Jul 18, 2022 I Nick Redfern

"Flying Saucers" - What Was Really Going on Behind the Scenes in 1947?

Had pilot Kenneth Arnold not encountered a squadron of strange-looking aircraft near Mt. Rainier, Washington State on the afternoon of June 24, 1947, things might have been very different in the world of UFOs. The media and the public were fascinated by the Arnold affair. But, what was going on behind the scenes in the U.S. government at that time? Let's have a look. First, a bit about the Arnold case. Arnold himself said: "I watched these objects with great interest as I had never before observed airplanes flying so close to the mountain tops, flying directly south to southeast down the hog's back of a mountain range. I would estimate their elevation could have varied a thousand feet one way or another up or down, but they were pretty much on the horizon to me which would indicate they were near the same elevation as I was. They flew like many times I have observed geese to fly in a rather diagonal chain-like line as if they were linked together. They seemed to hold a definite direction but rather swerved in and out of the high mountain peaks."

Arnold continued: "Their speed at the time did not impress me particularly, because I knew that our army and air forces had planes that went very fast. What kept bothering me as I watched them flip and flash in the sun right along their path was the fact that I couldn't make out any tail on them, and I am sure that any pilot would justify more than a second look at such a plane. I observed them quite plainly, and I estimate my distance from them, which was almost at right angles, to be between twenty to twenty-five miles. I knew they must be very large to observe their shape at that distance, even on as clear a day as it was that Tuesday, In fact I compared a zeus [sic: it should be “Dzus”] fastener or cowling tool I had in my pocket with them - holding it up on them and holding it up on the DC-4 - that I could observe at quite a distance to my left, and they seemed smaller than the DC-4; but, I should judge their span would have been as wide as the furtherest [sic] engines on each side of the fuselage of the DC-4."      

Arnold expanded further: "The more I observed these objects the more upset I became, as I am accustomed and familiar with most all objects flying whether I am close to the ground or at higher altitudes. I observed the chain of these objects passing another high snow-covered ridge in between Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams and as, the first one was passing the south crest of this ridge the last object was entering the northern crest of the ridge. As I was flying in the direction of this particular ridge, I measured it and found it to be approximately five miles so I could safely assume that the chain of these saucer like objects were at least five miles long. I could quite accurately determine their pathway due to the fact that there were several high peaks that were a little this side of them as well as higher peaks on the other side of their pathway." There was this from Arnold, too: "I have received lots of requests from people who told me to make a lot of wild guesses. I have based what I have written here in this article on positive facts and as far as guessing what it was I observed, it is just as much a mystery to me as it is to the rest of the world." The Flying Saucer phenomenon had begun. But, what was happening in the worlds of the U.S. government and the military? Let's see.  

We know that Arnold wasn't about to leave things alone, as the following words from the man himself show: "I have in my possession letters from all over the Unites States and people who profess that these objects have been observed over other portions of the world, principally Sweden, Bermuda, and California. I would have given almost anything that day to have had a movie camera with a telephoto lens and from now on I will never be without one - but, to continue further with my story. When I landed at Yakima, Washington, airport I described what I had seen to my very good friend, Al Baxter, who listened patiently and was very courteous but in a joking way didn't believe me. I did not accurately measure the distance between these two mountains until I landed at Pendleton, Oregon, that same day where I told a number of pilot friends of mine what I had observed and they did not scoff or laugh but suggested they might be guided missiles or something new. In fact several former Army pilots informed me that they had been briefed before going into combat overseas that they might see objects of similar shape and design as I described and assured me that I wasn't dreaming or going crazy."

And Arnold also said: "I quote Sonny Robinson, a former Army Air Forces pilot who is now operating dusting operations at Pendleton, Oregon, 'that what you observed, I am convinced, is some type of jet or rocket propelled ship that is in the process of being tested by our government or even it could possibly be by some foreign government.' Anyhow, the news that I had observed these spread very rapidly and before the night was over I was receiving telephone calls from all parts of the world; and, to date, I have not received one telephone call or one letter of scoffing or disbelief. The only disbelief that I know of was what was printed in the papers."  

