• In 1986, a Japan Airlines pilot saw what he described as an unidentified flying object over Alaska closely tailing his 747. He made an evasive move. His career was thrown into turmoil, but he never recanted what he claimed he saw.
• In 1987, a Federal Aviation Administration executive says the CIA warned him not to talk about UFOs because the public would panic.
• In 1997, former Arizona Gov. Fife Symington mocked thousands of people who said they saw mysterious lights over Phoenix, calling out a staffer dressed in a cheesy ET costume at a press conference. Ten years later, he apologized for lying to the media and the public.
What these events have in common is that they are unveiled on a new two-hour History Channel special, "Secret Access: UFOs On The Record," that features in-depth accounts from people who have been willing to risk their jobs and reputations to speak out about their remarkable experiences with UFOs.
"The theme of the program is that UFOs exist, but there's a small percentage of sightings that are significant and haven't been explained," said Leslie Kean, author of The New York Times bestseller UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go On The Record, which forms the basis of the History Channel special.
Here's a collection of images that Leslie Kean put together for The Huffington Post on Aug. 23, 2010, to promote the publication of her book:
Of all UFO sightings reported, most can be explained as ordinary phenomena, and therefore discarded. However, there are some spectacular, well-documented UFO events have been officially investigated by government agencies, witnessed by pilots and confirmed by Air Force generals. No conventional explanations were found despite extensive efforts by experts to do so. These are the cases explored in "UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go On the Record" and in the History Channel special, "Secret Access: UFOs On The Record." Photo: U.S. Coast Guard, Salem, MA; 1952
This photo, taken by McMinnville, Ore., farmer Paul Trent in 1950, is among the most thoroughly analyzed in UFO history. No evidence of a hoax was ever found. Leslie Kean writes in the introduction to her book: Neither I nor the other writers are claiming that there are alien spacecraft in our skies, simply because we do not deny data showing a physical presence of something there. The term 'UFO' has been misused and has become so much a part of popular culture that its original (and accurate) definition has been nearly completely lost. Almost everyone equates the term 'UFO' with extraterrestrial spacecraft, and thus, in a perverse twist of meaning, the acronym has been transformed to mean something identified rather than something unidentified. The false but widespread assumption that a UFO is, of necessity, an alien spaceship is usually the reason the term generates such an exaggerated and confusing range of emotional responses. Recognition of the extraterrestrial hypothesis as being a valid, although unproved, possible explanation worthy of further scientific scrutiny is something entirely different from approaching the subject of UFOs as if this discovery had already been made. Photo: McMinnville, OR, 1950
This is a close-up of the disc in the previous photo, taken by farmer Paul Trent with his wife in 1950. The Condon Report, a 1968 University study by a team of scientists commissioned by the U.S. Air Force, stated that the investigation of the Trent case indicated that "an extraordinary flying object, silvery, metallic, disk-shaped, tens of meters in diameter, and evidently artificial, flew within sight of two witnesses."
