Responding to White House concerns, Director of Central Intelligence, General Walter Bedell Smith set about the task the following day. Deputy Director of Intelligence Robert Amory, Jr. assigned a study group to the Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI), anchored by his chief science advisor, Assistant Director of Scientific Intelligence Dr. H. Marshall Chadwell. Armory asked the group to focus on the national security implications of UFOs, relaying DCI Smith's concerns, and the CIA’s reponsibility by statute to coordinate the intelligence effort required to solve the problem.49
In August and September, OSI consulted with some of the country’s most important scientists. Chadwell’s tentative conclusions addressed national security issues, recommending psychological-warfare studies and a national policy on how to present the issue to the public. He also acknowledged the air vulnerability issue, and the need for improved procedures for rapid identification of unknown air traffic—a vital concern of many at the time, since the U.S. had no early warning system against a surprise attack.
In October, Ruppelt and Blue Book provided a formal briefing, and by the end of November, OSI arrived at the conclusion that the phenomenon was neither American or Soviet.50 Chadwell briefed DCI Smith on 2 December, convinced “something was going on that must have immediate attention.”
Sightings of unexplained objects at great altitudes and traveling at high speeds in the vicinity of major U.S. defense installations are of such nature that they are not attributable to natural phenomena or known types of aerial vehicles.
He recommended an ad hoc committee be formed to “convince the responsible authorities in the community that immediate research and development on this subject must be undertaken,” with an expectation that this would lead to a National Security Council Intelligence Directive (NSCID) for a prioritized project to study UFOs, with research coordinated throughout the intelligence, and the defense, research and development community.
Two days later, at a meeting of the Intelligence Advisory Committee, it was agreed that the DCI should “enlist the services of selected scientists to review and appraise the available evidence in the light of pertinent scientific theories” and draft an NSCID on the subject. Director of Air Force Intelligence, Maj. Gen. John A. Samford offered full cooperation.51 Everyone expected a scientific advisory group that would recommend an ongoing systematic study in a search for truth. What they got was something quite different.
In January 1953, a prominent group of five scientists, headed by physicist and CIA consultant Howard P. Robertson, of the California Institute of Technology, convened “to evaluate any possible threat to national security posed by Unidentified Flying Objects and to make recommendations thereon.” After four days, in which 12 hours were spent reviewing Air Force data, the Robertson Panel drafted a classified report concluding:
- As a result of its considerations, the Panel concludes:
We firmly believe that there is no residuum of cases which indicates Phenomena which are attributable to foreign artifacts capable of hostile acts, and that there is no evidence that the phenomena indicates a need for the revision of current scientific concepts.
- That the evidence presented on Unidentified Flying Objects shows no indication that these phenomena constitute a direct physical threat to national security.
- The Panel further concludes:
We cite as examples the clogging of channels of communication by irrelevant reports, the danger of being led by continued false alarms to ignore real indications of hostile action, and the cultivation of a morbid national psychology in which skillful hostile propaganda could induce hysterical behavior and harmful distrust of duly constituted authority.
- That the continued emphasis on the reporting of these phenomena does, in these parlous times, result in a threat to the orderly functioning of the protective organs of the body politic.
- In order most effectively to strengthen the national facilities for the timely recognition and the appropriate handling of true indications of hostile action, and to minimize the concomitant dangers alluded to above, the Panel recommends:
We suggest that these aims may be achieved by an integrated program designed to reassure the public of the total lack of evidence of Inimical forces behind the phenomenon, to train personnel to recognize and reject false indications quickly and effectively, and to strengthen regular channels for the evaluation of and prompt reaction to true indications of hostile measures.52
- That the national security agencies take immediate steps to strip the Unidentified Flying Objects of the special status they have been given and the aura of mystery they have unfortunately acquired;
- That the national security agencies institute policies on intelligence, training, and public education designed to prepare the material defenses and the morale of the country to recognize most promptly and to react most effectively to true indications of hostile intent or action.
