Unexplained’ Cases—Only If You Ignore All Explanations
by Robert Sheaffer
Book Review: UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record
By Leslie Kean. Harmony Books,
New York, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-307-71684-2.
335 pp. Hardcover, $25.99.
(Reprinted from The Skeptical Inquirer, March/April, 2011. Revisions made June 19, 2013.)

While UFO believers have held for decades that “disclosure” was just around the corner, the modern Disclosure movement was savvy enough to realize that “Disclosure” would need a little push. On May 9, 2001, Dr. Steven Greer’s Disclosure Project held a press conference in the National Press Club in Washington, DC, featuring twenty people who have made claims of a widespread government conspiracy to conceal the existence of extraterrestrial visitors. After a brief flurry of sensationalist news reports, the mainstream news media simply ignored what Greer and his pals had to say, and nobody followed through on it. The Disclosure Project folks expected that enterprising news reporters would follow up on their leads, and by diligent investigation blow the whole government UFO conspiracy sky-high through diligent investigation. However, it didn’t happen, because no experienced reported believed there was anything in the UFO conspiracy claims worth following up.

Enter Leslie Kean (pronounced “Kane”), a reporter working for Pacifica Radio station KPFA in Berkeley, California, widely known as the radical radio voice of the Peoples’ Republic of Berkeley. Leslie Kean is the reporter that the Disclosure movement has been waiting for. She says her initiation into the ranks of UFO proponents occurred in 1999 when she was given a copy of a French UFO report called COMETA, which is usually described as a report commissioned by defense officials, but was in fact written by a private group. Like Bentham upon reading Hume, the “scales fell from [her] eyes,” and she suddenly realized the reality of UFOs as unknown flying vehicles. (Although her fellow UFO proponent John Alexander described the COMETA report as “an embarrassment… unsubstantiated data from questionable sources” in his book UFOs Myths, Conspiracies, and Realities.) Kean has no doubts whatsoever that the government is hiding something really big from us concerning UFOs, although she professes (a bit disingenuously) to be agnostic on the question of whether they are extraterrestrial.

Of the COMETA report, she says “all conventional explanations of something natural or man-made had been eliminated by the authors and their associated teams of experts, and yet these objects were observed at close range by pilots, tracked on radar, and officially photographed.”  Really? Among the COMETA cases supposedly having no possible explanation were Lakenheath, UK, 1956 – except that this case is the subject of Chapter 21 of UFOs Explained (Random House) by the famous UFO skeptic and late fellow of CSI-COP, Philip J. Klass. What does Kean say about Klass’ demolishing of the “evidence” presented? Nothing. Klass’ name does not appear in the book’s index. Kean writes a chapter on “The Roots of UFO Debunking in America,” but she does not even mention Klass, Menzel, CSICOP, or anyone associated with it.  To her, it’s all the fault of the government: the United States Air Force (USAF), and especially the once-secret 1953 Robertson Panel of the CIA.

Another COMETA “unexplained” is the RB-47 case of 1957. That case fills chapters 19 and 20 of Klass’ 1974 book. (UFO skeptic Tim Printy has recently published a highly-detailed analysis of the RB-47 case, leaving it in tatters.) Kean tells us that Jimmy Carter “had his own UFO sighting in 1969, before he became governor of Georgia.” What she does not tell her readers is that it has been known for over thirty years that Jimmy Carter’s “UFO” was in the same position as Venus (see my analysis of the Carter sighting . There is more in Chapter 2 of my UFO Sightings: The Evidence (Prometheus Books, 1998)). Kean also likes a list compiled by another French UFOlogist, Dominique Weinstein, consisting of 1,305 “cases for which adequate data is available to categorize the [objects] as unknowns.“  UFO skeptic and CSI fellow James Oberg glanced at that list, and quickly pulled out ten cases that he knew to be caused by Russian space launches (James E. Oberg:  “UFO book based on questionable foundation").

There seems to be a pattern here. It’s easy to tout UFO cases as having no conventional explanation as long as you completely ignore everything that’s been written to the contrary. Surely even radical Berkeley reporters must actually investigate controversial claims - and sometimes even interview the token Republican to get an opposing view - even when they “know for sure” what the answer is. I cannot imagine what caused Citizen Kean to forget her professional training and become an innocent lamb in accepting pro-UFO claims, but clearly she is the reporter they have been waiting for, the Chosen One who will lead UFOlogy from the wilderness of isolation and despair into the media spotlight. She calls upon the U.S. government to set up a new UFO agency – it can be a small one, she reassures us – to monitor, collect, and investigate UFO reports.

Kean invited several contributors to write chapters describing UFO incidents in which they had personal involvement. She begins with the chapter “Majestic Craft with Powerful Beaming Spotlights,” concerning the famous Belgium UFO wave of 1989, as written by Major General Wilfred de Brower of the Belgian Air Force (Ret.). It started off with two policemen reporting a bright light in the sky, and soon reports of UFOs were coming in from all over the region. Many of the UFOs were reported as triangular, and it was widely assumed that the U.S. was testing some kind of secret aircraft – over Belgium! Jets were sent up in pursuit, but no solid radar or visual contacts were established. In fact, by the time the Belgian UFO craze was over, despite widespread sightings the only provided “evidence” was a single blurred color photo, which unfortunately shows nothing in the background that can be used for analysis. (The man who took this photo, now identified as Patrick Marechal, admitted in July, 2011 that it was a hoax. He said that he has “managed to fool the whole world with a silly model made of styrofoam.")

