Oct 06, 2022 I Nick Redfern

The Controversial Saga of the "Majestic 12" Documents: How Did it All Begin?

December 11, 1984 was a date destined to become infamous in the field of Ufology. On that day, a man named Jaime Shandera, who was a television producer at the time, received in the mail a thick, manila envelope. It was postmarked Albuquerque, New Mexico and lacked a return address. Greg Bishop (in his book, Project Beta) says that “two more envelopes were inside, each enclosed within the next like Russian dolls.” As will soon become apparent, Bishop’s Russian analogy proves to be a highly apt one. It still is. Bishop added: “From the third one, a 35mm roll of film rolled out of a black canister. When developed, the black-and-white film revealed two sequences of eight pictures each – pictures of something that would pass into history as the notorious ‘MJ-12 document’ or ‘Presidential Briefing Papers.’” They appeared to be nothing less than decades-old, highly-classified papers on a Top Secret program of the U.S. Government. Those same papers revolved around crashed saucers, dead aliens, autopsies of extraterrestrial creatures, and a secret agency or think-tank – maybe even a full-on cabal – known as Majestic 12

In 1984, Shandera was working with William L. “Bill” Moore, the co-author with Charles Berlitz of two controversial books: 1979’s The Philadelphia Experiment and The Roswell Incident, which was published in the following year. The former told the intriguing story of an attempt to make a U.S. Navy ship invisible in 1943, while the latter was focused on the saga of an alleged crashed UFO in New Mexico in the late 1940s. Back in the mid-seventies, when Moore’s research into the Roswell affair was taking off, the case was nowhere near being the forever-growing colossus which it certainly is to this very day. In fact, in the post-1947 period, the event had practically been forgotten or dismissed by the UFO research field - lost to the fog of time after a brief, manic period of notoriety in early July 1947. Moore’s work, alongside that of UFO investigator Stanton Friedman, served to reignite the cold coals of Roswell. They would soon be scalding hot. It was this resurrection of the story of Roswell that ultimately led Moore, in particular, to find himself plunged into a world filled with what are colloquially known as secret agents, spies, and government spooks. This Machiavellian group worked hard to come across to Moore as comrades in arms; benevolent combinations of the NSA’s Edward Snowden and Watergate’s Deep-Throat, Mark Felt. They were willing to share with Moore what they claimed were some of the U.S. Government’s most guarded UFO secrets. In return for allowing Moore a tantalizing peek behind the curtains, one might suggest, they insisted that, in return, Moore had to do something for them. It wasn’t particularly savory; Faustian pacts very seldom are. If ever, even. We’ll come back, shortly, to the matter of the dark deal that was placed on the table for Moore.

(Nick Redfern) Out at the crash site of the whatever it was that came down near Roswell

There’s no doubt that something crashed to earth on the Foster Ranch, Lincoln County, New Mexico at some point around Independence Day 1947. The big question that still stands to this day is: what was it? It’s a fact that after being appraised of the situation at the ranch by the local sheriff’s office, military personnel from the Roswell Army Air Field headed out to see what all of the fuss and palaver was about. Depending on whose version of events you accept as being real – the Air Force, the Government Accountability Office, or numerous ufologists - those on the scene stumbled on a wrecked spacecraft from another world, a weather-balloon, a “secret balloon” designed to monitor for early Soviet atomic bomb tests, a Russian aircraft, a time-machine from the future, or a rocket filled with a crew of shaved chimpanzees. And, that’s just the start. Today, the number of theories for what happened approximately an hour’s drive from Roswell has reached no less than fifteen. When portions of the wreckage were retrieved by the military, staff at the old and long-closed-down Roswell Army Air Field announced that they had recovered the remains of what was termed in a press-release as a “flying disc.”

It was a statement which caught the attention of many. How could it not? Even the U.K.’s Times newspaper sat up and took notice of that one, as did the Hong Kong press. Twenty-four hours later, though, the sensational story was utterly crushed to pulp: “Sorry, guys,” said the Army Air Force, “No flying disc, after all. Just a weather-balloon.” The press moved onto new stories and soon forgot about the strange, potentially unearthly incident. The legend of the doomed little men from the stars, however - their bodies said to have been found decaying quickly under the hot, baking sun of New Mexico, and their ship torn to pieces, so the story goes – would resurface years later, thanks to Moore and Friedman. 

