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.