The Robertson Panel -- An Overview
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Form: 97 INF
Date: Fri, 24 Nov 2006 14:36:09 -0600
From: Francis Ridge
Subject: The Robertson Panel, 1953; A Corrected Brief Summary
Source: CUFON, Brad Sparks
Distribution: CE, SHG, NCP
CUFON posted the text version of this report several years ago which makes internet searches possible. Brad Sparks had obtained the full declassification of the Robertson Panel Report and Durant Memo by the CIA with all sanitized redactions filled in, in 1974-5. The Panel met Jan 14-17, not 14-18, 1953. The Durant Memo (or Report) to the CIA director of the Office of Scientific Intelligence, Dr. H. Marshall Chadwell, has a typo in the memo subject heading/title saying "14-18," thus the erroneous dates. The following report has been updated.
Jan. 14-17, 1953: The Durant Report of the Robertson Panel proceedings Report of Scientific Advisory Panel on Unidentified Flying Objects Convened by Office of Scientific Intelligence, CIA. (Credit: CUFON)
The Air Force had earlier commissioned the Battelle Memorial Institute to scientifically study the various UFO reports collected by Project Sign, Project Grudge and Project Blue Book, but Battelle insisted they needed more time to conduct a proper study. The CIA thought the question so pressing that it sent a group to Project Blue Book on Dec. 12, 1952. (See 1952 UFO Chronology) The CIA agreed with Battelle and tried to postpone the Robertson Panel for several months but got overruled by the AF which insisted on an immediate convening of the panel.
The Robertson Panel first met formally on January 14, 1953 under the direction of Howard Percy Robertson. He was a physicist, a CIA employee and director of the Defense Department Weapons Systems Evaluation Group (WSEG).
Other panel members were respected scientists and military personnel who had worked on other classified military projects or studies. Ruppelt's notes indicate that Robertson and Alvarez were initially pro-UFO and their pro-UFO comments can actually be found in the Durant Memo. By the end of the Panel fiasco, set up by the AF with phony IFO cases masqueraded as UFO Unknowns, they turned skeptical too.
ROBERTSON PANEL MEMBERS
H. P. Robertson, cosmologist physicist, Panel Chairman
Luis W. Alvarez, physicist (and later, a Nobel Prize winner), University of California, Berkeley
Samuel A. Goudsmit, Brookhaven National Laboratories physicist
Thornton L. Page, astrophysicist, deputy director of the Operations Research Office, Johns Hopkins University.
Lloyd V. Berkner*, physicist, Carnegie Institution
ASSOCIATE PANEL MEMBERS
Frederick C. Durant, III, CIA OSI missile expert, an Associate Member of the Panel not a full member or signer; acted as Panel Secretary taking the minutes and notes.
J. Allen Hynek, astronomer at Ohio State, Associate Member of the Panel, not a full member or signer.
*(Sparks: Berkner came so late that he was in effect a non-entity and Ruppelt could not get a fix on whether he was pro or anti-UFO. Durant tried to make up for Berkner's absence by peppering his long memo with Berkner's comments so that his views were better represented.)
Formal Meetings: The Panel had four consecutive days of formal meetings.
The first day, they viewed two amateur motion pictures of UFO's: the 1950 Montana UFO Film and 1952 Utah UFO Film (the latter taken by Navy Chief Petty Officer Delbert C. Newhouse, who had extensive experience with aerial photography). Two Navy photographic analysts, Lt. Robert S. Neasham and Navy civilian Harry W. Woo, both of NavPIC (Naval Photographic Interpretation Center), then reported their conclusions: the two films depicted objects that were not any known aircraft, birds or natural phenomena. Air Force Capt. Edward J. Ruppelt then began a summary of Air Force efforts regarding UFO studies, which had to be finished the next morning.
(Note: Brad Sparks was the only researcher ever to interview Woo, who died in 1976. Woo had joined the CIA, in its highly secret Technical Services Division of the Clandestine Service working on spy cameras, several months after the Robertson Panel. Woo was still angry decades later at how the Panel scientists mistreated him and he praised Hynek for "sticking up" for him.)
The second day, Ruppelt finished his presentation. Hynek then discussed the Battelle study, and the panel discussed with Air Force personnel the problems inherent in monitoring UFO sightings. In the afternoon, AF Lt Col Frederic C. E. Oder, on assignment to CIA OSI, gave a briefing on the 1950-1 Project Twinkle, when he had been in a supervisory role in the AF Cambridge Research Lab.
