Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I was a Teenage U.S. Air Force Spy

If you judge me based solely upon my critical comments about the U.S. Air Force in this blog, you could easily believe I'm a military hater, consumed with destroying the Air Force image -- and you would be wrong. Remember, I was an Air Force airman for four years and gave them 100 percent of my abilities. I put a few memories into my blog, "Robert Barrow's Air Force," accessible in the link list. If anybody reads my entries here just because they can't wait for my next slap at the military, they really should go elsewhere because I'm not here to waste words destroying the armed services that keep us free, and I could never say enough about the men and women in uniform who risk their lives in situations the rest of us can hardly comprehend.

Sure, I've had my disputes with the Air Force over the UFO issue. Yet, there was a time during my fleeting teenage era, a year or so before I would end up in an Air Force uniform myself, an occasion where the USAF "enlisted" my services in another respect, when something remarkable occurred.

The year was 1967, a perspective in time currently consumed often in this blog, and this event elicited twists and turns that even I don't understand to this very day. See that yellow magazine cover? Click on it for a larger version. It's the July, 1977 issue of Argosy UFO, at that time one of the better national newsstand UFO periodicals. Down on the left, see that red blurb about a strange alliance and how a ufologist came to the aid of the Air Force? That's the title of my article inside -- well, I don't think that was my original title, but something Argosy UFO concocted to look good on the cover. No matter, it described the story accurately.

When I wrote the piece some 10 years after the event, by then years after my USAF enlistment had come and gone, I changed all of the names, including mine, and made up names for locations. I called myself Mike Grant. You need to understand, I'm perpetually paranoid as a writer about lawsuits and people who walk the earth in a focused quest merely to make trouble for others, and this was a story not only about UFOs, but about some unpleasant UFO "investigators" of ill repute as well.

Now, skip forward to 2004. In the "UFO Updates" portion of Errol Bruce-Knapp's Virtually Strange Network (see link), to my surprise, the issue of some UFO sightings in the Newfield/Ithaca area of New York State in the sixties was raised -- the very topic of my disguised Argosy UFO article in 1977.

At that point, I decided to jump into the discussion with my version of the events, to the extent I felt comfortable expressing them, and my lengthy response is still available online. To that end, dear readers, rather than repeat everything here, I'm going to post the link to that 2004 "UFO Updates" reply for your interest. Was I a teenage spy for the Air Force? Did they use me. . .or did I use them? Have a look for yourself at the following link OR proceed just beyond it here and I'll provide the details:


I was an AF Spy

The July, 1977 issue of Argosy UFO carried my article, "Story of a Strange Alliance: How a Ufologist Came To The Aid Of The Air Force." This was the editor's cover title, not mine, because my own choice would not have been so self-serving. I took great care to change names and locations, but the piece was actually all about some Ithaca and Newfield, NY UFO reports. The UFO researcher whom I named "Mike Grant" was really myself. In 1977, I still felt uncomfortable bringing certain things to light, and made it clear from the article's opening lines that these changes had been made. Nevertheless, to reiterate the basic story outlined in the Argosy UFO article. . .

One day, sometime in the mid-sixties (forgive me, time has clouded my memory and files are hiding somewhere with sock drawer fugitives), I received an unexpected phone call in upstate NY from a stranger. Still a high school teenager, I had already been interested in UFOs for a few years and, though I wasn't quite sure where he got my phone number, I had appeared on local radio programs and had investigated the 1965 Northeast power blackout a bit, so that wasn't really an enigma. What was a mystery was his question - did I have any information on UFO sightings in Newfield, near Ithaca? No, I had none. Then the man wished to know whether I was familiar with a certain UFO investigator in that area, whom he named. Again, no was my response. The man thanked me and said goodbye.

The next day, I received another call, this time from somebody with an all-too-similar calm, smooth voice, maybe with a slight southern accent. He gave his name and identified himself as an Air Force intelligence officer from Hancock Field in Syracuse. In my article, I made him a captain for reasons even I have forgotten, but I believe his actual rank was first lieutenant. In any event, I'll refer to him as "Captain Todd," as I had in my writing.

The officer casually informed me that he had been "working" in this area for several weeks and had seen some of my letters to local newspapers about UFOs. He appreciated my sincere approach to the UFO topic - even though my most recent letter offered a scathing attack on recent UFO 'explanations' hastily given out by officials at Hancock Field about local sightings. Todd was sure to emphasize, however, that the USAF at Hancock Field "is not hiding anything."

Todd went on to tell me that, even though there were reports ofUFOs, landings, occupants and physical evidence in the Newfield/Ithaca area, there were other Air Force officials - BlueBook? - investigating on the scene and they felt that most of the reports had no substance at all.