Jean-Jacques Velasco was the director of the French government's program to investigate and analyze unidentified aerospace phenomena from 1983-2004. He writes in Kean's book: It is possible to show, using data from established cases officially listed throughout the world, that UFOs -- material objects -- exist and are distinct from any ordinary phenomena. These cases are few, but their extraordinary characteristics and physical effects demonstrate this fact without ambiguity. On the basis of well established cases, the existence of UFOs is without question. UFOs seem to be 'artificial and controlled objects,' and their physical characteristics can be measured by our detection systems - particularly radar. They display a physics seemingly far different from that which we employ in our most technologically advanced countries. Ground and on-board radar show that their performances greatly exceed our best aeronautical and space capabilities. These capabilities include stationary and silent flights, accelerations and speeds defying the laws of inertia, effects on electronic navigation or transmission systems, and the apparent ability to induce electrical blackouts. When encountered by military aircraft, these objects seem able to anticipate and neutralize pilots' defensive maneuvers. In such encounters the UFO phenomenon appears to behave as if it is under some kind of intelligent control. Photo: Costa Rica, 1971
Backing up from the close-up of the disk in the previous image to see it in context, the larger photograph shows the object over a lake (the darker area) with the terrain to the left. The sun is reflecting off its upper surface. This UFO was photographed in 1971 by a mapping aircraft of the Costa Rican government flying above it. The camera ran automatically under the fuselage, shooting the terrain every 17 seconds; the disc appeared only in one frame. Extensive scientific analysis has been performed on this image of an opaque disc with no visible means of propulsion. Copyright: Collection of Bernard Thouanel
A series of sightings occurred in a more than two year "wave" over Belgium, beginning in late 1989. Thousands of people including numerous police officers observed silent gliding or hovering objects, usually triangular, which were investigated by university scientists and government officials. The objects sometimes accelerated at extremely high speeds. They left imprints on film, and although virtually impossible to detect on radar, the Air Force launched Air Force F-16's in anxious pursuit. This picture was taken on April 4, 1990 in Petit-Rechain, while the photographer stood underneath the craft, and captured four lights on its underside as it banked to the left. Copyright: 2010, SOFAM/Belgium
When the Belgian image was slightly overexposed, the object's triangular outline was clearly visible with a spotlight on each corner and a central light. The photo was retrieved by the Belgian Air Force, and its authenticity has been further determined through scientific studies in France and the United States. Numerous independent witness drawings at different times and in different locations depict a very similar craft. Photo Copyright: 2010, SOFAM/Belgium
Major General Wilfried de Brouwer (Ret.), then an Air Force colonel, was tasked with handling the UFO wave by Belgium's defense minister for the Air Force and coordinating with other branches of the government and civil aviation. De Brouwer wrote a detailed account for Leslie Kean's book about his effort to identify the intruders, which included inquiries to the United States, as shown in official documents. "The Belgian UFO wave was exceptional and the Air Force could not identify the nature, origin and intentions of the reported phenomena," he stated. "The Belgian objects have still never been explained."
In 1976, General Parviz Jafari of the Iranian Air Force (Ret.) was a major and squadron commander when he was ordered by the Air Force Command to approach, in his Phantom F-4 jet, a large, multi-colored UFO observed over Tehran. In Kean's book, Jafari details the wild cat and mouse chase during which he attempted to launch a Sidewinder missile at a series of objects, and describes the ability of the UFOs to repeatedly disable his firing mechanism at the last moment. He also reports on his de-briefing by US Lt. Col. Mooy, who wrote a three-page, secret memo about the incident for the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) which was later declassified. In his assessment of the case for the DIA, Col. Roland Evans stated that "This case is a classic which meets all the criteria necessary for a valid study of the UFO phenomenon."
Captain Ray Bowyer was piloting an Aurigny Air Services three-engined aeroplane over the Channel Islands in 2007 when he spotted two large, brilliant yellow UFOs shaped like thin cigars, with dark bands on one side. Witnessed also by his passengers and another pilot in a different location, the objects registered on radar. After landing, Bowyer immediately filed a report, including the above drawing, sent to Jersey Air Traffic Control, the Ministry of Defence and the Civil Aviation Authority in London. Shortly thereafter, he loaded his plane with passengers and began his return flight. “It was then, on this trip back to Southampton, that I had time to take stock on how big the objects actually were,” he writes. “It was then that I received confirmation of the radar traces, and the distances were established (in my mind anyway). From that data I learned that I was approx 55 miles away from the first object, not the ten miles or less that I had originally thought. Seeing a reasonably large town from 55 miles would have been comparable to the size of this object. It was at this point that the massive size of the object became clear, and I estimated it to be up to a mile long.”
John Podesta writes in his foreword to Kean's book: "Kean and her distinguished co-writers call for the establishment of a small US Government agency to cooperate with other countries which are already formally investigating, reviewing and releasing information relevant to UFOs. This new agency would handle release of documents and any future investigations with openness and efficiency. It's an idea worth considering and it is definitely time for government, scientists and aviation experts to work together in unraveling the questions about UFOs that have so far remained in the dark. It's time to find out what the truth really is that's out there. The American people -- and people around the world -- want to know, and they can handle the truth. UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go On the Record represents a pivotal step in that direction, laying the groundwork for a new way forward."
