The press release for Unidentified refers to the “study the government did not do” and that might sound it bit mysterious – it’s supposed to since it is an effort to get attention. In reality we could have taken it further and talked about “studies” plural, since there are actually several types of intelligence related studies that were not done, by the Air Force, by its consulting groups and by the larger national intelligence community. The book explores that issue in considerable detail, highlighting the fact that even though senior Air Force officers were very much aware of specific patterns within the UFO reports of the first years, and actually proposed certain focused technical collections field studies, those studies were never conducted. In the earliest post war years that was simply because resources such as radar systems, radar operators and even interceptors were not available. Later those resources were tied up by both the Korean war and the urgent priority of setting up a continental air defense network to intercept what was assumed to be an imminent, preemptive Soviet attack on the nation.

Few UFO books make mention of those limitations and in the early years certainly the Air Force never made a point of them since it was constantly concerned about exposing the limitation of its air defense capability. Continental air defense was virtually nonexistent when the first flying saucers were reported in 1947 and remained extremely limited until 1951/1952.  At that point in time matters became even more embarrassing – and more concerning from a security standpoint – because the defenses which had been put into place proved largely ineffectual in responding to UFO reports. Even with radar tracking and interceptor scrambles and actual intercepts, the unknown targets could either evade or simply leave the interceptors behind at will.  That was not something the military wanted touted in the media, it was bad enough to have newspaper headlines about UFOs repeatedly being tracked over Washington DC with interceptors responding only after delays of up to two hours.

Following that fiasco the CIA was brought into the picture, internally elevating certain concerns that Air Force intelligence was aware of but had not itself elevated as a true national security concern,

“Sightings of unidentified flying objects at great altitudes and traveling in the vicinity of major U.S. defense installations are of such a nature that they are not attributable to natural phenomena or known types of aerial vehicles.”


Marshall Chadwell, Assistant Director, Office of Scientific Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, December, 1952


You can imagine what sort of issues that sort of assessment raised within the Air Force – beginning with the fact that not only were its then current defensive measures unable to cope with those incidents but that the same might well apply to its proposed computerized, automated air defense network (later named SAGE). Even the specifications for that new capability would leave it far short of coping with the speeds and maneuvers being reported. The same would apply to the new Century series interceptors under development and to a variety of new anti-aircraft missiles.  Those weapons could deal with the anticipated Russian bomber attack, but certainly not the most anomalous unknowns being reported. A broader inquiry  might also have shown that air defense exercise against the nation’s own strategic bombing force, SAC, were demonstrating a consistent failure to intercept and stop low level jet bombing strikes, bringing into question the entire, massive military spending program (far greater than the atomic bomb project of WWII).


What happened following that OSI assessment is indeed a fascinating story, with its own unanswered questions. And there are other study mysteries. For example, the Air Force was well aware of the patterns in UFO reports, patterns which pointed to targeting of specific types of military installations and in particular atomic warfare complex facilities. And in 1952 it contracted for a statistical analysis of UFO reports. Not surprisingly that turned into an extended project, yet when the study was finally released to the public (or when some version of it was released at least), the maps and charts used to show geographic distribution of sightings in no way reflect known concentrations in regard to actual military or strategic targets. That part of the study appears to be useless in terms of the patterns we know both Air Force Intelligence and the CIA were seeing, clearly raising questions of incompetence, mis-communication, mis-management – or obfuscation in the released version of the report.


And in the 1960s we see a total lack of strategic/military focus in the final study contracted by the Air Force, the study which produced a report (known as the Condon Report) whose summary and conclusions ignores much of its own investigative work and the data which it collected. In itself the lack of a military focus in any study paid for by the Air Force seems a bit strange when you think about it. On the other hand if the key objective for Air Force was transition the whole problem to the scientific community – divesting itself from an intelligence (and defense) challenge that had defeated it, perhaps it makes a great deal of sense, at least from a pragmatic point of view.


Unidentified explores what the Air Force did and did not do in the way of UFO studies but beyond that it moves on to the subject of what the national intelligence community should have done, might have done, most definitely didn’t do – and that proves even more interesting than what the Air Force failed to do. There were patterns, far more extensive and subtle ones than those being discussed by Air Force Intelligence and the CIA/OSI in 1952.  And those patterns evolved and became far better defined during the following three decades. But that requires a great deal of context and involves several chapters – which means you really need to read the book.


