Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The 'Mirage Men' Meet Richard Shaver

In UFOlogy today, the term "Mirage Men" is understood to signify supposed shadowy government agents who, for inscrutable reasons, are allegedly tricking the public not by "debunking" UFOs, but creating belief in UFOs and the like. The title comes from a book by the British author Mark Pilkington, Mirage Men: An Adventure into Paranoia, Espionage, Psychological Warfare, and UFOs

In 2013 the book was made into a movie of the same title, written by Pilkington, directed by John Lundberg,  Roland Denning, and Kypros Kyprianou. The movie's website describes it as:
How the US government created a myth that took over the world.
 UFOs: weapons of mass deception... For over 60 years teams within the US Air Force and Intelligence services exploited and manipulated beliefs about UFOs and ET visitations as part of their counterintelligence programmes. In doing so they spawned a mythology so powerful that it captivated and warped many brilliant minds, including several of their own. Now, for the first time, some of those behind these operations, and their victims, speak out, revealing a true story that is part Manchurian Candidate and part Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Mark Pilkington
Next was Mark Pilkington, whose book (now also a movie) Mirage Men purports to show how military and intelligence operators have shaped and exploited belief in UFOs. He called his talk "The Abuses of  Enchantment." I would have to say that Pilkington is not a man who gets directly to the point.

While I can agree that such involvement has been shown to happen a few times, including incidents outside the United States - for example, he cites a Rand Corporation paper on exploiting local superstitions - I don't see how this has any real significance for our understanding of the UFO circus. I had only a brief opportunity to speak to him afterward. I said I didn't think such instances were of much significance to the UFO scene as a whole, and he agreed. I think what he was saying was that military and intelligence involvement was responsible for shaping the public perception of a UFO cover-up, which is at least partly true. Like I said, he doesn't get directly to the point, but if you can figure out what he means he seems to be pretty skeptical. Somebody asked him about crop circles - are there any that are not of human origin? Pilkington's answer: no, except for a few simple ones which may be of meteorological origin. (Thus none are made by aliens.)
I would also suggest that, from my limited interactions with John Lundberg, and from knowing of his connection with the deliberately enigmatic Crop Circle makers, he is also "not a man who gets directly to the point." 

From the standpoint of the skeptic, these are interesting claims. There are no ETs, and government Spooks created belief in UFOs. The problem is that, upon close examination, their evidence is very "soft." It suggests a possible involvement of intelligence agencies in a few cases, but no clear motive behind it, and no solid proof that agencies led (or mislead) the public to create belief in UFOs.

Ironically, James Oberg has documented several clear-cut instances of government agencies encouraging public belief in anomalous celestial phenomena - but in the USSR, not here. For example, on September 20, 1977 thousands of people in northwest Russia and in Finland saw a brilliant object in the pre-dawn sky that came to be known as the "jellyfish UFO." He notes how a party-controlled periodical (there were no other kinds at that time) published an article by a chemistry professor, claiming that the people had in essence seen "swampsky gas," luminescent industrial effluvia. The Soviet leaders preferred to have the public believe that absurdity, rather than admit it was a rocket launch from a secret space facility that officially did not exist.

One researcher who has been promoting the Mirage Men concept in a big way is James Carrion, who served as the International Director of MUFON from 2006 to 2009. I heard Carrion give a talk in 2008, and spoke with him a bit afterward. I realized at once that he was very different from the typical MUFON leader. Not even willing to defend Holy Roswell as an E.T. event, he was far too independent a thinker to fit in well at MUFON. It was no surprise when Carrion and MUFON went their separate ways, with him proclaiming that the UFO phenomenon "is based in deception - of the human kind."  He cited several very interesting examples of such deception, although none of them involved official agencies (see my book Bad UFOs, p. 4).

After promoting the Mirage Men hypothesis on his blog for several years, on August 20, 2016 Carrion claimed  to have found a 'smoking gun' that demonstrates "Human Deception at Play during the UFO Wave of 1947". Carrion cites
James Carrion
A July 21, 1947 FBI memo from E. G. Fitch to D. M. Ladd, Subject: Flying Discs detailed how Colonel Carl Goldbranson (misspelled Golbranson) of the Intelligence Division of the War Department advised Special Agent S. W. Reynolds of the FBI’s Liaison Section that the War Department had received the following telegram:

