A Narrative Analysis of Flying Saucers and the Covert Influence Operation that Detonated an Enduring Modern Folklore. Airships to Aliens, X-Files to Starseeds, MJ12 to UAPs, The Answers Are Out There.
Back in May I attended a panel discussion for Trevor Paglen’s ‘You've Just Been Fucked by PSYOPS’ exhibition. The show was the latest in Paglen’s investigation into the visual language of secrecy. Over two rooms upstairs at Pace’s Chelsea location, the domain of UFOs is approached from conflicted perspectives. A film, “Doty” interviewed Richard Doty, the mirage man, responsible for whipping up the UFO craze through the 80s and 90s. In the 50 minute single channel black and white close up, we study Doty’s expressions, looking for signs of deception or truth as he tells of his experience as an Air Force Office of Special Investigation agent. He explains how he came to his position of exceptional security clearance, learned of the secret UFO retrieval program, and used his knowledge and spycraft to deceive and manipulate American citizens. Sometimes using doctored documents to convince them of the existence of aliens or staging interventions to convince “true believers” that it was all fabricated by the government. It is impossible to tell what is true or false. Confusion is the objective.
Opposite ‘Doty’ is Paglen’s own psy-op. A trailhead for a massive ARG puzzle a la “Cicada 3301” taking the form of a sculpture. It is a materialization of the familiar Psyops morale patch (that you will recognize from my last report on the subject). The sculpture is a key and a warning, a demon mask to ward off spirits. Along with an encrypted record release and digital objects a massive collective manhunt is on. The objective of the game, titled “CYCLOPS”, is to bring investigators together to solve the riddle, and thus catalyze a new collective. This proactive stance towards psyops is seen in the other two pieces in the show, a replica of a ‘real’ UFO and a series of large format long-exposure photography of ‘real’ UFOs in the night sky. By presenting hard evidence, physical and visual, Paglen impresses the ways that mystery is put to work by the American military. The UFO floating above is a decoy signal-sniffing drone that a submarine would float up in front of an enemy’s harbor base. The reflective film would confuse radar detection making the tiny object look like a squadron of hovering crafts. The enemy base would then send all of its radar sensing capabilities at the decoy which would all be captured by onboard signal receivers and relayed to the sub. Although rather rudimentary in its design, this object still feels alien as it is not something that has entered into the popular imagination of military tech. It has been kept away from the public as has so much of what has been developed in the defense department.
The streak across the night sky is probably a spy satellite. But we are not allowed to know. The light trails documented in these pictures are registered orbiters with classified identity. These ‘real’ UFOs are probably spy satellites and are being tracked like all of the objects in Earth’s orbit to avoid collision, but we can’t know for certain. Their existence is a form of dominance. The secrecy forces others to evaluate and take a reactive stance. Throughout Paglen’s work invisible power is made visible. In this way the UFO becomes a proxy, an object manifested by the need for secrecy. Around this proxy circle narratives that can be contorted, manipulated and weaponized for various political or national security objectives. By laying the function and materiality of the UFO phenomenon bare, “YOU’VE BEEN FUCKED BY PSYOPS” reasserts the real stakes of the search for ET, that is, its utility as a narrative to distract the investigative public away from matters of military technology, derail interest in state assassinations and to defame those who’s research diverges from official historical accounts as crazy kooks obsessed with martians.
In the Q&A for the artist talk, I pushed Trevor further, asking what to make of the recent wave of UFO disclosures. He responded by rerouting the discussion back to the material politics at hand: the autonomous spheres of power that have become supercharged after the Global War on Terror (GWOT). Expanding on Shoshana Zuboff’s “Surveillance Capitalism” to a more active position that superpowers and companies are now taking, one that he calls “Psyop Capitalism.” A situation where nation-state influence campaigns are miniaturized and personalized for each discrete media consumer, soon to be enriched by A.I. As for the UFOs, for Paglen, these stories are an allegory for unknowability. In this way, his attempt to represent the unknowable through visual art puts the work in dialogue with an age-old effort of bringing the heavenly down to Earth, to understand the world and our place in it through symbols and images. Paglen asserts that perception is highly relational and that psyops weaponize discrepancies in perception in order to carry out an objective. In this way, Paglen’s work can be seen as an attempt to unify perception, or atleast show the hidden, however murky it is, a fabricated story or replica, a streak of light in the sky. By gathering solid data points that can be displayed in a gallery we can begin to engage a “dialectic of the psy-op” as he puts it, to uncover or subtract what we know from what we don’t, to rebuild history in the wake of 70 years of disinformation.