About Larry Hancock

Larry Hancock is a leading historian-researcher in the JFK assassination. Co-author with Connie Kritzberg of November Patriots and author of the 2003 research analysis publication titled also Someone Would Have Talked. In addition, Hancock has published several document collections addressing the 112th Army Intelligence Group, John Martino, and Richard Case Nagell. In 2000, Hancock received the prestigious Mary Ferrell New Frontier Award for the contribution of new evidence in the Kennedy assassination case. In 2001, he was also awarded the Mary Ferrell Legacy Award for his contributions of documents released under the JFK Act.

5 responses »

  1. Carter Dary says:

    Hi Larry, anxious to get your book. I don’t know if I told you but I lived 1/4 mi from a SAGE bldg. during my early years. Airmen wouldn’t let us near it. Though as cagy little guys we sure tried.


    On Mon, Jul 17, 2017 at 10:44 AM, Larry Hancock wrote:

    > Larry Hancock posted: “The press release for Unidentified refers to the > “study the government did not do” and that might sound it bit mysterious – > it’s supposed to since it is an effort to get attention. In reality we > could have taken it further and talked about “studies” plura” >

    • Well I’m happy to know the security folks were doing their jobs – who knows what sort of evil intentions you might have had in mind. And more practically, the SAGE centers had a great deal of military power at their disposal including arrays of anti-aircraft missiles with atomic warheads. Its good to be careful with those things.

      I recall our DI in Air Force basic telling us that if we could not fold our underwear correctly and set up our footlockers to pass inspection, how could they trust us with atomic weapons. I was not totally convinced of the correlation but perhaps its a good thing they never gave me any – atomic weapons that is…

  2. Anthony says:

    Largely agree with the general thrust of your discussion in recent posts. A major difficulty in any analysis is getting a clean dataset. Very few reports have enough hard data in them to positively exclude all known mundane explanations, although some appear to.
    I agree with your comments on the national security considerations that were relevant in the early period (late 40s and early 50s). The fear that this was Russian technology does not appear to have lasted much beyond that time frame however. Some of the other risks also diminished as the UFO community consistently and repeatedly destroyed it’s own credibility (from contactees to the ‘Roswell Slides’ fiasco for example) and air defence became less reliant on reports from human observers.
    The risk of using UFO watchers to pick up clues on new technology remains real but I can’t see why much active disinformation operations would be needed as the UFO community seems to do a pretty good job of deluding itself these days. The NiCAP era with Keyhoe etc was a bit different to that I accept.
    Looking forward to reading it as your approach sounds interesting and your approach very thorough in previous work…but I do worry about the cleanliness of the dataset for any analysis of patterns.

    • Without doubt the cleanliness of the data set is a major concern and I think pulling in too large an amount of data has been one of the long term problems – more sightings and more incidents can do more to complicate the problem than resolve it. I spend a good time talking about that issue in discussing the contemporary on line data bases. I also try to surface the fundamental issues of sources in terms of both perception and memory, especially for sources emerging well after the incident.

      As to the data set in the book, my solution was to use Blue Book military and security reports almost entirely, certainly through 1969 and beyond as available from FOIA. There are a lot of issues with Blue Book parsing but the current NICAP and Sparks lists of some 1,500 “unknowns” from the Blue Book archives were used as the basic data set for the pattern analysis. Those have all been reviewed and re-vetted plus have the advantage of coming from the military where they received initial vetting and at least some minimal level of early investigation and filtering. More importantly those reports were “actionable”, they come from military personnel who are subject to disciplinary action for false reporting and virtually all of them were generated as “threat” reports of unidentified aerial objects – something entered in official logs and reports (which you really don’t want to do when you are in the service unless you are pretty serious since you know there will be an inquiry).

      The data set is extended past 1969 with additional reports obtained via FOIA, again military involving OPREP, SAC and NORAD reports. They are fewer in number but suitable for examining changes in the basic patterns.

      On your other point about disinformation operations, there is a pattern there as well although I really don’t deal with that too much in this book. I think the problem there is that once you start what becomes a successful disinformation campaign (lets say like the APRO/Bennewitz effort) it can assume a life of its own, with the possibility of some of the initial participants essentially hijacking it for their own agendas. Leaving us with grays, reptilians, SERPO and MJ-12. All comparable to certain story lines in the JFK world which are attractive, entertaining and which it seems will never fade away.

  3. Anthony says:

    Thanks for your reply. I think you are right that the BB unknowns are one of the cleaner datasets (along perhaps with the French GEIPAN type Ds). Unfortunately even with the extended BB list many cases don’t seem to have enough data in them to positively rule out all known sources of misidentification, although some do.
    I’m not saying the other cases should have been identified but rather not certain unidentifieds. Hopefully a signal will come through the noise.
    Best wishes

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