The panel conclusions were strikingly similar to those of the 1949 Project Sign and Grudge reports, though more decidedly explicit. Both recommended that the investigation and study be reduced in scope, and the Air Force “eliminate or greatly reduce the mystery.” Grudge recommended that governmental agencies interested in psychological-warfare be informed, and that such agencies coordinate in and provide for public release of information to dispel “public apprehension.”
The panel concluded unanimously that there was no evidence of a direct threat to national security in the UFO sightings. 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 U.S. air defenses.
A clearly defined approach to the problem was established. 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, mentioning Arthur Godfrey as potentially valuable in reaching “a mass audience of certain levels,” advertising, business clubs, schools, and even Walt Disney animated cartoons to get the message across.53
Reporting at the height of McCarthyism, the panel also recommended that such private UFO groups as the Civilian Saucer Investigators (CSI) in Los Angeles, and the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization in Wisconsin be monitored for subversive activities.54
Based on the recommendations of the Robertson Panel the official policy on UFOs took another dramatic turn. The Air Force could now sidestep the substantive issues of the nature and origin of the objects, and concentrate on the public relations problems involved with eliminating UFO reports. Project Blue Book was effectively relieved of its primary investigative burden.55
In August 1953 the Air Force issued Air Force Regulation 200-2, which institutionalized secrecy at the air-base level providing control over the UFO reports it received, while also prohibiting the release of any information about a sighting to the public except when the sighting was positively identified.56
By December, in response to growing air defense concerns, the Joint Chiefs of Staff promulgated Joint-Army-Navy-Air Force-Publication (JANAP) 146, subtitled, Canadian-United States Communications Instructions for Vital Intelligence Sightings, which established protocol for relaying “information of vital importance…which in the opinion of the observer, requires very urgent defensive and/or investigative action.” The publication made releasing any information to the public about an unidentified flying object report a crime under the Espionage Act, punishable by a one-to-ten year prison term or a $10,000 fine “to emphasize the necessity for the handling of such information within official channels only.”57
Throughout the fifties, the Air Force continued to reorganize its UFO program implementing the Robertson Panel recommendations, and thereby minimizing—actually discouraging—public interest by reducing the number of unidentified reports. To further affect this, they devised a new classification system in which the identified category was broadly defined to include probable and possible explanations. The new system worked marvelously, and the number of unknowns fell precipitously. In press releases, and final Blue Book evaluation statistics, the probable and possible categories disappeared, listed simply as indentified. Publicly there were no degrees of doubt.58
Although Project Blue Book continued its work, it would never again be able to conduct a program of thorough investigations. From 1953 to 1969 Blue Book’s main thrust was public relations. In March 1954 Capt. Charles Hardin was appointed to head Project Blue Book. Ruppelt later wrote:
[Chuck Hardin] doesn’t have much to do. By his own admission, he has a good deal at ATIC and he is playing it for all it is worth. General Watson doesn’t like UFOs, so Hardin is keeping things just as quiet as possible and staying out from under everyone’s feet. In other words, being a regular Air Force, he is just doing as little as possible because he knows how controversial the subject is and his philosophy is that if you don’t do anything you won’t get hurt. He definitely doesn’t believe in UFOs, in fact he thinks that anyone who is even interested is crazy. They bore him.59
For the most part, the Air Force was successful in the public relations campaign, though they were not without detractors. Major Donald E. Keyhoe had been stirring doubts about the Air Force handling of UFO matters since 1950, and had gone on to write three best-selling books attacking the Air Force position concerning UFO secrecy.60 The Air Force refused to declassify its reports, and found itself in a dilemma. In refuting the secrecy charges the Air Force contradicted it’s claim that the sighting files were open, incurring criticism while appearing to be covering up as the critics charged. In 1957, to the dismay of the Air Force, Maj. Keyhoe took over as director of the Washington-based National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP). With a growing nationwide network and a distinguished board of directors to back him, he began a lobbying effort for congressional hearings.