Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Slow Death in Washington (Part One)

Major remnants, and ghostly traces of files which survived the defunct National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP), can be found at the remarkable NICAP historical site (see link). What a shame, how a powerful lobbying organization once held in respect by high-ranking military and former military members -- and more than a few influential members of Congress and other areas of government who, unfortunately, often didn't want to go public regarding their views about the importance of the UFO issue -- could die a slow and disturbingly quiet death. No, 'twasn't bullets, bombs or swords that killed the beast of burden, but apathy, lack of funds and other resources, and seemingly credible rumors of infiltration by government operatives.

By April of 1969 the University of Colorado's "Condon Report" on UFOs was known far and wide, its negativity and scandal-tainted pages condemned across the nation by anybody familiar with UFO history. Significantly, its release also harkened the beginning of the end of NICAP, despite valiant efforts to convince press & public that Condon's nevertheless under-funded and far from enthusiastic "study" gushed with enough whitewash to submerge a small island.

I had already been a NICAP member and activist, mainly in terms of publicity and checking out occasional UFO reports, for five years, but when the organization began unraveling faster than ever during 1969 I was tucked away with the Air Force, serving in a medical capacity. I'm not sure I realized how badly things were going at the Washington, D.C. headquarters, a place I had happily visited during the summer of 1965, when I met director Major Keyhoe, assistant director Richard Hall and -- not to forget -- Mrs. Lelia Day, the pleasant NICAP office secretary whose long-time presence probably allowed her to know the intricacies of Keyhoe, Hall and NICAP better than many other contacts.

By 1969, Richard Hall had departed NICAP and Gordon I.R. Lore, Jr., co-author of an insightful book about UFOs, had assumed Hall's position (years later, Lore printed his own periodical, the UFO Research Newsletter, a news-packed report of few pages detailing major UFO activity (another long-departed, historically essential publication which, sadly, should be, but isn't, available on the Web).

The April 10, 1969 letter reproduced here is not the first-ever indication of NICAP's funding problems, but this plea fundamentally denotes the starting-gate "first gasp" of the organization's assured demise. NICAP, after all, had been a feisty survivor since its inception in 1956, and like other UFO membership concerns it was probably inevitable that an economic and public relations death star would sweep it out of orbit one day.

CONFIDENTIAL -- NOT FOR PUBLICATION, screams a line at the top. I suspect Maj. Keyhoe was primarily responsible for this warning, and why wouldn't he be? Keyhoe was a former Marine, government employee and an aide to Charles Lindbergh, and -- he had his pride. It couldn't have been easy begging for money, and this was not the first time he had to do so. Yet, the letter promised a spirited agenda, and the intent was both honorable and important.

Nevertheless, four months later NICAP's financial situation was exceptionally dire, necessitating members of its board of governors to join in the plea -- and we'll pursue this additional landmark document in part two, next time.