This exhibition rekindled my childhood obsession with UFOs and Aliens. Building off of my previous investigation into contemporary psy-oppers on social media with Günseli Yalcinkaya, I began to look into the history of UFO sightings, abduction stories and recent disclosures of the the rebranded “UAP'' or Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena. This time, with an eye for how and for who these stories have been operationalized. The search is over, here is my Alien report:
THE SAUCER BEGINS TO SPIN - MARTIAN TO MARIAN VISIT
The story of UFOs usually starts with the Roswell crash in 1947, but I think it is useful to wind the clock back further, all the way to the 1890s. This was a period of technological breakthroughs with the automobile and the telephone. Mechanized flight was believed to be imminent, so when newspapers began reporting on “mystery airships” in 1896 it was not seen as too far-fetched. The reports began a “craze” as more fantastical stories came forward. As I have pointed out in my lecture on the “Séance fad,” journalism of the time blended fact and fiction in hopes of enrapturing audiences (not all that different from today’s attention economy.) News editors understood their audience as being able to discern credible reporting from entertainment. The airships were seen in the night sky, traveling at high altitudes, sometimes with passengers, sometimes human, sometimes from another world. The wave spread around the globe with reports in New Zealand, Australia and Europe. Some of these stories even feature abduction attempts by “Martians.” A phenomenon that wouldn’t resurface for some 70 or 80 years until the “abduction turn” of the late 20th century. Crucially, the “mystery airships” reflected the anticipation and awareness of a new technology. The coverage of reported sightings, in a way, allowed the public to come to terms with the ways that new technology would change the world rapidly. A feature of these stories were secretive inventors who achieved lighter than air transnational flight without the public’s knowledge. This distrustful folklore around technological breakthroughs still characterizes UFO stories today with secret government projects of advanced capabilities. In 1913 another wave of airship hysteria spread through pre-WWI England. As tensions with Germany heightened, thousands of reports of German spy Zeppelins at night surfaced. Strange anomalies find political meaning when combined with paranoia.
The next pre-Roswell encounter of note is the “Miracle of Fátima” or sometimes known as the “Miracle of the Sun.” On May 13, 1917 in Fátima, Portugal, three children saw an apparition, a glowing orb that they attribute to a holy visitation from Mary. Six more visions are reported. The children received secret messages, warnings of the coming world war and the rise of Communism. They foretold an event on October 13 of that year and a crowd of 30-40k gathered in Fátima and witnessed a ‘dancing sun’ although accounts of the incident vary. Preeminent paranormal theorist, Jacques Vallée hypothesized that these events may have been encounters with inter-dimensional entities as he encourages a scientific lens be taken to events that transcend explanation, religious or otherwise. The impact of the Miracle of Fátima spurred renewed devotion in the country, encouraged by the Catholic Church that certified the legitimacy of the miracle and incorporated its believers as an official cult. This move strengthened right-wing elements in Portugal, just as the country was progressing towards secular governance. In this way, the unexplainable, spiritual or paranormal take on a decidedly political dimension. These moments of mass-awareness and rupture become powerful tools for institutions to harness and use towards political goals. The Miracle of Fátima was celebrated with much fanfare, monuments and pilgrimages. Look out for an extensive investigation into the political implications of this anomalous event by deep researcher, Derek of Pneumatic Materials.
In another way, The Miracle of Fátima signals the way that the unexplainable is interpreted by the experiencer: using what Villem Flusser calls “codes” - ways of interpreting the world that are based on our common understanding as seen through current communication technology (images then language then cultures.) In this case, it was Catholicism that served as the code for understanding the encounter. As the world becomes more secular and communication technology advances, the codes become technologic and as a result, UFO stories become more colored by science fiction tropes instead of religious iconography. A big step in this direction came with Orsen Welles “War of the Worlds” radioplay adapted from H.G. Wells novel that aired in 1938. Harnessing radio's rise to prominence as a major news media and delivered on Halloween night, the one hour broadcast created a sensation by portraying an alien invasion in New York as if it was a live unfolding crisis. The extent to which the listenership was actually fooled and outraged by the radioplay is disputed. Some have noted that newspapers boosted claims of hysteria as a way to characterize radio as a dangerous new medium in need of regulation and unsafe for advertisers. Radio was starting to take a big chunk of print’s ad revenue at the time. The power of new communication technologies to inspire mass-panic and mass-irrationality when enriched with fringe media like UFO stories is another repeating pattern. We will see photographs of UFOs circulate, a video recording of a hoax “alien autopsy”, early internet UFO research forums generate powerful theories, and psychedelic social media cults like QAnon obsessed with lizard aliens replacing leaders. Each time, new media's ability to disseminate information farther, with more ease and circumvent legacy forms of validation is seen as a threat to society. And, the UFO appears each time to test these limits.
