As far as the scientific study of unidentified flying objects in the 20th century goes, few names would stand out in the minds of UFO researchers, past and present, like that of J. Allen Hynek.
Hynek served as the official scientific advisor to the U.S. Air Force and its UFO study program, Project Blue Book, throughout the 1950s and 60s. Later, with the formation of the Center for UFO Studies, Hynek would go on to become one of the leading proponents of the idea that the UFO mystery represents a real and valid phenomenon, capable of scientific study, and the possible rewards that might result from such studies.
With his salutary place in the history of UFO research, it was of little surprise that while reviewing a copy of Greg Bishop's new book, It Defies Language: Essays on UFOs and Other Weirdness, Hynek's name came up early in the book, in a section where the author was discussing the sad affair that involved Paul Bennewitz in the 1980s (this, of course, is a subject Greg Bishop knows all too well, having written a fine book on the subject called Project Beta: The Story of Paul Bennewitz, National Security, and the Creation of a Modern UFO Myth).
However, what Greg had to say was indeed rather disturbing, rather than presenting the usual kind of "sunny" perspectives on the life of one of the most visible UFOlogists of the last century.
“In 1980, Paul Bennewitz was trying to figure out what he was hearing on his home–built radio receiver, with its antenna array pointed at the Kirkland Air Force Base and the NSA's coded microburst tests. With his knowledge of electronics, he was just beginning to figure out what was zipping into his DIY master control maze, which it almost filled his den and was starting to spill into the bedroom. His home-built computers and software were reeling off a frightening array of alien transmissions. Because of his special relationship with the Air Force, he told them what he was picking up, and what he thought it was.”
The story Greg begins to outline here is a pretty familiar one in UFO circles, having been previously outlined in the aforementioned Project Beta. The short version of the story here is that the Air Force got antsy about what Bennewitz had managed to uncover, but rather than spilling the beans and warning him that this was classified information, a dodgy misinformation campaign began against Bennewitz, with the objective of scrambling the information so that, rather than hiding it altogether, Bennewitz would continue to obtain new data, and with the help of the Air Force, misinterpret it horribly.
“To this and, an unnamed computer scientist was hired to write a program specifically for Bennewitz. Instead of words like “telemetry,” “range,” and “target,” others were substituted. The same signals would now spit out things like “aliens,” “Home planet,” and “death ray.” Now, the whole thing needed to be delivered to Bennewitz's doorstep.”
This is where things get really strange, however. In 1982, UFO researcher Bill Moore would be in attendance at a MUFON annual symposium, the same year J. Allen Hynek of the Center for UFO Studies had been there lecturing. According to Bishop, Moore told him that while talking with Hynek over drinks at the bar that year, Hynek admitted to having presented the “bogus” computer setup to Bennewitz, describing it as one of the last “official” actions he carried out during his tenure with the USAF.
This is unsettling data, to say the least, and it suggests a number of things about Hynek and his work. These range from Hynek apparently being complicit with one of the most infamous and well-known Air Force misinformation campaigns against the UFO community, as well as questions raised in relation to just how much official work he may have continued to carry out for the U.S. government after his tenure with the Air Force.
"If true," Greg notes of the incident, "this throws new light on the sort of dealings that some major ufologists may go through in order to keep a line of communication (however tainted) open to authorities who can push the right buttons and make the right calls when they are needed."
And in hindsight, maybe it bolsters some of the suspicions many in the UFO community have had over the years, especially as it pertains to the long-held concern that those in government -- no matter how benign their individual intentions -- may nonetheless serve as some part of a broader apparatus that does not want the public to know the full truth about UFOs.