Former Arizona Gov. Fife Symington III writes in Kean's book: Between 8:00 and 8:30 on the evening of March 13, 1997, during my second term as governor of Arizona, I witnessed something that defied logic and challenged my reality: a massive, delta-shaped craft silently navigated over the Squaw Peak Mountain Preserve in Phoenix, Arizona. A solid structure rather than an apparition, it was dramatically large, with a distinctive leading edge embedded with lights as it traveled the Arizona skies. I still don't know what it was. As a pilot and a former Air Force officer, I can say with certainty that this craft did not resemble any man-made object I had ever seen. The same incident was witnessed by hundreds if not thousands of people in Arizona. Symington made inquiries to the Department of Public Safety, the Air National Guard and the lead officers at Luke Air Force Base as to the origin of the craft, but the incident remains unexplained. "I would not want to see another governor go through what I did in 1997, and it's only a matter of time before it will happen again," he states. Photo Copyright: Randall Nickerson
A brief historical overview excerpted from Leslie Kean's book Introduction: UFOs became a national issue in the late 1940s, when there were many sightings of great public interest and concern which were covered widely by the media. The U.S. Air Force took the lead in addressing these events, complicated by the onset of the Cold War, publicly attempting to explain away as many cases as possible in order to divert public attention from the mystery. Behind the scenes, the topic was of great concern at the highest levels, and the Air Force was not equipped to protect the public from an entirely unknown, but apparently technological phenomenon that could come and go at will. In the early 1950s, it established Project Blue Book, a small agency to receive reports from citizens, investigate them, and offer explanations to the media and the public. Blue Book gradually solidified as largely a public relations effort intent on debunking UFO sightings. Hundreds of files accumulated, and the Air Force closed down the program in 1970, ending all public official investigations without finding an explanation for many shocking UFO incidents. Investigations continued behind the scenes, and the U.S. continued to file classified reports on cases affecting national security and cases involving important UFO events overseas. The cases presented by the contributors to Kean's book all occurred after the close of Project Blue Book, between 1976 and 2007.
In the mid 1980s, a UFO wave swept over the Hudson Valley in upstate New York and parts of Connecticut. Despite recurrent sightings by thousands of people, the U.S. government did nothing and said nothing. U.S. government non-reaction to UFO events stands in stark contrast to the response of other countries such as Belgium, France, the UK and Brazil, which have investigated cases and acknowledged that the unexplained objects exist. This image shows lights from an unidentified craft photographed by a state police officer over Rt. I-84 near Waterbury, Connecticut, in 1987, during the Hudson Valley wave. Analysis shows the object was huge and that the lights were flashing rapidly in some sort of sequence.
Northwestern University astronomer J. Allen Hynek was scientific consultant to the U.S. Air Force's Project Blue Book -- its group receiving UFO reports and investigating cases -- for over twenty years. In 1977, he wrote: I had started out as an outright 'debunker,' taking great joy in cracking what seemed at first to be puzzling cases. I was the arch enemy of those 'flying saucer groups and enthusiasts' who very dearly wanted UFOs to be interplanetary. My own knowledge of those groups came almost entirely from what I heard from Blue Book personnel: they were all 'crackpots and visionaries.' My transformation was gradual but by the late sixties it was complete. Today I would not spend one further moment on the subject of UFOs if I didn't seriously feel that the UFO phenomenon is real and that efforts to investigate and understand it, and eventually to solve it, could have a profound effect -- perhaps even be the springboard to mankind's outlook on the universe. Photo Copyright: Collection of J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies
"There is a phenomenon here and there are many high level officials, including pilots and government people, who have been involved with it and who stand behind the existence of UFOs.
"We make the point that we don't know what they are and that there are a significant number of cases that need to be studied further," Kean told The Huffington Post.