Kean is sensitive to the criticism that there ought to have been much more photographic evidence, given so many sightings. She lamely suggests that “twenty years ago, cell phones and relatively inexpensive, consumer-level digital and video cameras were not yet in use” (true, but we had plenty of film cameras), and also that the dearth of photos “was likely due to the effect of infrared light around the UFO, which can cause even such an object to disappear altogether in a photograph,” which if true suggests that burglars can disappear from surveillance cameras by carrying an infrared light.  She ignores a skeptical analysis showing that the policemen’s original UFO was reported in the same position as Venus, that some of the early Belgian sightings were from a light show at a disco, and that the sole color photo could easily be duplicated using cards and spotlights, as illustrated in Wim Van Utrecht’s chapter  “The Belgian 1989-1990 UFO Wave,” in UFOs 1947-1997 From Arnold to the Abductees, edited by Hilary Evans and Dennis Stacy. (London: John Brown Publishing, 1997). And even if Kean didn’t know of Van Utrecht’s skeptical research, de Brower certainly did, since he was interviewed by Van Utrecht.

Another contributor is the retired Iranian General Parfiz Jafari, who describes his own ‘UFO dogfight’ experience in chasing a supposed UFO over the skies of Teheran in 1976 (back when Iran was a U.S. ally). He tells of chasing - in an American-built F-4 - an unknown object that looked “similar to a star, but bigger and brighter.” This was almost certainly Jupiter. The object allegedly induced failures in the aircraft’s electronics. This case, also a COMETA “unexplained,” is the subject of Chapter 11 of Klass’ 1983 book UFOs The Public Deceived  (Prometheus Books). Klass, an authority on Avionics (a portmanteau of “aviation electronics” he is credited with coining), described known issues with the F-4’s avionics that could likely cause the problems Jafari reported.

A second similar case from 1980 is described in the chapter “Close Combat with a UFO,” written by Commandante Oscar Santa Maria Huertas of the Peruvian Air Force (Ret.). Neither Kean nor any of her contributors evince any familiarity with the classic 1948 Lieutenant George F. Gorman “UFO dogfight” documented in the USAF Project Blue Book files in which this North Dakota Air National Guard pilot apparently played cat-and-mouse with a lighted weather balloon known to have been launched nearby ten minutes earlier (Donald Menzel and Lyle G. Boyd, The World of Flying Saucers, Doubleday, 1963). There is no reason to suspect that the “UFO dogfights” in Iran and Peru were very different.

Another of her big cases took place in Rendlesham forest in the U.K. in 1980. This case is sometimes called the “British Roswell,” although the incident is a claimed landing, not a crash, near a USAF base in Britain. The British skeptic Ian Ridpath has a website discussing a large number of problems with this case, which Kean cheerfully ignores. Her contributor Sgt. James Penniston, USAF (Ret.) displays his notebook with drawings supposedly made during the incident, while Col. Charles I. Halt USAF(Ret.) suggests that Air Force Office of Special Investigations personnel secretly came onto the base and interrogated witnesses, covertly using sodium penothal to brainwash them and erase their memories. Kean doesn’t tell us that that Penniston’s notebook was never seen publicly until 23 years after the incident, suggesting its authenticity is very dubious. Penniston also has elsewhere stated his belief that the beings that landed in Rendlesham Forest were our distant descendants returning to obtain genetic material to keep their ailing species alive: “They are time travellers. They are us.” He also claims to have received digitally-encoded telepathic messages from them, that he recorded in his magic notebook. As for Halt, his credibility on the case has suffered greatly, especially since his recent affidavit flatly contradicts many of his original statements (see  Ian Ridpath’s 2010  article  “The Rendlesham Forest UFO  Case.”). 

Kean is enormously impressed by pilot sightings, which she describes as “a unique window into the unknown.” She writes that pilots “represent the world’s most experienced and best-trained observers of everything that flies… these unique circumstances potentially transform any jet aircraft into a specialized flying laboratory for the study of rare anomalous phenomena.” However, Dr. J. Allen Hynek, the late USAF Project Blue Book consultant who Kean repeatedly cites as a respected UFO authority, came to exactly the opposite conclusion. On  page  271  of his 1977 book The Hynek UFO Report, he  wrote, “Surprisingly, commercial and military pilots appear to make relatively poor witnesses”). Kean actually quotes from other pages of that book, but makes absolutely no mention of Hynek’s low opinion of pilot sightings. This is perhaps the clearest example of Kean’s habit of totally ignoring everything in the UFO literature that disagrees with her beliefs.

Physicist Michio Kaku, who is well known for attempting to rationalize the physics of UFOs and of Time Travel, is quoted on the book’s cover declaring it filled with “eye-opening information” that would “set the gold standard for UFO research.” Skeptics should note how easily Kaku has been dazzled by Fool’s Gold.

Read about Leslie Kean and the Fly, the Chilean "UFO video" of a fly buzzing around that Kean suggested was "the case UFO skeptics have been dreading."

"In fact, Kean completely ignored the contradictory witness statements that she received first-hand, and instead went on to publish a book in 2010 titled UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go On the Record, where she repeated Callahan’s testimony in full on page 222... the fact that the data was immediately released to Maccabee to do a full public disclosure immediately following the event blows both Kean and Callahan’s claim of secrecy completely out of the water. And the fact that Kean ignored the contradictory evidence offered to her first-hand does the same to her journalistic integrity." - Ryan Dube.


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