BIRTH OF A MODERN MYTH - WETWORKS TO NETWORKS
1947 was the first summer of the Cold War. As tensions rose between the Soviet Union and West, paranoia in the U.S. reached a fever pitch. A private pilot, Kenneth Arnold reported seeing a string of nine high altitude crescents shining in the Pacific Northwest sky while he was in flight, searching for a downed Marine Corps plane. Widespread coverage of this sighting in June kicked off what was known as the “flying saucer disk of 1947.” Over 800 sightings of objects in the sky were reported in the following weeks. It all came to a head in July when a craft crashed onto a remote ranch in Roswell, New Mexico. The debris that was recovered was very much terrestrial in origin: tinfoil, rubber, tape and wood beams. The craft was a remote surveillance balloon designed to sense Soviet nuclear tests as part of “Project Mogul” and it had blown off course from Roswell Military Base. As the decade rolled on, this incident was largely forgotten. It would not be for another 20 before the Roswell incident would become the fully fleshed ur-UFO story that we know of today.
After this report the wave died off, the rest of the summer was a series of ever more sensational hoaxes fueled by the prospect of getting your name in the paper. At the end of the summer a mysterious call was placed to a local newspaper after a B-52 transport plane crash in Kelso, Washington. The anonymous caller correctly identified a meeting with “secret” meeting with Kenneth Arnold as the flight’s destination and then embellished that the flight was also bringing material from a crashed flying disc, which the authorities of course denied. The caller was most likely a prankster in the ranks at McChord Air Force Base, but the way that an anonymous call to the press was used to spread a rumor tinging real events with the paranormal constitutes a psy-op. The diversion played out in the public sphere. In this way, the transition was made from “Flying Saucer '' - a passing summer tabloid story to “UFO” - a modern open-ended folklore obsessed with military secrecy.
UFO stories are open-ended. Lines of code ready for the next addition. With little chance of complete verification. This makes the story extremely durable in the face of debunkers and particularly suitable for operationalization by psy-oppers. After the summer of 1947 the UFO story subsided. Reports of sightings slowed down and little interest was paid by national media. But, as the wider public cooled on the topic a hardcore niche community of researchers was formed. During the 1950s, the Cold War had kicked into gear. This was a conflict between superpowers that played out through ideology, technological advancement and geopolitical posturing. Global dominance of the West hinged on projecting influence throughout social systems. The UFO community served as a testing ground for new social and information technologies just as the Military bases they surrounded were grounds for testing new aviation and surveillance technologies. The Intelligence Community fabricated “disclosures,” straightforward injection of narratives and even staged UFO experiences for individual audiences of the public. Operatives within the UFO communities would then report back on how these stories were filtering through information networks of newsletters, meetings and conferences. A nascent feedback system was created, one that kept the UFO story alive and churning for decades, with stories becoming more and more outlandish and incredible. In another way, Alien invasion stories served to inoculate the public against mass-hysteria, which was a real concern for the government in a time when Soviet incursions seemed just over the horizon. This strategy of tension through media messaging is one that Americans are extremely weary of today, with each news-cycle bringing relentless new threats breathlessly reported on cable news.
As market-testing for psy-ops was underway in the UFO community of the 50s, the story was also being used as cover for chemical testing and clandestine murders being carried out on U.S. citizens, an effort referred to in coded documents as “wetworks.” UFO research had become tinged with so many bizarre and supernatural qualities, that shunting investigation into this territory would successfully spoil hopes of uncovering the truth behind the secret dosings and resultant suicides as part of MK-ULTRA mind-control experiments. This was a period where the threat to national security was so high that it justified the exploration of any and all possible weapons. Older traditions like Spiritualism were taken up with attempted scientific rigor, producing the domain of “remote-viewing,” a practice that would persist with classified studies like the Stargate Project. As secret government programs became spookier and spookier, the effects on the wider society began to be felt. LSD, which was first synthesized by Albert Hoffman in 1938 and later discovered to have psychedelic properties, was used by CIA in an attempt to develop a truth-serum or as a way to wipe a person’s mind and create the supersoldier. This program of synthesizing, testing, and spreading the drugs backfired when it made its way out into the public and became an extremely powerful tool to “free one’s mind.” Whether or not this spread was a mistake or a design to depoliticize and cultify American youth is up for debate. But, it was clear, as the 60’s began, the Aliens had arrived, they were present in the drug hallucinations of the youth and they were encouraging political change.