His particular concern, however, appeared to be a couple of civilian UFO investigators who, like me, had connections with major private UFO organizations. He expressed dismay, not that they were questioning UFO witnesses, but that they were leading the witnesses in questioning, injecting suggestive comments about spaceships and aliens during the sessions. To my shock -and remember, I was just a kid, some distance away from the UFO activity in the Ithaca area - he asked if I would try to find out more information about, particularly, one of these UFO investigators. Further, Todd insisted that I not tell the private organizations about Air Force interest. He wanted me to handle all of this "diplomatically."

What a dilemma this was for me, as no fan of the Air Force UFO investigation, but intensely loyal to the goals of the civilianUFO groups to which I belonged. Yet, because Captain Todd was seemingly being up front with me and extremely kind with his approach, I could only assume that what little assistance I might provide - even as a teenage UFO geek - would be the best way to go.

But Todd was stern about a couple of things that he wished me to understand implicitly. First, he forbade me to use his name at all, and I was absolutely not to tell the major UFO organizations or anybody at all that the Air Force had an interest in this situation. Second, when I flat-out demanded to know whether there was physical evidence where UFOs were said to have landed, Todd insisted coldly that there was no physical evidence and there was no landing scene to investigate. This officer, if nothing else, seemed a debunking hardliner and my comments about good historical UFO cases were all dismissed by him.

After this initial forty minute conversation, Capt. Todd informed me he was preparing a report on the supposedly tainted civilian investigators - for whom, I don't know - and as this, the first of numerous phone conversations, ended, he gave me two numbers where I could reach him - one seemed in error, but the other worked fine.

But I wasn't about to let this go by so easily. Among my interests was the - now defunct - NORAD installation at HancockField, the SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) building, a windowless facility that housed the highest of high-tech equipment for tracking who-knows-what entering the air space of the United States. Call me a foolish kid, call me an idiot, butI decided to bargain a little. I expressed to Capt. Todd that, in return for my services, wouldn't it be great if I could get into the SAGE facility to see what that place is all about? To my amazement, Todd said he thought that could be arranged!

Ultimately, I found that there apparently were some underhanded things going on via some civilian investigators in theNewfield/Ithaca area. An official of one of the major UFO organizations, knowing only that I was looking into the technique of certain investigators, repeated to me several times during a phone conversation regarding one that he "is a weird person, he's just weird." Indeed, that organization had received other complaints about this member.

One Sunday evening, Todd phoned to tell me he was imformed that a team of university scientists (re the Colorado UFO study) was coming to Newfield to conduct a UFO investigation. For some reason, he found this difficult to believe, though he was aware that a Project Blue Book consultant had been there a few days before. A few hours later, I confirmed that the team was coming and relayed this information to Capt. Todd.

Now, here's the really, really peculiar part: Upon hearing that the team was coming, the officer's voice became extremely concerned and he explained to me again that he anticipated complete and absolute secrecy regarding our contacts. "Neither I nor the others at my office want to be associated with the investigation in any way, at any time," he demanded. Then the bombshell hit: "Bob, I want you to know something. I'm not even supposed to be talking with you. The public information office here at Hancock Field doesn't even know I am speaking with you."

By this time, I had come to realize that Todd was working with at least two other people. One was a high-ranking NCO, and the other a woman, perhaps an officer, or maybe enlisted. I spoke with her only once, but had numerous conversations with the sergeant.

As days went by, the civilian "investigators" in question decided to come to nearby Syracuse to appear with local media and to conduct public meetings about their "findings." I was asked to appear with them on some program, but I obviously declined because I wished to safeguard my own reputation in addition to being in the uncomfortable position of checking these people out. By now, first one, and then both major national UFO organizations with whom these people had become affiliated were blazing angry over their affiliations and were taking steps to distance themselves.

I spoke with reporters sent to cover the civilian investigators. One told me of a meeting in which a few hand-picked and easily influenced UFO witnesses were brought along, and he remarkedthat one of the investigators just seemed "very weird" to him.

As things progressed, the civilian investigators in question even formed their own UFO investigative organization and they were soliciting membership fees. Capt. Todd, in his latest conversations with me, began to lose his cool. He had become extremely upset that the civilian group leaders were criticizing his own now-apparent investigations in the Ithaca/Newfield area, and he seemed worried that his formerly low profile regarding the AirForce investigation had surfaced.