While still a team at the time – they ultimately parted ways in the 1980s - the pair chased down old-timers from the military, locals in the Roswell area who remembered all too well the weird events that went on in July 1947, and just about anyone and everyone with something of significance to say on the matter. Soon, there would be enough material to present a reasonably-sized manuscript to a publisher, which is exactly what happened. Moore's and Berlitz’s 1980 book, The Roswell Incident, makes for intriguing reading. Moore and Friedman continued to enthusiastically work on the case. Berlitz, meanwhile, turned his attentions elsewhere, such as trying to find the location of Noah’s Ark and delving into prophecies of worldwide Armageddon in 1999 (it didn’t happen, folks). It became clear fairly quickly that there was one big problem for Moore: despite the in-depth investigations, the publication of the book, and more than a few potentially significant leads suggesting that the weather-balloon scenario was an undeniable lie, Moore knew he was facing an almost impenetrable brick-wall. Those who really knew what happened, and saw the bodies - such as Bill Rickett and Sheridan Cavitt, both of the old Counter-Intelligence Corps, and both at Roswell in 1947 – were saying next to nothing. Both men were fearful of unleashing an old, dark secret they had pledged would never be revealed. What was needed was a break in the story. It soon came.  But, was it the real thing? Or, was Moore himself about to find himself subjected to carefully directed deception.

In September 1980, while promoting The Roswell Incident, Moore took part in a number of radio-based interviews around the United States. At the end of one such interview, a secretary told Moore that there was someone on the line who wanted to speak privately with Moore. The voice at the other end belonged to a colonel who was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base, which is located in Sarpy County, Nebraska. The man said to Moore, as Greg Bishop tells it in his 2005 book, Project Beta: “We think you’re the only one we’ve heard that seems to know what he’s talking about.” The colonel desired a meeting. And soon, too. Moore scribbled down the colonel’s number, promising to get back in touch as soon as possible. The proactive colonel didn’t wait for Moore to reach him, however. Instead, he contacted Moore – for a second time. Once again, the man trotted out those same sixteen words: “We think you’re the only one we’ve heard that seems to know what he’s talking about.” By now, Moore was more than intrigued. A meeting was quickly arranged. The pair was to rendezvous in an Albuquerque restaurant, one which was on Moore’s journey home, for good food and – hopefully - enlightening conversation. The mysterious informant was described by Moore as being elderly and gaunt. Greg Bishop said that the man had a “hint of an Eastern European accent.” From that day on, the wizened old man would become known to Moore as “The Falcon.”

(Nick Redfern) The controversial Marilyn Monroe-UFO document had a Majestic 12 connection too

Greg Bishop says that, “…[Moore’s] new acquaintance told [him] that he represented a group of intelligence agents in the U.S. Government who were tired of the secrecy surrounding the UFO subject and were eager to release more accurate information to the public. They wanted to do this through a reputable researcher. He would be given small bites of the story over time, and could do with it as he wished. Would Moore be interested in participating in such a program?” Yes, Moore was interested. Very much so. But, there was the matter of that aforementioned unholy alliance, which Moore knew he would have to enter into; like it or not. He knew that if he didn’t play the game, then his chance of getting to the heart of what Uncle Sam knew of UFOs and aliens – dead, alive or even both - would irreversibly slip out of his grip. So, Moore agreed to do whatever had to be done. And forget the cost. Maybe, even the consequences, too. Everything soon took off: in the early 1980s, Moore found himself periodically on the receiving end of instructions to travel to certain locations around the United States, where he would meet with anonymous, insider-type characters, including, yet again, the Falcon. 

 On each occasion seemingly highly-classified material on UFOs was handed over to Moore – always in manila envelopes and in various, widespread places. Those locations included a motel-room in upstate New York, and a certain building in the heart of Los Angeles, California. On one occasion, in April 1983, a friend of Moore, Nic Magnuson, picked up a collection of documents for Moore at Seattle, Washington’s Sea-Tac International Airport. The handover was made by “a short, elderly, balding man” who gave to Magnuson a newspaper that contained hidden within its pages one of those priceless manila envelopes. The collective documentation referred to such enigmas as “Project Aquarius,” “MJ12 [an alternative term for Majestic 12],” “communications with aliens,” even to decisions taken by elite figures in the domain of intelligence-gathering to keep the White House firmly out of the ufological loop. A secret that was so astounding that not even the president of the United States could be told the truth? Possibly, yes.

