• Early CIA Concerns, 1947-52
• The Robertson Panel, 1952-53
• The 1950s: Fading CIA Interest in UFOs
• CIA U-2 and OXCART as UFOs
• The 1960s: Declining CIA Involvement and Mounting Controversy
• The 1970s and1980s: The UFO Issue Refuses To Die
• CIA Reference Notes
The Robertson Panel, 1952-53
On 4 December 1952, the Intelligence Advisory Committee (IAC) took up the issue of UFOs.
Amory, as acting chairman, presented DCI Smith's
request to the committee that it informally discuss the subject of UFOs.
Chadwell then briefly reviewed the situation and the active program of the ATIC
relating to UFOs. The committee agreed that the DCI should "enlist the services
of selected scientists to review and appraise the available evidence in the
light of pertinent scientific theories" and draft an NSCID on the subject.
Maj. Gen. John A. Samford, Director of Air Force Intelligence,
offered full cooperation.
At the same time, Chadwell looked into British efforts in this area. He
learned the British also were active in studying the UFO phenomena. An eminent
British scientist, R. V. Jones, headed a standing committee created in June 1951
on flying saucers. Jones' and his committee's conclusions on UFOs were similar
to those of Agency officials: the sightings were not enemy aircraft but
misrepresentations of natural phenomena. The British noted, however, that during
a recent air show RAF pilots and senior military officials had observed a
"perfect flying saucer." Given the press response, according to the officer,
Jones was having a most difficult time trying to correct public opinion
regarding UFOs. The public was convinced they were real.
In January 1953, Chadwell and H. P. Robertson, a noted physicist from the
California Institute of Technology, put together a distinguished panel of
nonmilitary scientists to study the UFO issue. It included Robertson as
chairman; Samuel A. Goudsmit, a nuclear physicist from the Brookhaven National
Laboratories; Luis Alvarez, a high-energy physicist; Thornton Page, the deputy
director of the Johns Hopkins Operations Research Office and an expert on radar
and electronics; and Lloyd Berkner, a director of the Brookhaven National
Laboratories and a specialist in geophysics.
The charge to the panel was to review the available evidence on UFOs and to
consider the possible dangers of the phenomena to US national security. The
panel met from 14 to 17 January 1953. It reviewed Air Force data on UFO case
histories and, after spending 12 hours studying the phenomena, declared that
reasonable explanations could be suggested for most, if not all, sightings. For
example, after reviewing motion-picture film taken of a UFO sighting near
Tremonton, Utah, on 2 July 1952 and one near Great Falls, Montana, on 15 August
1950, the panel concluded that the images on the Tremonton film were caused by
sunlight reflecting off seagulls and that the images at Great Falls were
sunlight reflecting off the surface of two Air Force interceptors.
The panel concluded unanimously that there was no evidence of a direct threat
to national security in the UFO sightings. Nor could the panel find any evidence
that the objects sighted might be extraterrestrials. It did find that continued
emphasis on UFO reporting might threaten "the orderly functioning" of the
government by clogging the channels of communication with irrelevant reports and
by inducing "hysterical mass behavior" harmful to constituted authority. The
panel also worried that potential enemies contemplating an attack on the United
States might exploit the UFO phenomena and use them to disrupt US air
To meet these problems, the panel recommended that the National Security
Council debunk UFO reports and institute a policy of public education to
reassure the public of the lack of evidence behind UFOs. It suggested using the
mass media, advertising, business clubs, schools, and even the Disney
corporation to get the message across. Reporting at the height of McCarthyism,
the panel also recommended that such private UFO groups as the Civilian Flying
Saucer Investigators in Los Angeles and the Aerial Phenomena Research
Organization in Wisconsin be monitored for subversive activities.
The Robertson panel's conclusions were strikingly similar to those of the
earlier Air Force project reports on SIGN and GRUDGE and to those of the CIA's
own OSI Study Group. All investigative groups found that UFO reports indicated
no direct threat to national security and no evidence of visits by
Following the Robertson panel findings, the Agency abandoned efforts to draft
an NSCID on UFOs.
The Scientific Advisory Panel on UFOs (the Robertson panel)
submitted its report to the IAC, the Secretary of Defense, the Director of the
Federal Civil Defense Administration, and the Chairman of the National Security
Resources Board. CIA officials said no further consideration of the subject
appeared warranted, although they continued to monitor sightings in the interest
of national security. Philip Strong and Fred Durant from OSI also briefed the
Office of National Estimates on the findings.
CIA officials wanted knowledge of any Agency interest in the
subject of flying saucers carefully restricted, noting not only that the
Robertson panel report was classified but also that any mention of CIA
sponsorship of the panel was forbidden. This attitude would later cause the
Agency major problems relating to its credibility.
[ NEXT PAGE ]