Using information from the websites of intelligence agencies, material gained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) records, Brewer pieces together the formation, structure, management and eventual decline of the world’s largest UFO group. At its height under Donald Keyhoe it had 14,000 members.
NICAP had its origins in 1956 at an informal meeting attended by T. Townsend Brown, Morris K. Jessup, Clara L. John, Maj. Donald E. Keyhoe, Arnold and Margaret Kruckman. Jessup and Keyhoe are easily recognised as authors of influential UFO books, and it is noteworthy that Clara John was not only interested in esoteric subjects but ghost wrote George Adamski’s 1953 classic of contactee literature Flying Saucers Have Landed.
The Kruckmans supported the claims of Adamski and felt that the US government needed to take note that thousands of extraterrestrials could be roaming the country. T. Townsend Brown was obsessed with perfecting anti-gravity devices and he wanted the Department of Defense to finance his 1951 Project Whitehaven to build flying saucer-type craft powered by the interlocking of the electrodynamic and gravitational fields. This was certainly a motley collection of people that seemed more inclined towards the fringe/contactee areas of ufology rather than in the scientific collection and investigation of sighting reports that became NICAP’s aim.
On 28 August 1956, NICAP filed to be incorporated as a non-profit organisation, and the day after it signed a contract with Counsel Services to carry out public relations and membership recruitment for them. They were to pay an initial $1,500.00 a month to Counsel Services, which was quite a financial burden for such a fledgling group. Brewer shows that Counsel Services had links to the CIA and numerous people who had similar CIA connections helped establish and become leading figures in NICAP.
Brewer notes: ‘I interpret that if Counsel Services, knowingly or otherwise, was a resource for the Office of Policy Coordination personnel, before its merge with Special Operations forming the Directorate of Plans, then it becomes all the more likely the CIA was involved in the development of NICAP, for what might be any number of reasons. I suspect none of those reasons had anything to do with extraterrestrial visitors.’ (p.96)
It was in 1957 that Donald Keyhoe became the director of NICAP and kept this position for 13 years. He was instrumental in gaining important advisors, and promoting through TV, radio and print media a campaign to get the US government to reveal the facts about unidentified objects flying in the earth’s atmosphere. One of his early appointments was Roscoe H. Hillenkoetter as NICAP Board chairman. There is no doubt he had CIA connections as he was the former director of that organisation. NICAP made much of his support for the ETH but he resigned in 1962 saying in a letter to UFO sceptic Donald Menzel that NICAP ‘...had degenerated from an organization honestly trying to find out something about possible unknowns, into a body bickering about personalities.’
Brewer notes that although there were many people like Hillenkoetter with ties to the CIA, we have to remember why they joined NICAP. One irony is that they are in a group that demands the Air Force to open its secret files, a position that would create suspicions about their loyalty to the CIA and the nation. In contrast, the FBI did not approve of its agents joining NICAP. It might be that some CIA members found the prospect of proving the existence of extraterrestrial visitors more powerful than their loyalty?
NICAP wanted all the US Air Force UFO files yet was not wiling to share the sources of its own files! (p.178) As Brewer points out it is naïve for people to expect the release of all secret UFO files, as they can reveal the sources and methods used to gain this knowledge. Radar data could well reveal the sensitivity of detection networks to any enemy, or sightings might be of secret US operations like the classified U-2 flights or the Mogul balloon operations. It is in the best interests of national security that such information is protected, not because crashed UFOs are secured and reverse-engineered in Area 51. The ‘UFO tunnel vision’ of ETH believers cannot accept this viewpoint and this has meant that even to this day the US government is being called upon to give us the ET proof that they are sure it are hiding.
Other reasons for the CIAs involvement with NICAP could have been to raise, launder and distribute CIA funds, and it was a good idea to have insiders to gain information about the sources and types of information NICAP was receiving. There is also the distinct possibility that UFO reports and stories were seeded to see who leaked them and how they spread, and to confuse foreign intelligence agencies. There are a multitude of reasons beyond the ETH and the interest in NICAPs activities seemed to ebb and flow over time.
As a result of Keyhoe’s lobbying, organisations like the NSC, CIA and DOD had to repeatedly take their attention away from far more pressing matters. It is no wonder one official document has the handwritten addition ‘Keyhoe is a nut on this subject.’
The are dark rumours that the CIA not only helped create NICAP but it also helped in its demise. The end was more likely caused by long-standing financial problems and its loss of support from groups and members who felt that it did not understand or care about them. The findings of the Condon Report also put a dampener on the public interest in the subject, and as a consequence of that and Keyhoe’s poor organisational and money management skills NICAP sacked him in December 1969. Colonel Joseph Bryan III was instrumental in the sacking and he, followed by John L. Acuff, ran NICAP - both of them had strong CIA connections. The group was kept alive until 1982 and it was more a process of self-destructing than any sinister plot by the CIA to kill it off.
NICAP pioneered the tactic that ‘as long as a claim could not be falsified, it was thoroughly promoted for maximum benefit.’ (p162) Full disclosure or the ultimate smoking gun was always believed to be just around the corner. In a 1964 NICAP press release it is noted ‘Verified (UFO) cases...show speeds and manoeuvres beyond the capabilities of any earth-made machines, often confirmed by radar.’ Shades of the current UAP buzz!
As Brewer points out UFO supporters have played the disclosure card and have endlessly sold a sense of urgency to the matter. Furthermore, it is shameful that UFO personalities and those in ‘the know’ have continued lobbying for secrets to be revealed in a loop of futility.
I have simplified Brewer’s examination of the intricate and complex network of people and organisations involved in the existence of NICAP, and it is still an ongoing investigation with several FOIA requests pending. Given this complexity it would have helped to have an appendix listing the prominent organisations and people involved in the story, or even a flow chart. There is no index either. Fortunately, Brewer does provide plenty of online references and you can keep up-to-date with his research by reading his excellent UFO Trail blog. http://ufotrail.blogspot.com/
Wayward Sons is a thorough examination of NICAP and by understanding its history we can see how Ufology is constantly on a spin-cycle much like a flying saucer in the sky or a clapped out washing machine.
- Nigel Watson