The late Paul Bennewitz has remained one of the most talked-about and controversial figures in the last four decades of UFO studies. It is a somewhat dubious distinction, though, since his becoming a focus of attention for many UFO researchers has less to do with the merit of his work, and everything to do with the cautionary tale his story has come to represent for those who would similarly go to the United States government with information they have collected on the phenomenon.
There is no question that Bennewitz was one of the most serious and dedicated UFO researchers of his day. Not only was Bennewitz a gifted scientist who chose to put his technical capabilities toward gathering data about what he believed to be UFO phenomena occurring around the American southwest in the early 1980s, he also held a degree of clout in ufology at the time, having influenced other rising researchers at the time that included the late John Lear, as well as Linda Moulton Howe.
Yet the UFO investigations undertaken by Bennewitz in the 1980s have largely been overshadowed by the story that later emerged, regarding a disinformation campaign of which he became an unwitting target. It was a controversy that shook the UFO community, and one that continues to reverberate through it even in the present day.
This, in part due to how it has also become the subject of many books, documentaries, podcasts, and other presentations over the years. However, one of the other individuals central to this story is the former Air Force Office of Special Investigations agent, Richard Doty, who purportedly provided information to Bennewitz to mislead his UFO-related efforts.
Doty remains an enigma as far as the Bennewitz affair goes. Having appeared on camera and spoken about his involvement in helping provide information to Bennewitz that not only through him off the trail of NSA activities that were going on at Kirtland Air Force Base (which Bennewitz mistook for being UFOs), but also helped drive him mad. According to Doty, this was all in the interest of national security, and he had merely been following orders.
However, some have raised questions about whether this is necessarily all of the story.
One issue that has been raised about Doty’s activities involves the fact that Senators has also become involved, for a time, in the Bennewitz situation. As has been revealed in documents obtained first by researcher Bruce Maccabee, and later by several other UFO researchers over the years, Bennewitz brought his concerns regarding UFOs to the attention of several lawmakers at a meeting convened by the FBI, although neither he—nor anyone else outside the Air Force, apparently—knew that Doty was providing him disinformation at the time.
“The FBI actually put together a conference of lawmakers,” says Alejandro Rojas, who has also reviewed files obtained through FOIA related to the Bennewitz case. “Bennewitz was telling these lawmakers what was going on, and they were concerned.”
“What’s interesting about all this, which also kinds of lends to the problematic issue here is that during these times that they sent Doty to address these Senators, he says he was actively feeding disinformation to Bennewitz.”
“So that means they lied to these Senators,” Rojas says. “Or at least [Doty] did.”
“So it does raise a big question,” Rojas concludes. “If the Air Force is documenting that they told these Senators they aren’t looking into any of this or doing anything with Bennewitz, is that true?”
In Rojas’s view, the idea that the USAF would have lied to Senators about its involvement in such things at the time seems unlikely.
“The Senate holds the purse strings,” Rojas says. “They can hold these organizations accountable.”
“So they are taken seriously, and if it was found out they were lied to, they would get pretty upset,” Rojas adds.
What Rojas alludes to may indeed have happened. As Greg Valdez, son of police officer Gabe Valdez who investigated cattle mutilations in New Mexico, has pointed out, things began to go downhill once some of Doty’s activities came to the attention of Senator Pete Domenici.
As Valdez explains, “pressure coming from an outside political force—in this case, Senator Pete Domenici’s office—is how things started unraveling for Doty. He had made such a mess of things that the Air Force could no longer cover it up—Doty was bringing too much heat down on Kirtland Base—so it was damage control when they shipped him to Germany.”
After being sent to Germany, Doty also returned for a time to run the mess hall at Kirtland Air Force Base. Evidently, these “reassignments” do have the appearance of some kind of disciplinary action; is it possible that some of Doty’s work involving Bennewitz was deemed to have stepped over the lines between national security interests, and what could have been Doty’s own personal motives?
This could indeed be the case, according to researcher Adam Gorightly. In his book Saucers, Spooks and Kooks: UFO Disinformation in the Age of Aquarius, Gorightly notes that there is another theory about what motivated Richard Doty to mislead Bennewitz.
“One theory about Doty is that he was a ‘rogue agent’,” Gorightly writes, “who of his own volition spearheaded the Bennewitz affair—or at least took the AFOSI’s disinformation campaign way farther than his superiors ever intended.”
To what extent the operation had indeed been carried out at the behest of the Air Force remains somewhat in question, since as Alejandro Rojas points out, there is no evidence in any documentation that has surfaced that clearly points to this.
Although for Gorightly’s part, another alternative exists. It could be that the perception of Doty operating as a sort of “rogue agent” could actually “have been yet another layer of disinfo that the government used to distance itself from culpability.”
In any case, the end result had been a shockwave that went through the UFO research community, once it was revealed that an AFOSI agent had supplied disinformation to members of the UFO research community. To this day, opinions remain divided on the information that was presented, with some factions clinging to it as evidence of a “Cosmic Watergate,” and others recognizing the deception, which they attribute directly to the United States government.
Perhaps we will never know the entire truth behind the strange, sordid situation… although one thing remains clear: ufology has never been quite the same since the Bennewitz affair, and it will likely continue to be haunted by the echoes of disinformation that reverberate from the 1980s, regardless of what individuals, agencies, or combinations thereof had actually been behind it all.