The Robertson Panel, 1952-53
For years rumors have circulated to the effect that the Central Intelligence Agency has been deeply implicated in the UFO mystery and in the crashed UFO controversy in particular. These assertions are further bolstered by the contents of the Majestic 12 documents. Nevertheless, at an official level at least, the CIA has only confirmed its direct involvement in one UFO study – the so-called Robertson Panel. To fully understand the official story of the Robertson Panel, take note of the following from the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) historian, Gerald Raines:
In January 1953, H. Marshall Chadwell [CIA Director of Scientific Intelligence] and H. P. Robertson, a noted physicist from the California Institute of Technology, put together a distinguished panel of nonmilitary scientists to study the UFO issue. It included Robertson as chairman; Samuel A. Goudsmit, a nuclear physicist from the Brookhaven National Laboratories; Luis Alvarez, a high-energy physicist; Thornton Page, the deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Operations Research Office and an expert on radar and electronics; and Lloyd Berkner, a director of the Brookhaven National Laboratories and a specialist in geophysics.
The charge to the panel was to review the available evidence on UFOs and to consider the possible dangers of the phenomena to US national security. The panel met from 14 to 17 January 1953. It reviewed Air Force data on UFO case histories and, after spending 12 hours studying the phenomena, declared that reasonable explanations could be suggested for most, if not all, sightings. For example, after reviewing motion-picture film taken of a UFO sighting near Tremonton, Utah, on 2 July 1952 and one near Great Falls, Montana, on 15 August 1950, the panel concluded that the images on the Tremonton film were caused by sunlight reflecting off seagulls and that the images at Great Falls were sunlight reflecting off the surface of two Air Force interceptors.
The panel concluded unanimously that there was no evidence of a direct threat to national security in the UFO sightings. Nor could the panel find any evidence that the objects sighted might be extraterrestrials. It did find that continued emphasis on UFO reporting might threaten “the orderly functioning” of the government by clogging the channels of communication with irrelevant reports and by inducing “hysterical mass behavior” harmful to constituted authority. The panel also worried that potential enemies contemplating an attack on the United States might exploit the UFO phenomena and use them to disrupt US air defenses.
To meet these problems, the panel recommended that the National Security Council debunk UFO reports and institute a policy of public education to reassure the public of the lack of evidence behind UFOs. It suggested using the mass media, advertising, business clubs, schools, and even the Disney corporation to get the message across. Reporting at the height of McCarthyism, the panel also recommended that such private UFO groups as the Civilian Flying Saucer Investigators in Los Angeles and the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization in Wisconsin be monitored for subversive activitiesThe Robertson panel’s conclusions were strikingly similar to those of the earlier Air Force project reports on SIGN and GRUDGE and to those of the CIA’s own OSI Study Group. All investigative groups found that UFO reports indicated no direct threat to national security and no evidence of visits by extra-terrestrials.
Following the Robertson panel findings, the Agency abandoned efforts to draft an NSCID on UFOs. The Scientific Advisory Panel on UFOs (the Robertson panel) submitted its report to the IAC, the Secretary of Defense, the Director of the Federal Civil Defense Administration, and the Chairman of the National Security Resources Board. CIA officials said no further consideration of the subject appeared warranted, although they continued to monitor sightings in the interest of national security. Philip Strong and Fred Durant from OSI also briefed the Office of National Estimates on the findings. CIA officials wanted knowledge of any Agency interest in the subject of flying saucers carefully restricted, noting not only that the Robertson panel report was classified but also that any mention of CIA sponsorship of the panel was forbidden. This attitude would later cause the Agency major problems relating to its credibility.
Despite the history of the CIA’s involvement in the UFO controversy as presented by Haines and the Agency itself, suspicions abound that the full story has yet to be told. Victor Marchetti, formerly of the CIA, has stated that he heard from within “high-levels” of the Agency accounts of the bodies of “little gray men” recovered from a crashed UFO held at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio. Similarly, the late UFO investigator Major Donald Keyhoe learned from insider sources that the purpose of the Robertson Panel was to debunk and demystify the UFO subject and to allow the CIA to continue its UFO investigations at a far more covert level – something that ties in with the material presented in the Majestic documents.