One compelling case presented in "Secret Access," which has become known as the Rendlesham Forest incident, involved more than 50 military eyewitnesses stationed at the joint U.S. Air Force/NATO bases, Bentwaters and Woodbridge, in Suffolk in 1980.
As the incident unfolded, numerous UFOs of various shapes and sizes appeared near the bases, according to a voice recording of deputy base commander, Lt. Col. Charles Halt during the event.
"This was something of intelligent control beyond any technology we know," Halt told this reporter several months ago. "It's my firm belief that it was extraterrestrial or from a different dimension."
Then there's the remarkable case involving former Arizona Gov. Fife Symington, which began on the night of March 13, 1997, when crowds of citizens reported gigantic, silent craft moving around in the skies around Phoenix and which took off silently at blazing speeds. Witnesses included police officers, pilots, military personnel and -- as was finally revealed 10 years later -- Symington himself.
The two-term governor was at home, watching television when news came on announcing UFO reports in the nearby area. Symington's security detail had gone for the day, and he decided to get into his car alone and check it out.
"I was expecting to see something in the distance, but was awestruck when this thing went overhead. It was moving steadily and quietly," he told The Huffington Post.
Symington's description of the huge boomerang-shaped craft matched many others who also reported it that night.
After three months of local media coverage, the Arizona sightings finally hit the national airwaves and were dubbed the "Phoenix Lights." With growing public demand for an explanation, Symington -- still tight-lipped about his own sighting -- held a national press conference that would haunt him for years.
Claiming to have the culprit responsible for the Phoenix Lights, the governor introduced his chief of staff dressed as an alien and wearing handcuffs. As his staffer was unmasked, Symington told the press,"This just goes to show that you guys are entirely too serious."
Ten years after his phony alien stunt, Symington finally fessed up about his own dramatic 1997 Phoenix sighting.
"Well, I was confronted by good citizens who were really upset with me, and I didn't realize the depth of their anger. It just really bothered my conscience, so I felt I really needed to square with the truth and that's what I did."
Symington admits there's a taboo about elected officials talking about UFOs.
"I think if you hold a high public office, that the minute you start talking about UFOs or extraterrestrials or anything of that nature, the media immediately tees off and ridicules it. I often refer to the media culture in our country as the culture of ridicule.
"So, everybody reaches for their ridicule gun first before they seriously address the issue when it comes to the matter of UFOs. If you're an elected official, you really need to be careful about what you say, because the media can just totally destroy your credibility."
"Secret Access" isn't the first UFO program presented by the History Channel, according to Julian Hobbs, vice president of development and production.
"History doesn't necessarily believe or disbelieve in UFOs. In this case, what really caught our eye about Leslie's book was this idea that 95 percent of all UFO sightings can be pretty easily dismissed -- it's the 5 percent in which you have literally governors, military officials, pilots -- people normally considered to be level-headed, sane and credible," Hobbs told The Huffington Post.
"There wouldn't be the film without the book. When I read Leslie's book, on which the film is based, it changed my opinion about the fact that I think it's worth further investigation into these phenomena," Hobbs added.
Kean, herself, is optimistic about potential contact with extraterrestrials.
"I would hope that they are benign visitors from other planets -- that they would be something that could in some way benefit our own struggle on this planet," Kean said. "Even if we knew that we were not alone in the universe, somehow that knowledge alone could affect how we perceive ourselves and maybe affect the future of our civilization."
And Symington is much more outspoken on the subject now than he was while governor of Arizona.
"I know what I saw. To me, there's no question that we've experienced extraterrestrial visits and civilizations that are far more advanced than we are," he suggested.
"I don't approach it from a fearful standpoint. I actually like to think that we're not alone in the universe, and I'm not bashful on the subject. I think we're dealing with some fascinating unknowns and someday, the truth will out."
The History Channel presentation of "Secret Access: UFOs On The Record", premieres Thursday, Aug. 25 at 8 p.m. EDT.
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