(Sparks: Oder falsely asserted that nothing had ever been photographed by Project Twinkle except for "two frames" supposedly showing "nothing distinguishable" [Durant Memo p. 16]. In fact several phototheodolite tracking camera films had been taken of UFO's, on April 27, May 24, and Aug. 31, 1950, and in the first incident a triangulation was obtained of 4 UFO's about 30 feet in size flying at 150,000 feet. The existence of these White Sands UFO films was carefully concealed from the CIA. Despite Col Oder's assignment to the CIA his loyalty remained with the AF as did Ruppelt and Fournet, not one of whom breathed a word about the existence of these AF Project Twinkle tracking films proving the existence of UFO's with scientifically measurable data. On March 29, 1992, I actually got a chance to confront the eminent Dr. Oder, the black-projects spy satellite director for the AF and Lockheed for many years. Oder repeated the nonsense about Project Twinkle finding nothing. I retorted that that was flatly not true, that in April 1950 two theodolite stations had triangulated a UFO at 150,000 feet. Oder seemed a bit taken aback, paused a moment as if to settle on a response then admitted that UFO's could be some unexplained phenomenon.)
The third day, Dr. Hynek presented his pro-UFO scientific paper delivered at the Optical Society of America on Oct 11, 1952 (later published in the Journal of the OSA). Dewey J. Fournet spoke to the panel on the year he had spent coordinating UFO affairs for the Pentagon. Fournet supported the extraterrestrial hypothesis as the best explanation for some puzzling UFO reports based on his study of intelligently-guided motions in 17 cases he had selected (this was the study approved and sent up the chain of command to AF Director of Intelligence, Maj. Gen. John Samford, at around this time, in Jan. 1953).
(Sparks: The 15 months of Fournet cited mistakenly in the Durant Memo were not his 11 months as UFO Project Monitor, from Feb. 1952 to Jan. 1953, but Fournet's total time in AF Intelligence.)
For the remainder of the third day, the panel discussed their conclusions, and Robertson agreed to draft a preliminary report. Berkner finally showed up for the first time, in the afternoon of this 3rd day, when the Panel was almost over.
The fourth and final day, the panel rewrote and finalized their report.
The Robertson Panel's informal comments in the Durant memo concluded that "most" UFO sightings could be readily identified with conventional aircraft, balloons, astronomical, or natural phenomena, and that the remaining UFO reports could, in all likelihood, be similarly explained with detailed study. (p. 6 of Durant Memo).
Furthermore, the Panel suggested the Air Force should begin a "debunking" effort to reduce "public gullibility" and demystify UFO reports. The panel suggested a public relations campaign, using psychiatrists, astronomers and assorted celebrities to significantly reduce public interest in UFO's. It was also recommended that the mass media be used for the debunking, including influential media giants like Walt Disney Corporation.
Their formal recommendation stated "That the national security agencies take immediate steps to strip the Unidentified Flying Objects of the special status they have been given and the aura of mystery they have unfortunately acquired."
Also recommended that the government monitor civilian groups studying or researching UFO's "because of their potentially great influence on mass thinking ... the apparent irresponsibility and possible use of such groups for subversive purposes should be kept in mind."
It is commonly believed today that the Robertson Panel's conclusions and recommendations had a great influence on official United States policy regarding UFO's for many decades. (Sparks: The Robertson Panel had zero influence and was not even known to anyone for years, outside the few in the AF and CIA involved. No one has ever found any orders or directives debunking UFO's that cites the Robertson Panel, and the Panel itself had no power or authority to issue such orders, nor did the CIA. It was the AIR FORCE that had already established the official policy of debunking of UFO's, for psychological warfare reasons, back on July 28, 1952, long before plans for the Robertson Panel ever came into existence (in Dec 1952). After being tricked by the AF into thinking that the entire UFO problem was merely one of poor quality IFO reports, the CIA and Robertson Panel agreed with AF debunking operations and suggested ideas how to make them even more devastating.)
The Robertson Panel's study was classified for over 20 years. In 1954, however, Ruppelt made the first public mention of the panel in his TRUE article, then in his 1956 book he offered an extended summary of its proceedings. Ruppelt did not, however, note the panel members' names, nor the government agencies represented. (Sparks: Under AF instigation to support its efforts to derail Congressional hearings on UFO's sought by NICAP, the 2-page Robertson Panel report was partially declassified in 1958 in a 1-page sanitized version that concealed the CIA's role. Behind the scenes the AF circulated the classified Report and a retyped version of the Durant Memo to Congressional committees in order to get them to drop the UFO subject and not hold public hearings. )
Additional Informal Robertson Panel Meetings
Dec. 12, 1952 CIA/OSI chief Dr. Chadwell, Dr. H. P. Robertson and Fred Durant visit Project Blue Book and Battelle's Dr. Howard Cross
Dec. 30, 1952 Robertson and Thornton Page meet at CIA for UFO briefings (approx. date)
Jan. 28, 1953 Some Panel Members (probably Robertson, Page and perhaps Berkner) meet informally with CIA/OSI in a "rump session" to postmortem the UFO Panel proceedings, review the new agency NSA recently established with help of OSI deputy chief Ralph Clark (unrelated to UFO's)
July-Aug 1953 Project Blue Book acting chief Lt. Robert M. Olsson sends some selected new UFO cases to Robertson Panel members as a followup review to see if any change in conclusions was warranted (no change resulted)