheila Mondran had been stationed there. When he checked with
the Navy, Niemann told me, they could not find any record of an
officer named Sheila Mondran.
Blum describes experiments allegedly conducted by the DIA using
"remote viewers" ("psychics") who, he claims, demonstrated the
ability to "see," and thus pinpoint, the location of submerged
Soviet and U.S. submarines. When the DIA learned of the
extraordinary UFO incident, Blum claims, it brought in three
psychics to "see" retroactively what the object looked like when it
penetrated the electronic fence 48 hours earlier.
All three of the psychics drew sketches of "rounded, wingless
aircraft," Blum tells his readers. Armed with these sketches of
flying saucers, Army Col. Harold E. Phillips, a DIA intelligence
analyst with a long-time interest in UFOs, according to Blum,
managed to convince his agency that "the time had at last come to
convene a top-secret working group to investigate the possibility
that extraterrestrials were making contact with this planet."
Although Blum claims to have talked briefly with Col. Phillips
by telephone, the only officer with that name who shows up in Army
records is a lieutenant colonel (not a full colonel), and he
retired three years before the purported UFO group was formed.
Pentagon telephone directories for 1987-88 show an "H. E.
Phillips," but he is a Navy commander, not an Army colonel. To
avoid any possibility of Pentagon "disinformation," I checked the
University of Southern Illinois, in Carbondale, from which Blum
says Phillips graduated with a degree in engineering. The
university could not find any record of a Harold E. Phillips.
According to Blum, the most vexing problem that confronted
Phillips, as chief of the UFO Working Group, was to find a "highly
promising" UFO report for the panel to investigate. Blum writes:
"For a time, the colonel was convinced he had found his
investigative target in Gulf Breeze, Florida. The sightings in this
Southern town were shared by a variety of witnesses, and there was
even a blurred film of what many responsible observers swore was a
UFO. It turned out the Air Force was testing a classified
low-flying surveillance plane in the area."
This explanation is seriously flawed. The object that appeared
on the Polaroid prints of Floridian Ed Walters was saucer-shaped
with illuminated portholes-hardly an appropriate design for a
"low-flying surveillance plane." This explanation also is ruled out
if one accepts Walters' claim that he saw four-foot-high creatures
being "beamed-down" from the UFO.
There was slight blurring of the background in a few of Walters'
photos, due to camera motion during the one-second time-exposure
used for the night photos, but the image of the UFO was not
blurred. This logically prompted even some long-time "UFO
believers" to conclude that the photos were hoax double-exposures
made with a small model. Recently, a small model flying saucer
similar to the UFO in the Walters photos was discovered hidden in
the attic of the house in which he lived when he took his UFO
Next, according to Blum, Col. Phillips' interest focused on
reports of night sightings of a giant UFO reported by many
observers in Hudson Valley communities north of New York City. "But
then, just when Col. Phillips was on the verge of recommending that
the Working Group dispatch a photographic team" to the area,
according to Blum, he received a newspaper report that the giant
UFO was nothing more than a group of small-aircraft pilots engaged
in a prank. More than three years earlier, this hoax had been
reported by Discover magazine in the cover story of its November,
Phillips finally discovered a "perfect candidate" for the UFO
Working Group to investigate: Elmwood, a small town in central
Wisconsin. Elmwood's citizens often report seeing UFOs, and its
mayor had announced plans to build a $50 million UFO landing site.
Blum claims Phillips sent two covert agents to Elmwood, which
prompted Blum's own visit. He arrived in time for Elmwood's annual
"UFO Days" festival and devoted about one-sixth of his book to his
interviews with local citizens.
Eventually, writes Blum, Col. Phillips learned of the "Top
Secret MJ-12 papers," made public by three UFOlogists in the spring
of 1987, which claim that the U.S. government recovered a crashed
saucer and several extraterrestrial bodies about 40 years earlier.
If the MJ-12 claims were true, clearly somebody forgot to brief the
top DIA officials who had approved creation of the UFO Working
Group. Blum provides an even-handed pro/con treatment, indicating
he himself is unsure whether they are authentic.
I appear in Blum's book as the person whose research indicates
that the MJ-12 papers are counterfeit. Blum offers a
not-unflattering summary of my career as a technical journalist and
skeptical UFO investigator. I was rather surprised at his reference
to my "jaunty, pencil-thin figure," because we never have met and I
have been 10 pounds overweight for 30 years. (We did talk by
telephone on several occasions.) I counted 24 other factual errors
in the five pages in which Blum highlights my career.
During my Jan. 20, 1989, telephone conversation with Blum, he
admitted: "All I have now is a nice weird story and you can poke a
thousand holes in it." That aptly summarizes the tale he tells in
"Out There," which could more accurately be titled "Spaced Out."