As US, Russia reignite rivalry, re-examining ‘UFO’ information warfare waged in 1940s


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Continuing from our previous article and the ongoing once-every-half-century UFO hearings in the United States, we’ll revisit a slice of history. Since the 1940s, UFOs have been an integral part of the information war between the United States and the Soviet Union, even leading to a mass frenzy in America. Here, we analyze the geopolitical impact of UFOs and extraterrestrial lore, a remnant of information diplomacy that still endures today.

In the realm of UFO lore, the 1947 “Roswell Incident” has an iconic status of its own. The incident revolved around the crash of what was believed to be a “flying disc” with child-sized beings, believed to be extraterrestrials, on board near Roswell, New Mexico in July 1947 .

As with all things UFOs, much has been written and speculated about the Roswell incident, but the truth may well be buried under multiple cover-ups…layers thereof. The surge of the Cold War at the time only added to the intrigue surrounding the incident.

In his 2011 book Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base, American investigative journalist Annie Jacobsen made startling claims about the Roswell incident. In his book, Jacobsen claimed that the flying disc was a Soviet aircraft based on a design created by Walter and Reimar Horten, two brothers who were engineers in Nazi Germany. The Horten brothers created the world’s first “flying wing” jet aircraft. A flying wing is an aircraft without a tail and without a defined fuselage; the design is considered optimal for long-range missions and to reduce radar signature. The Horten brothers’ flying wing design, which first flew in 1944, and their work laid the foundation for the research that created the American B-2 stealth bomber four decades later.

In the late 1940s, a flying wing design based on the work of the Horten brothers was reportedly intended not only to evade radar detection, but also to cause panic in the United States.

Jacobsen claimed that the child-sized airmen aboard the crashed craft were the result of Soviet human experimentation, with humans being surgically or biologically modified to have enlarged heads and eyes. Explaining the purpose of the bizarre mission, Jacobsen said NPR in 2011 that airmen “had been made to look like aliens a la Orson Welles War of the Worldsand it was a warning shot on the president [Harry] Truman’s arc, so to speak. In 1947, when this would have originally happened, the Soviets did not yet have the nuclear bomb, and Stalin and Truman were locked in horns with each other, and Stalin could not yet compete in the nuclear weapons, but he could certainly compete in the world of black propaganda – and that was his goal”.

The Roswell incident thus provides insight into the scope of claims, counterclaims and conspiracy theories that result when the worlds of UFOs and Cold War intrigue intertwine.

American concerns about Soviet use of UFOs were real. In October 1952, a CIA memorandum warned that the Soviet Union might use UFO sightings as a means of psychological warfare because a “good proportion of our [US] the population is mentally conditioned to accept the unbelievable”. This, the CIA warned, had the potential to trigger mass panic and hysteria. The CIA also warned that the Soviet Union could use UFOs to deceive American early warning radars in case of war.

No more Nazi flying saucers

In August 1953, a CIA report referred to claims by Georg Klein, a German engineer, who said that Nazi Germany had flight tested a “flying saucer” in February 1945, which reached a height of 12,300 meters and a speed of 2,200 km/h (about 1.7 times faster than the speed of sound). Klein claimed the craft could take off vertically and land in tight spaces.

Klein claimed that Soviet forces captured plans to build such flying saucers and building materials for them as well as personnel working on them when they took control of the Polish city of Breslau (later renamed Wroclaw) during the Second World War.

The speed claim seemed outlandish because, officially, the first time the sound barrier was broken was in 1947 by US Air Force ace Chuck Yeager.

A comprehensive report Final Report of the Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, by the University of Colorado was submitted to the US Air Force in 1968. The report became famous as the “Condon Report”, named after its author, Dr. Edward U. Condon. Condon argued that some of the mystery sites seen by the US military, and believed to be UFOs, originated in the Soviet Union. This included flashing lights in the sky seen by U.S. Air Force servicemen stationed in Hokkaido, Japan, in February 1953. Condon surmised that it was “very likely” the sight was a launched “lit” Pibal balloon by the Soviet Union from the Kuril Islands. Pibal balloons are used in meteorology to study the behavior of clouds.