New York, NY July 5 Major Paul Gaynor AAF Hqts Wash DC
“For Further Details Concerning Flying Disks Suggest Immediate Contact Of (blacked out) Illinois Who May Have Important Information Concerning Their Origin.” Unsigned.
In it, Col. Goldbranson
desired the Bureau conduct some investigation of Shaver to determine whether or not he has any information pertaining to the origin of the flying saucers.
This, says Carrion, "unequivocally documents the connection between US strategic deception planners and early UFO events by relating how Colonel Carl Goldbranson petitioned FBI assistance in investigating UFO events. Goldbranson was a WW2 member of Joint Security Control and one of its principal deception planners." Jack Brewer promoted Carrion's findings in a posting on his Blog The UFO Trail, titled "Mirage Men Conclusively Linked to UFO Summer of '47."

June, 1947 issue - published just before Kenneth Arnold's "flying saucers" burst upon the world

On Aug. 23, I posted the following comment on Carrion's Blog:
Goldbranson "desired the Bureau conduct some investigation of Shaver to determine whether or not he has any information pertaining to the origin of the flying saucers."

So, am I correct in understanding that Col. Goldbranson was asking the FBI investigate Richard Shaver to see what he knows about the origin of the flying saucers? Shaver, the guy who claimed that underground robots are fighting in caves?

This marks Goldbranson as an obvious crank.
Carrion seems not to have noticed that Goldbranson was in essence asking the FBI to investigate the "Shaver Mystery," a well-known series of crackpot stories about all kinds of impossible things. In his classic 1952 book Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science [Chapter 5], Martin Gardner explains : 
drawing on his "racial memories," Shaver described in great detail the activities of a midget race of degenerates called "deros" who live in huge caverns beneath the surface of the earth. By means of telepathy and secret rays, the deros are responsible for most of the earth's catastrophes - wars, fires, airplane crashes, shipwrecks, and nervous breakdowns.

Carrion replied to my comment,

Robert...I don't think you can describe the guy who planned the D-Day deception plans as well as the deception plans for the invasion of Japan a "Crank". Actually, your logic is nonsensical. For example, during WW2, the allies recruited an astrologer to try and influence Hitler and went to great lengths to have this astrologer's predictions "come true" to bolster his credibility. That did not make the deception planners cranks. The deception planner's goals cannot be diminished to simple guilt by association, just because you don't understand the overall goals of the deception plan.
 To which I replied,
If Goldbranson actually thought that Shaver's writings were anything other than 100% fiction, then he was a crank. Or thought that the FBI could learn anything worthwhile from Shaver.

So, is this the entire "proof" of "how Colonel Carl Goldbranson petitioned FBI assistance in investigating UFO events"? That he asked the FBI to interview the wacko Shaver?

Anyway, if nobody knew about this request, it wouldn't be any good as a "deception".
On August 25, Kevin Randle's blog A Different Perspective published a guest post by researcher Brad Sparks, questioning Carrion's conclusions. Sparks wrote,
[Carrion's] "proof" is what is now his central figure in the entire plot, a "Col." Carl Goldbranson, and an FBI memo of July 21, 1947, released decades ago.  But Carrion has so far failed to prove that Goldbranson did anything more than ask the FBI to investigate a notorious character who supposedly knew the origin of flying saucers and whose location and timing supposedly coincided with certain incidents in early July 1947.... Carrion apparently missed the fact that it was the infamous Richard Shaver whose name got through the document censors in one place of the FBI memo.  Yes, the Richard Shaver of the lunatic Shaver Mysteries, full of "deros" or "deranged robots" -- the so-called robots who were not actually even robots (how deranged is that?!?) -- and Lemuria tales.

Carrion has failed even to prove that Goldbranson was continuing his wartime deception duties 2 years after the war, in peacetime, in the face of his FBI memo placing Goldbranson in the wrong agency (Army Intelligence), not on the deception staff (Joint Chiefs).

But Goldbranson did not even ask the FBI to perpetrate any deception!  How is asking the FBI to investigate someone amount to carrying out a deception??  Does any of this deceive the Soviet intelligence agencies?  And into believing what?  That a marginal character like Richard Shaver of the Shaver Mystery stories and the "truth" about underground worlds and Lemuria, was a credible bearer of intelligence about flying saucers being US secret weapons??...
Right now, Carrion has not even proved that his crucial proof, Goldbranson, even worked on deception operations in 1947.  Maybe he did, but no such proof is given, it's just hinted at, and insinuated, Goldbranson "would" have been perfect to "fill that billet."  But did he? Carrion makes a crucial mistake in misreading Goldbranson's rank as of mid-1947 (his source seems to say G was a Lt. Col. and not full Colonel until December 1948).  This means Carrion has the wrong guy on the wrong staff of Joint Security Control even by his own argument. 
Carrion published a reply to Sparks later that same day, but I don't think it adresses Sparks' main points.

