Scientific Advisory Panel on Unidentified Flying Objects

The Scientific Advisory Panel on Unidentified Flying Objects was a panel of scientific experts set up, following a CIA proposal to the Intelligence Advisory Committee on December 4, 1952, to review the issue of unidentified flying objects and assess any possible threat to national security. The CIA's proposal was in response to a September 24 memo from the Assistant Director for Scientific Intelligence, H. Marshall Chadwell, to the CIA's Director, General Walter Bedell Smith. Chadell expressed concern that the Soviets might be able to orchestrate a flying saucer flap in order to confuse the U.S. Air Warning System and thus camouflage a surprise attack given that "a fair share of our population is mentally conditioned to the acceptance of the incredible." In the wake of the CIA's response, Chadwell asked H. P. Robertson, a specialist in cosmology and relativity theory at the California Institute of Technology, to assemble a suitable group of consultants. To this end, Robertson brought together physicists Luis Alvarez and Samuel A. Goudsmit, geophysicist Lloyd Berkner, and astronomer Thornton Page, together with associate panel members J. Allen Hynek and rocketry expert Frederick C. Durant. From January 14 to 17, 1953, in Washington, D.C., the scientists met in secret to consider the evidence. They concluded that "reasonable explanations could be suggested for most sightings" but that "the continued emphasis of the reporting of these phenomena does, in these parlous times, result in a threat to the orderly functioning of the protective organs of the body politic." The Panel recommended that the national security agencies adopt a program


... to reassure the public of the total lack of evidence of inimical forces behind the phenomena, to train personnel to recognize and reject false indications quickly and effectively, and to strengthen regular channels for the evaluation of and prompt rejection to true indications of hostile measures.


The fact that the CIA did not declassify the whole of the Panel's report until 1979, and that the Panel advocated a debunking education program, was later seized upon by some ufologists as more evidence of a cover-up. But there were good reasons for these actions. The CIA would not have wanted, by revealing its involvement with the Panel at the time, to give further ammunition to those, such as Donald Keyhoe, who in the early 1950s were energetically promulgating the theory of an extraterrestrial conspiracy. More importantly, the CIA would have been keen not to hand the idea of spreading UFO hysteria among the American populace to the Soviets, given that the enemy might not in fact have thought of it. As for the Panel's recommendations for greater openness and a more analytical approach to handling UFO reports, these were nothing more than one would expect from a team of professional scientists.1



1. Durant, F. C. Report on Meetings of Scientific Advisory Panel on Unidentified Flying Objects. Washington, D.C.: CIA (1953).