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Unidentified Flying Hypothesis : OUT THERE The Government's Secret Quest for Extraterrestrials by Howard Blum (Simon & Schuster: $19.95; 288 pp.)

September 02, 1990|Philip J. Klass | Klass, senior avionics editor for Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine for nearly 35 years and now a contributing editor, is a skeptical UFO investigator. He has authored four books on the subject, including "UFOs: The Public Deceived" (Prometheus Books). and

"This is a true story," former New York Times reporter Howard Blum assures his readers in the opening page of this book. "I verified every name, every incident, date and conversation."

The publisher's blurb on the review copy characterizes the book as a "startling expose that reads with the dramatic narrative drive of a novel but . . . it is absolutely true!"

The cornerstone of Blum's book is his claim that in early 1987, the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) secretly launched a new investigation into UFOs--unidentified flying objects. Approximately 18 years earlier, the Pentagon had announced it was closing down the U.S. Air Force's investigatory effort after two decades because it had found no evidence that any UFOs were either extraterrestrial or Soviet craft.

Blum, whose earlier books include one on the Walker spy family, claims that the Pentagon's new interest in UFOs was triggered by an extraordinary incident that occurred shortly before Christmas, 1986. It allegedly involved the Navy Space Surveillance System (NSSS), a key element in the global Space Surveillance Network operated by the U.S. Space Command.

The NSSS is an "electronic fence" that stretches across our Southern states from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. It was built in the late 1950s, following the launch of the first Soviet satellites, to enable Washington to maintain a running inventory of all objects in space--both satellites and space debris--that pass over the United States.

As Blum describes the incident, Navy Cmdr. Sheila Mondran was on duty in Space Command's underground command center, deep inside Cheyenne Mountain near Colorado Springs, when a computer display showed a strange, uncatalogued space object passing through the electronic fence. According to Blum, the object was performing "crash dives followed by sudden climbs at astonishing speeds."

Had Blum checked, he would have discovered that the Navy's electronic fence could not possibly have detected such maneuvers--as I earlier learned when I wrote a technical article on the system. Furthermore, the system does not provide a "real-time" display at Space Command's center, which Blum claims Mondran was viewing.

Blum's dramatic scenario of events alleged to have triggered the Pentagon's renewed interest in UFOs is riddled with errors. For example, he reports that Cmdr. Mondran, after parking her car outside Cheyenne Mountain, rode a military bus inside and "took a polished steel elevator . . . descending almost 2500 ft." There is no such elevator--as I know from my several visits to the underground center. The only elevator is a three-story freight elevator.

The military bus would have delivered Cmdr. Mondran to the "ground floor" of the command center inside Cheyenne Mountain. She would have walked up one flight of stairs to the Space Defense Center, which is on the second floor, not the third floor as Blum reports. (Blum claims he called Space Command to ask which floor it was on, as an example of his meticulous research.)

In response to my request to Space Command's public-affairs office, Maj. Tom Niemann told me he could find no record that a Cmdr. Sheila Mondran had been stationed there. When he checked with the Navy, Niemann told me, they could not find any record of an officer named Sheila Mondran.

Blum describes experiments allegedly conducted by the DIA using "remote viewers" ("psychics") who, he claims, demonstrated the ability to "see," and thus pinpoint, the location of submerged Soviet and U.S. submarines. When the DIA learned of the extraordinary UFO incident, Blum claims, it brought in three psychics to "see" retroactively what the object looked like when it penetrated the electronic fence 48 hours earlier.

All three of the psychics drew sketches of "rounded, wingless aircraft," Blum tells his readers. Armed with these sketches of flying saucers, Army Col. Harold E. Phillips, a DIA intelligence analyst with a long-time interest in UFOs, according to Blum, managed to convince his agency that "the time had at last come to convene a top-secret working group to investigate the possibility that extraterrestrials were making contact with this planet."

Although Blum claims to have talked briefly with Col. Phillips by telephone, the only officer with that name who shows up in Army records is a lieutenant colonel (not a full colonel), and he retired three years before the purported UFO group was formed. Pentagon telephone directories for 1987-88 show an "H. E. Phillips," but he is a Navy commander, not an Army colonel. To avoid any possibility of Pentagon "disinformation," I checked the University of Southern Illinois, in Carbondale, from which Blum says Phillips graduated with a degree in engineering. The university could not find any record of a Harold E. Phillips.

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