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UFOs: “Mass Media,” “Psychological Warfare” & the “Subjectivity of Public to Mass Hysteria”

On May 26, I wrote an article here at Mysterious Universe on the latest UFO news. It was on my views concerning the U.S. government and UFOs. I made it clear that in no way do I think the “UFOs” seen and filmed are extraterrestrial craft.  As I said in the article: “…I wouldn’t be surprised, at all, if a part of this revolves around ingenious psychological warfare. Namely, run a program to see how today’s media and public respond to the presence of an alien phenomenon that doesn’t really exist. And to a technology that was developed out at Area 51, and that may well have been perfected five or ten years ago – just like the situation with the Stealth planes. Not all UFOs are ours. But, I’m sure the ones we’re seeing now are.” I still stand by that. And, on the matter of psychological warfare and the manipulation of the public and the media, I’m going to take you back in time to the 1950s when, like today, the UFO phenomenon was used as a tool for reasons far beyond looking for real aliens. It all revolved around what was termed “The Robertson Panel.”

On December 2, 1952 the CIA’s Assistant Director H. Marshall Chadwell noted in a classified report on UFO activity in American airspace: “Sightings of unexplained objects at great altitudes and traveling at high speeds in the vicinity of major U.S. defense installations are of such nature that they are not attributable to natural phenomena or known types of aerial vehicles.” Sounds a bit like what we’re seeing today, right? Right! Forty-eight-hours later, the Intelligence Advisory Committee concurred with Chadwell and recommended that “the services of selected scientists to review and appraise the available evidence in the light of pertinent scientific theories” should be the order of the day. Thus was born the Robertson Panel, so named after the man chosen to head the inquiry: Howard Percy Robertson, a consultant to the Agency, a renowned physicist, and the director of the Defense Department Weapons Evaluation Group.

The team – which included Luis Alvarez, physicist, radar expert (and later, a Nobel Prize recipient); Frederick C. Durant, CIA officer, secretary to the panel and missile expert; Samuel Abraham Goudsmit, Brookhaven National Laboratories nuclear physicist; and Thornton Page, astrophysicist, radar expert, and deputy director of Johns Hopkins Operations Research Office – quickly got to work. The overall conclusion of the Robertson Panel was that while UFOs, per se, did not appear to have a bearing on national security or the defense of the United States, the way in which the subject could be used by unfriendly forces to manipulate the public mindset and disrupt the U.S. military infrastructure did have a bearing – and a major one, too – on matters of a security nature. According to the panel’s members: “Although evidence of any direct threat from these sightings was wholly lacking, related dangers might well exist resulting from: A. Misidentification of actual enemy artifacts by defense personnel. B. Overloading of emergency reporting channels with ‘false’ information. C. Subjectivity of public to mass hysteria and greater vulnerability to possible enemy psychological warfare.”

There was also a recommendation that a number of the public UFO investigative groups that existed in the United States at the time, such as the Civilian Flying Saucer Investigators (CFSI) and the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization (APRO), should be “watched” carefully due to “the apparent irresponsibility and the possible use of such groups for subversive purposes.” The panel also concluded that “a public education campaign should be undertaken” on matters relative to UFOs. Specifically, agreed the members, such a program would “result in reduction in public interest in ‘flying saucers’ which today evokes a strong psychological reaction. This education could be accomplished by mass media such as television, motion pictures, and popular articles.”

The panel continued: “Basis of such education would be actual case histories which had been puzzling at first but later explained. As in the case of conjuring tricks, there is much less stimulation if the ‘secret’ is known. Such a program should tend to reduce the current gullibility of the public and consequently their susceptibility to clever hostile propaganda. “In this connection, Dr. Hadley Cantril (Princeton University) was suggested. Cantril authored ‘Invasion from Mars,’ (a study in the psychology of panic, written about the famous Orson Welles radio broadcast in 1938) and has since performed advanced laboratory studies in the field of perception. The names of Don Marquis (University of Michigan) and Leo Roston were mentioned as possibly suitable as consultant psychologists.”

There’s this too from the panel: “Also, someone familiar with mass communications techniques, perhaps an advertising expert, would be helpful. Arthur Godfrey was mentioned as possibly a valuable channel of communication reaching a mass audience of certain levels. Dr. Berkner suggested the U. S. Navy (ONR) Special Devices Center, Sands Point, L. I., as a potentially valuable organization to assist in such an educational program. The teaching techniques used by this agency for aircraft identification during the past war [were] cited as an example of a similar educational task. The Jam Handy Co. which made World War II training films (motion picture and slide strips) was also suggested, as well as Walt Disney, Inc. animated cartoons.”

Of course, the situation back in the early 1950s was different to today. But, as I see it, there are important parallels. For example, although the panel did investigate UFO reports, that was not its primary role. Largely, the panel was focused on such issues as (A) “Overloading of emergency reporting channels with ‘false’ information;” (B) “Subjectivity of public to mass hysteria and greater vulnerability to possible enemy psychological warfare; (C) a “public education campaign;” (D) a campaign that “could be accomplished by mass media such as television, motion pictures, and popular articles.”

When combined, all of this demonstrates that the work of the Robertson Panel revolved around the manipulation of the mindset of the populace (and with help from what the Robertson Panel termed “mass media”), in relation to UFOs. And I see something very similar going on right now: that there are those in the shadows who are far less interested in the UFO phenomenon, but far more interested in seeing how the the media and the public are responding to all of this growing interest in UFOs. As to what might be coming next, I’ll be addressing that soon.


Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.
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