So, on the one hand, the US government was concerned that the USSR was using the UFO bogey as a means of creating fear among Americans. But, on the other hand, Washington DC did not hesitate to use the specter of mysterious flying saucers as an effective smokescreen for the flights of two legendary Cold War spy planes: the U-2 Dragon Lady and the SR -71 Blackbird.

In 1997, CIA historian Gerald K. Haines published a study of UFO sightings for the agency. Intelligence Studies, a series of public articles. The Washington Post then reported “The Air Force and the CIA deliberately misled the public by claiming that thousands of sightings of unidentified flying objects were caused by ice crystals, temperature inversions and other artifices of nature, when in fact they were produced by the flight of high-altitude flying objects, super-secret spy planes.” Haines’ article claimed that “more than half” of all UFO sightings in the 1950s and 1960s were “explained by manned reconnaissance flights”.

The U-2 and SR-71 proved to be Cold War workhorses, with the discovery by a U-2 flight of Soviet ballistic missiles in Cuba triggering the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

Blue Book Project

From 1947 to 1969, the US Air Force documented a total of 12,618 UFO sightings in the United States. The investigation of these sightings was covered by the famous Blue Book Project, a US Air Force study. Blue Book Project claims that “of a total of 12,618 sightings reported to Project Blue Book, 701 remained ‘unidentified’.”

Blue Book Project remained a source of heated debate among UFO enthusiasts, primarily due to his seemingly docile findings, which were:

  • No UFO reported, investigated and assessed by the Air Force has ever been an indication of a threat to our national security

  • There was no evidence submitted or discovered by the Air Force that the sightings classified as “unidentified” represented technological developments or principles beyond the scope of modern scientific knowledge; and

  • There was no evidence that the sightings classified as “unidentified” were extraterrestrial vehicles

It wasn’t just in the United States where secret weapons were often confused with UFOs. Beginning in March 1967, for a period of about six months, residents of the Soviet Union, from Ukraine to the Caucasus Mountains, saw a bizarre sight of a crescent shape moving six times across the sky . Tell the incidents, Air and Space Magazine reported in 2017 “The crescents moved west to east, convex edge forward, accompanied by smaller ‘sparkles’. To some observers they were about the same angular size as the moon; others , further north, reported them as much larger. They always appeared near sunset, as the afternoon turned into evening.”

Unsurprisingly, the Soviet press labeled the sites as possible UFOs. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, evidence showed that it was a mysterious long-range ballistic missile, the R-36 Orb. This missile was designed to reenter the atmosphere and pass into low Earth orbit, before arriving close to its target. This would have made it impossible for U.S. early warning systems to detect the weapon, given the radar technology that existed in the 1960s.

So how do we make sense of the Soviet “role” in the UFO frenzy seen in the United States? Herb Strentz, professor emeritus of journalism at Drake University in Iowa, once observed: “The UFO phenomenon has been prolonged by McCarthyism.” McCarthyism referred to the period of popular paranoia in the United States in the 1950s, led by Senator Joseph McCarthy who alleged that communists had infiltrated the country’s government, academia, and popular culture. Strentz correlated the rise of the UFO frenzy in the early 1950s to growing concerns about communist influence in the United States and around the world.

Strentz, considered an authority on media coverage of UFOs, wasn’t too far off the mark. Popular interest in UFOs seemed to wane beginning in the 1970s. Experts have attributed this to growing public acceptance that mysterious objects once seen in the sky were in fact advanced military systems and also to the fact that both Cold War sides had conquered space and little evidence of extraterrestrial life had emerged.

When the United States and the USSR “promised” to unite to fight aliens

The last decade of the Cold War, with Ronald Reagan at the helm of the United States, is considered one of the most important periods in modern world history. On the one hand, the 1980s saw a massive rearmament program in the United States and a proactive approach to reducing Soviet influence around the world. But on the other hand, East and West have also sought to address concerns about their growing nuclear arsenals.

A little-known point of “agreement” between the two sides came on the sidelines of a summit between Ronald Reagan and new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Geneva in 1985. Speaking about the 2009 summit, Gorbachev said Reagan asked him “What would you do if the United States were suddenly attacked by someone from outer space? Would you help us? »

The Christian Science Monitor reported Gorbachev said, “I said, ‘No doubt about it.’ [Reagan] said, ‘We too.'”

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