For Moore there was very little doubt the papers amounted to absolute dynamite. If they were true, that is. That was the biggest issue of all: were they genuine? Or, was Moore being used by people in the intelligence community; manipulative characters who were trying to push Moore away from his genuinely significant Roswell research and further down a pathway filled with questionable document upon questionable document? And, still hanging over Moore’s head like the sword of Damocles, there was that part of the deal which Moore had to fulfil if he was to continue to receive regular supplies of those seemingly priceless papers. Moore’s part in all of this revolved around a man named Paul Bennewitz.

An Albuquerque, New Mexico physicist who died in 2003, Paul Bennewitz spent a significant amount of time digging into U.S. Air Force- and National Security Agency-based top secret projects which, from the late-seventies to the early-eighties, were housed at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. Bennewitz believed those projects were connected to the activities of sinister extraterrestrials. They soared across the skies above Kirtland AFB by star-filled, moonlit nights, demonstrating their extraterrestrial invulnerability and power. It’s hardly surprising that, for years, Bennewitz was put under deep surveillance by the U.S. military and a numbers of intelligence services. He was, as a consequence of his digging, bombarded by the murky world of officialdom with a mass of disinformation, faked stories, and outright lies in order to divert him from his research. It worked. In fact, and to Bennewitz’s eternal cost, it worked just too damned well. By the mid-eighties, he was heading for complete mental disintegration. 

The intelligence community cared not a bit that Bennewitz thought their secret operations were UFO-related – precisely because the UFO connection was one of Bennewitz’s very own making. There was, however, deep concern on the part of the world of officialdom that by digging into classified activities at Kirtland in search of UFOs, Bennewitz just might inadvertently reveal – to the spies of the Soviet Union, in a worst-case scenario – information and technology that had to be kept secret at all costs, even if those costs included Bennewitz’s own sanity and health. Which, ultimately, they did. And, so, a grim plan was initiated. U.S. agents learned the essential parts of Bennewitz’s theories from the man himself, by actually breaking into his home while he was out and checking his files and research notes. Bennewitz’s beliefs were astounding and controversial: aliens were mutilating cattle as part of some weird genetic experiment. The E.T.s were abducting American citizens and implanting them with small devices for purposes disturbingly unknown. Those same aliens were living deep underground in a secure fortress below the Archuleta Mesa at Dulce, New Mexico. And everyone was soon going to be in deep and dire trouble as a direct result of the presence of this brewing, intergalactic threat. So, the Air Force gave Bennewitz precisely what he was looking for: confirmation that his theories were all true, and more. This was, however, all just a carefully-planned ruse to bombard Bennewitz with so much faked UFO data in the hope that it would steer him away from the classified military projects of a non-UFO nature that he had uncovered. And, sure enough, it all worked very well. For the government. Far less so for Bennewitz.

The Majestic 12 documents and "Espionage"

All of which brings us to what happened after December 11, 1984, the date on which Jaime Shandera received the ever-controversial Majestic 12 documents. It’s a story as mind-blowing as that of Paul Bennewitz – partly because it was interconnected, as we shall further see. It caused the FBI’s counterintelligence staff to suspect that those same documents were the creations of no less than disinformation agents of the Russian government. In the summer of 1987, Sidgwick & Jackson published Timothy Good’s book, Above Top Secret: The Worldwide UFO Cover-Up. It contained copies of the same controversial Majestic 12 documents which had been dropped through Jaime Shandera’s mailbox some three years earlier. According to Good, he got his copies of the pages in March 1987 from “a CIA source.” Good has been consistently cagey when it comes to the matter of how, precisely, he obtained his copies of the files. And from whom, too. Two months after Good’s CIA insider provided him with the documents, the London Observer newspaper mentioned the Majestic 12 documents. The date of the article was May 31, 1987. Written by Martin Bailey it had the lengthy title of “Close encounters of an alien kind – and now if you’ve read enough about the election, here’s news from another world.” 

In no time, Moore, Shandera and Friedman chose to release their copies into the public domain, which is hardly surprising, given the fact that word of the Majestic 12 papers was now starting to trickle and circulate outside of the confines of the trio. This was completely understandable: after all, the three had done all of the groundwork, and the very last thing they wanted was to be written out of the story – or, at the absolute least, left marginalized and sitting frustratingly on the sidelines. And, not surprisingly,1987 became the year in which those controversial documents became the talk of the UFO research community. There were those who thought the papers were the real deal. Others shouted "Hoax!" To a small degree (more than 30 years after the papers surfaced), the debate of Majestic 12 still goes on.

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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