In my view, those hunting for Mirage Men supposedly promoting the Flying Saucer phenomenon are themselves chasing a mirage.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Kenneth Arnold and Pelicans

There have been various explanations suggested for Kenneth Arnold's very first sighting on June 24, 1947 of what came to be known as "flying saucers" (owing to a famous error, since Arnold described boomerang-shaped objects, not saucer-shaped ones).

The Harvard astronomer and skeptic Donald H. Menzel had several rather unconvincing explanations for what Arnold allegedly saw. According to Wikipedia:
  1. In 1953, Menzel suggested that Arnold had seen clouds of snow blown from the mountains south of Mt. Rainier. According to Maccabee, such snow clouds have hazy light, not the mirror-like brilliance reported by Arnold. Further, such clouds could not be in the rapid motion reported by Arnold, nor would they account for Arnold first seeing the bright objects north of Rainier.
  2. In 1963, Menzel proposed that Arnold had seen orographic clouds or wave clouds; Maccabee says that this conflicted with testimony from Arnold and others that the sky was clear, and again can't account for the objects' reported brightness and rapid motion over a very large angular region.
  3. In 1971, Menzel said that Arnold may have merely seen spots of water on his airplane's windows; Maccabee says that this contradicts Arnold's testimony that he had specifically ruled out water spots or reflections shortly after seeing the nine UFOs. For example, the early Bill Bequette article of June 26 in the East Oregonian has Arnold saying he at first thought that maybe he was seeing reflections off his window, but "he still saw the objects after rolling it down."
The late Philip J. Klass suggested that Kenneth Arnold probably saw Meteor Fireballs. 

The British researcher James Easton was the first to suggest that what Arnold actually saw was a flock of American White Pelicans, the largest birds in North America.  The object depicted above does look somewhat bird-like. But Jerome Clark and many other UFOlogists mocked that conclusion, calling it "Pelicanism." The British Fortean writer John Rimmer defiantly began using the pen name, "the Pelicanist."

The reason I am writing about pelicans now is that I just found out that, unlike many species, white pelicans habitually soar on thermals, like hang gliders, especially when they are traveling long distances in search of food (hat tip to Barbara Graham). And when pelicans are soaring, their wings do not move. Indeed, the author of this YouTube video writes how a "white pelican flock rides the wind over Bayou Corne for 10 minutes and never once flapped their wings."

Another aspect of Arnold's sighting was an unexpected "flash" of light that caught his attention. He said, "they seemed to flip and flash in the sun, just like a mirror.

A fact that few people seem to know is that a flock of pelicans, when soaring, appear to "flash" when their white bellies are turned toward the observer, then fade again as their dark wingtips are turned toward the observer once again. In the YouTube video above, we see the pelicans appear to "flash" at about 57 seconds, then again at about 1:20, 1:42, and 2:00.

Pelicans soaring above Lake Tahoe (www.tahoeculture.com).

Compare the shape of these pelicans soaring over Lake Tahoe with the shape of the object Arnold drew. Remember that when pelicans are riding thermals, their wings do not move.

An amazingly long and detailed investigation, The Singular Adventure of Mr. Kenneth Arnold (147 pages), by the Scottish UFOlogist Martin Shough - tells everything you ever wanted to know about the Arnold sighting. He concludes that the objects Arnold described could not have been birds or other prosaic objects, but does not suggest what he thinks they were.

Compare with Kenneth Arnold's boomerang-shaped object
Starting from Shough's investigation, Martin Kottmeyer wrote Joining Shough's Singular Adventure (see page 28), suggesting that Arnold just might have seen Pelicans after all. (Kottmeyer's interpretation of the term "echelon" is acknowledged to be incorrect). Some of Arnold's statements made the objects sound very much like a flock of birds:
Arnold has been telling us all along that the objects reminded him of birds, but we didn't seem to be listening, with our minds fixated on something else.
 In these interviews with reporter Bob Pratt, Arnold gives us good reason to doubt his credibility. He talks about "mystery submarines," says that his phone line has been tapped, that UFOs may be alive, and they seem to be able to read his mind. He  says he has spotted UFOs "seven or eight times."