I asked Capt. Todd, during a phone conversation in which he was quite emotional and disturbed, what in the world was wrong? "Trouble." he replied. "Wright-Patterson found out that (the civilian investigators) were screaming about our investigation in Newfield." So what, I wondered? "That's the problem," Todd returned. "Wright-Patt called me and wanted to know why I was down there."

"Didn't they know why?" I asked, now absolutely confused.

"I told them I was ordered to go," he shot back.

"I thought they -- Blue Book -- ordered you to go," I said.

The phone conversation ended abruptly. He would not speak further with me on this occasion. Capt. Todd, or First Lt. Whomever, he was off the phone, click.

One of the newspaper reporters called me later in the evening to tell me the university scientists had arrived and were staying at a certain inn, being mobbed by the press and the curious. However, when I called the inn, the clerk insisted that there was no "mob scene" and that if scientists had arrived, he knew nothing about them being there.

When I reinitiated contact with Capt. Todd later in the evening ,I discovered that while the clerk at the inn was telling me there were no scientists in town, as a matter of fact one of those non-existent scientists had just spoken with the captain on the phone.

The scientists (probably affiliated with the University of Colorado UFO project which ultimately ended in disaster) looked into the UFO situation, publicly claimed disappointment with their findings and left town. The civilian "investigators" cried foul to the press, seething particularly about the formerly reclusive Capt. Todd's investigations, and went about the business of raising funds for their new UFO research group -- perhaps unaware by this time that the New York State Attorney General's Office was getting complaints about the use of members' money and an investigation was underway.

Eventually, the civilian investigators, having already been thrown out of the two major UFO organizations, were brought up on criminal charges by the State of NY and they were effectively prosecuted for scamming people out of their money. They had also told some fantastic lies, even claiming a veritable father-son relationship with Project Blue Book personnel as they used their pied-piper personalities to entwine the UFO faithful into parting with their cash.

As if a light switch was turned off, I instantly lost all contact with Capt. Todd. He was simply gone. However, the weeks passed and suddenly, one winter's morning, someone claiming to be an Air Force officer called my home while I was out. The name was not taken and he did not call back.

A couple of weeks later, I phoned the Hancock Field phone number that I knew so well by then. A familiar voice answered; it was the sergeant whom I had spoken with many times. He confirmed that Capt. Todd had transferred to a new assignment in some other state about a month earlier. As we spoke, the NCO confided that he very much wished he could give me his personal opinion about the nature of UFOs, but felt it best not to do so. "But,"he offered, "I'm sure my opinions would be much the same as yours."

Postscript: You, dear reader, probably believe this incredibly convoluted story of confusion and intrigue has now ended. Not true. A few days later, I received a phone call from the public information office at Hancock Field in Syracuse. Wherever he had gone, whatever he had become or was in the first place, the mysterious Capt. Todd -- rather, First Lt. Whomever -- had not forgotten his promise. He had asked the sergeant to make arrangements for me to tour the SAGE installation. After one delay and questions of security complications due to the nature of the tour, I gained my precious entrance into the world ofNORAD. The installation no longer graces the grounds of Hancock Field, but I can say that it was a fantastic experience to watch it work from the inside. I and what seemed primarily a group of Japanese officials or scientists were guided through the building, shown what were then giant freezer-sized computers and ultimately the auditorium-sized room with the big NORAD Screen on the wall that we've all seen in those old movies. The radar, all the officers, airmen and WAFs sitting at their duty stations, the speaker-generated sounds of multiple voice communications coming and going from all over the country and overseas as the huge screen before us awaited friend and foe alike - well, it was all pretty darned impressive.

And for me, something equally as impressive happened when I first walked into the SAGE building. I was actually greeted by the sergeant, his name tag reading exactly who he said he was many months ago. No kid was this, either, he was a chief master sergeant, on the verge of retirement. The lines on his face spoke of experiences of which most can only dream. Despite all of the confusion and the things that will never be explained to my satisfaction regarding theIthaca/Newfield UFO situation, few could ever know what a comfort it was to me just to see a tag with a name that at least seemed real. Chief master sergeant such-and-such (of course, I remember real names to this day) was real. Whatever I had experienced was official and absolutely meaningful and real.

I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about the Ithaca/Newfield UFO sightings over the years, which I personally believe have a basis. Back then, I had to finish high school and then, in an era where both the Rev. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated as the USA slipped further into the turmoil of Vietnam, the military draft began biting at my heels. With only two college courses completed, a week before the final draft notice arrived I entered the Air Force as an enlistee. If anybody thinks I was rewarded further for helping the enigmatic young Air Force officer, my addendum would be that my Air Force recruiter promised me photography school. Instead, I was trained as a medic.