As well as investigating what appeared to be legitimate, mystifying UFO encounters in the summer of 1947, the FBI also studied the possibility that the Russians were recruiting communists within the United States to provoke fear – and were using aspects of the UFO enigma to heighten that fear. Barely a month after the Kenneth Arnold situation erupted and caused worldwide amazement, FBI Special Agent S.W. Reynolds had a face-to-face chat with Brigadier George F. Schulgen, of the Intelligence Branch of the Army Air Corps Intelligence. The reason was, in part, to address that controversial matter of potential Russian manipulation of the UFO issue. In fact, it was this theory – rather than matters relative to aliens or to highly classified U.S. military programs – that was at the forefront of Brigadier Schulgen’s thinking. FBI records show Schulgen informed Reynolds that “the first reported sightings might have been by individuals of Communist sympathies with the view to causing hysteria and fear of a secret weapon [italics mine].” Schulgen’s team suspected that many flying saucer sightings were not what they seemed to be. Rather, they were completely fabricated tales – with no real UFO component attached to them at all, but driven by a Soviet operation to maximize deep concern in the United States. The Russian program had begun.

(Nick Redfern)

On August 14, 1947, the FBI got word – via newspaper articles contained in “the Los Angeles papers” of the day – that, to quote the FBI, “Soviet espionage agents had been instructed to determine the facts relative to the flying discs. The article carried a Washington date-line and indicated that Red espionage agents had been ordered to solve the question of flying discs, the Russians being of the opinion that this might be some new form of defense perfected by the American military.” It should also be noted, however, that the FBI was worried that those same Russian agents cited in the L.A. press were actually in the United States for other reasons. Namely, to determine how effectively they - the Soviets - were disrupting the U.S. by conjuring up bogus tales of unidentified flying objects. When questioned by the media on this matter, the FBI stated that it had no information relative to such a story. FBI Special Agent D.M. Ladd, of the Bureau’s Domestic Intelligence Division said that “in the event any inquiries were made concerning such a story, that the story should be flatly denied in so far as the FBI was concerned.” Nevertheless, behind closed doors elements of the FBI were still speculating on the astounding theory that many UFO reports were complete fabrications; fanciful tales put together at the behest of influential and powerful figures in the Moscow Kremlin - to give it its full name – which is the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation.

While addressing the same timeframe - the latter part of the 1940s - we see evidence that the U.S. Government chose to follow the lead of the Soviets when it came to the matter of manipulating the UFO controversy. That’s to say, U.S. Intelligence realized that if the Soviets could theoretically use bogus UFO tales as a means to try and keep the American people in a state of concern, then why couldn’t Uncle Sam do exactly the same – but with their operations aimed at the citizens of the likes of Moscow and Saint Petersburg? Evidence that the U.S. intelligence community entered into the very same realm of mind-games that the Russians initiated, can be found in the pages of a Project Grudge “Technical Report” on UFOs; Grudge being one of the early UFO projects of the U.S. military. The report was prepared by the U.S. Air Force in August 1949. The writer of the lengthy Project Grudge document states in part the following: “Upon eliminating several additional incidents due to vagueness and duplication, there remain 228 incidents, which are considered in this report. Thirty of these could not be explained, because there was found to be insufficient evidence on which to base a conclusion.”

U.K. Special Branch Police files on UFOs and "Russian Propaganda."

It’s the following words, however, that really stand out. The military made a recommendation that “[the] Psychological Warfare Division and other governmental agencies interested in psychological warfare be informed of the results of this study [italics mine].” Quite possibly, it was this document - more than any other of that particular era - that led the U.S. Government to initiate a highly secret program to manipulate the flying saucer phenomenon and mess with the minds of Soviet Premier, Joseph Stalin, and his goons. Take a look at how the Pentagon defines psychological warfare. It is, in the military’s own words, “The planned use of propaganda and other psychological actions having the primary purpose of influencing the opinions, emotions, attitudes, and behavior of hostile foreign groups in such a way as to support the achievement of national objectives [italics mine].” And the psychological operations continued. For example, in the latter part of the 1950s, the Flying Saucer-themed Aetherius Society was quietly investigated because there were worries - on the part of the U.K. government - that the Aetherius Society was a front for the Russians. What all of this demonstrates, is that the earliest U.S. military-controlled UFO research programs weren’t just about investigating sightings of strange things in the sky. The operations were also focused on creating utterly bogus flying saucer-themed stories; amazing yarns born out of psychological warfare operations and ingenious propaganda. The Russians were doing it to our people, and we were doing likewise to theirs. And what a strange and twisted game it all became. And, the games are still being played in the world of Ufology.

Nick Redfern

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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