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65 years ago today, aliens probably didn't land in Roswell, N.M.

July 08, 2012|By Matt Pearce
  • Alien figures welcome visitors to the 2012 Roswell UFO Festival in Roswell, N.M., on June 29.
Alien figures welcome visitors to the 2012 Roswell UFO Festival in Roswell,… (Mark Wilson / Roswell Daily…)

If you believe the government, 65 years ago today a UFO totally didn’t crash at Roswell, N.M., and spawn a massive cover-up, because aliens totally aren’t real.

Maybe not. But a tantalizing controversy dates from way back then.

On July 8, 1947,  the Dallas field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation sent a teletype message saying that the Air Force had recovered “an object purporting to be a flying disc ... near Roswell, N.M. The disc is hexagonal in shape and was suspended from a ballon [sic] by a cable,” the FBI noted, and “the object found resembles a high altitude weather balloon with a radar reflector.”

From day one, that’s the story the government has stuck with  — the crash was a research balloon, not a flying saucer, and there were no little green men, just some military guys running around in uniforms.

A local newspaper immediately trumpeted in a headline that the government had recovered a "flying saucer," but the Air Force would later note that “from 1947 until the late 1970s, the Roswell Incident was essentially a non-story” that only came to life when conspiracists later cobbled together reports from second- and third-hand witnesses claiming to have seen alien bodies.

From then until now, 65 years after the crash, the fringe belief of alien life on Earth has become fused into the American popular psyche to the point of high-grossing cultural fixation -- from “Battle Los Angeles” to “Independence Day” and from “Avengers” to “Battleship.” There’s even the subtle suggestion coming out of Hollywood that America’s military has gotten so powerful in the post-Soviet era that the only truly threatening enemies can come from outer space.

Perhaps the idea of aliens among us is resilient because it activates the anti-authoritarian gland in American politics -- a deep current of popular skepticism that believes the government is always hiding important information from us, a belief not really helped by the fact that the government usually is. (The Obama administration claims it's looking for aliens but hasn't found any yet.)

These legacies collide at Roswell, where widespread skepticism and mythologizing about a cover-up finally prompted the government to conduct an exhaustive investigation into what actually happened in hopes of quieting the tinfoil-hat set.

The optimistically titled “The Roswell Report: Case Closed," a 231-page document released in 1997, was the final result of a previous internal government investigation in 1994 requested by Rep. Steven Schiff of New Mexico.

“Our objective throughout this inquiry has been simple and consistent: to find all the facts and bring them to light. If documents were classified, declassify them; where they were dispersed, bring them into a single source for public review,” Air Force Secretary  Sheila E. Widnall wrote in the report’s introduction.

The report, crammed with witness statements and examinations of Air Force equipment, included transcripts of interviews from supposed UFO witnesses, which the Air Force called "alleged witnesses."

One such “alleged firsthand witness," Gerald Anderson, said he saw a 35-foot silver disc that had crashed into a ridge “allegedly” 175 miles northwest of Roswell.

“When we got up to it there were four bodies there… not human,” said Anderson, ahem, allegedly. “There was two of them that were obviously dead, one of them was obviously very badly injured, and one of them apparently suffered no ill effects. … These creatures, all of them, were, oh, about four foot tall, four and a half feet tall.”

The Air Force report found that research balloon components from an Air Force project called MOGUL “clearly accounted for the claims of ‘flying saucer’ debris recovered in 1947,” just as the FBI teletype said. But the Air Force report said “the issue of ‘bodies’ was not discussed extensively in the 1994 report because there were not any bodies connected with events that occurred in 1947.” (That's what they want us to believe, anyway.)

Actually, though, the report continued: “Contrary to allegations that the Air Force has engaged in a cover-up and possesses dark secrets involving the Roswell claims, some of the accounts appear to be … descriptions of actual incidents in which Air Force members were killed or injured in the line of duty.”  UFO conspiracists supposedly conflated those accidents (in 1956 and 1959) with the Roswell incident in 1947, the report said.

Of course, in celebration of the crash's anniversary, there are guys like Chase Brandon (a former CIA agent who was the agency's liaison to Hollywood) telling the Huffington Post, "It was not a damn weather balloon -- it was what it was billed when people first reported it. It was a craft that clearly did not come from this planet, it crashed and I don't doubt for a second that the use of the word 'remains' and 'cadavers' was exactly what people were talking about." (Brandon, by the way, is promoting a science fiction book at the moment.)

You can evaluate that information however you want.

To nonbelievers, one of the few things more amusing than a government cover-up to disguise flying saucers as weather balloons -- which probably didn’t happen -- is what definitely did happen: Air Force investigators running around New Mexico interrogating each other about aliens.

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