According to a FAQ page on the website of the Federal Bureau of Investigation titled “The FBI and UFOs,” the United States’ domestic intelligence and security service “was only occasionally involved in investigating the possibility of UFOs and extraterrestrials over the years.”
“Concerned citizens reported many of these strange sightings to the FBI,” the statement reads. In many instances, the sightings were taken seriously, especially early on, due to the Bureau’s “role in protecting the homeland during [World War II]”, a priority that the agency says, “remained front and center in ensuring national security as the Cold War began to unfold.”
However, as the world was well into the Cold War years, the FBI’s role in investigating UFO reports diminished significantly. “Neither the public nor the Air Force sought our expertise as they had during the first few years of the Cold War,” the FAQ page states, noting rare exceptions that included the investigation by the FBI into the infamous “Majestic 12” documents in 1988, which the bureau concluded were fakes.
The FBI’s involvement with the UFO subject, in other words, had mostly to do with requests by other government agencies or civilian groups who relied on the FBI’s expertise in various areas. And in one instance in 1978, that involved their role in federal law enforcement.
On a summer evening at the end of July, 1978, UFO researcher Robert Todd, an expert in using the Freedom of Information Act to appeal to the U.S. government for information about UFOs, was at home with his parents at their residence in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, when they heard a knock at the door. To her surprise, Todd’s mother was soon standing face to face with a pair of FBI agents at the doorstep, asking if they could speak with her son, who over the course of the next hour would soon be under interrogation by these agents.
The reason for the visit: Robert Todd had recently notified the National Security Agency about his plans to appeal to the Cuban government for information involving the possible destruction of one of its aircraft while pursuing a UFO, in an incident that the U.S. government claimed to know nothing about.
Todd, who was just 24 years old at the time, had recently filed several FOIA requests appealing to the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy, the CIA, and the NSA for information about the purported incident, which involved a specialist with a unit of the U.S. Air Force Security Service at Homestead AFB south of Miami, Florida. In March 1967, as the story goes, Spanish-speaking intercept operators at the base supposedly overheard Cuban transmissions involving the pursuit of a “bogey” that was entering Cuban airspace from the northeast.
Upon its detection, a pair of MiG-21 jet fighters were scrambled to investigate the mysterious intruder, which they eventually located and observed to resemble a large, metallic sphere with no wings, or any sign of propulsion system. The flight leader was soon notified that the object had not responded to radio contact attempts, and was instructed to fire at the craft. As the flight leader armed his missiles and prepared to fire at the object, Cuban Air Defense Headquarters listened as the excited voice of his wingman suddenly came across their radios, stating that his leader’s aircraft had just completely disintegrated, with no visible explosion or sign of an attack. Immediately thereafter, the strange metallic sphere quickly rose from its altitude at around 33,000 feet to above 98,000 feet and proceeded southeast toward South America.
As Todd attempted to locate any additional information about the alleged 1967 incident through FOIA requests, the CIA eventually responded to Todd with the following interesting advice: “check with the Cuban Government for records on this incident.”
However, before doing so, Todd decided to notify both the NSA and the Air Force beforehand, telling them he planned to follow the CIA’s advice, asking that they advise him about what information “should not be transmitted to the Cuban Government,” offering a deadline of 20 days for either agency to reply.
Apparently, rather than responding to Todd’s request, the NSA tasked the FBI with investigating the young UFO researcher instead.
“And in response to that,” Todd would later explain, “two FBI agents knocked on my door.”
When the agents arrived, it wasn’t exactly a friendly visit, either. Todd would be read his rights and informed of the penalties of espionage laws, which included not only lengthy prison sentences, but potentially even death. All of this over what amounted to a civilian’s interest in trying to obtain information about an unconfirmed UFO incident, the aftermath of which we will explore further in Part Two, where we’ll look at the broader implications of the USAF and NSA response to Todd’s UFO interests.