As we entered out of the repressed innocence of the mid-century and into the roiling social upheaval of the 60s and 70s, UFO folklore took a dark turn. The stories of simple sightings in the sky gave way to active engagement and bodily harm with Alien abduction accounts. Lillian DeVane, a folklore and labor history researcher at University of Oregon in Eugene, refers to this shift as the “abduction turn.” The first story to make headlines was the abduction of Betty and Barney Hill. All of the elements that would come to characterize abduction stories were laid out in this first instance in 1961: traveling through remote areas, highway UFO sighting, lost time, telepathic communication with ETs, dreamlike memories from onboard a craft, strange material evidence afterwords in the way of scars and ripped clothing. This shift towards higher fidelity experiences coincides with higher resolution color TV and the beginning of vast signal networks that would become the internet. Combined with cultural revolution from 1950s traditionalism into the uncharted territory of 1960s youth culture, we can see the “abduction turn” in dialogue with shifting paradigms of experience more broadly.
The “abduction turn” solidified that position of Alien encounters within American society, that is, as derived from paranoia and mental health. As the nation grappled with the ongoing crisis in mental health and the construction of the behemoth pharmaceutical industry, The UFO sighting became a symptom, a sign of an unwell mind. An abduction story could be followed by an abduction into the psychiatric ward from which there was little chance of escape. The mania of falling down a rabbit-hole researching the unexplainable was a useful exploit for the psy-oppers feeding information to UFOlogists. One such case is detailed in Mirage Men, an ex-air force signals expert, Paul Bennewitz, is encouraged to investigate a doctored crash site and falls into an obsession that destroys his life. The extent to which intelligence officers went to support and promote his hunt for proof of ET goes way beyond simple diversion tactics or cloaking secret aviation tech. The goal was to generate credible (within the UFO community) research that would spur others to follow the trail down into obscurity and madness.This is in many ways the model for how psy-ops would be carried out in this space moving forward, the perpetrators of the influence campaigns would be “true believers” either unaware or unwilling to acknowledge that they had been manipulated by covert operations. Even when the manipulation is revealed, it becomes impossible to extricate oneself from sunken costs of years of belief. At this point, the story moves from instigation in search of truth and into the territory of a massive reality game, co-authoring fiction presented in the real. This shift would set the stage for the development of UFO culture in the contemporary era, that is, an entertainment industry built on networked culture.
X-FILES IN THE DEEP WEB
UFO folklore became a television sensation with the X-Files. The combined research and developments of the past 30 years were put into wider appreciation through the adventures of FBI Special Agents, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. The show’s creator Chris Carter had been involved in UFO research groups that had undergone enhancement by government operatives such as Richard Doty. As the excellent analysis of “Fear Indexing of X-Files” by Nora H Khan and Steven Warwick points out, the series brought forth the anxiety of a newly massively networked society. The Alien terror of the 90s reached out from behind a computer screen or sent messages through the TV. Information became sentient and dangerous. The show was one of the first to garner a massive following on nascent online forums and message boards. The fan theories and plotlines generated by the online fandom were then folded back into episode arcs. This cybernetic quality of media in networked culture is a dynamic that entertainment producers are still struggling to harness today. While “digital natives” have overrun this dynamic, demanding more and more control over the direction of their favorite fictional characters.
The X-Files undergoes a shift when it is revealed that Mulder’s stalwart belief in extraterrestrials has been operationalized to divert from nefarious government programs. This shift echoes what was also happening in the UFO community around the same time, namely, the revelation that the unbelievable disclosures by the government had indeed been fabrications. In the show, Mulder loses his faith in ET and reverts into a melancholic nihilism – everything is a lie and everything is fake. The deeply depressing destruction of trust in government mirrors the manipulation tactic in Russia around the same time as carried out by Vladislov Surkov. A tactic where both sides of a political confrontation are revealed to be funded by the same government operative. The result is a complete denial of the potential of any political process and a withdrawing agency.
Whether this was the objective of the UFO-as-psyop revelations of a byproduct of an evolution in how to handle these groups, it had the same effect. This feeling of political despondency became a key feature of Gen-X culture in the 90s. While radical leftist factions developed and produced flashpoints like E.L.F. and the Battle of Seattle, these groups were deeply tied to the exit politics of the day; a theory of change that involved leaving mainstream society and creating a new egalitarian economy. This strategy was unfortunately quite complementary to the growing multinational conglomerates. Aliens and UFOs became objects of consumerism, representing a retreat of political engagement and aestheticization of military investigation. The spectacle of otherworldliness that was no longer as terrifying as it was cute.
As the data communication networks formed into the fully formed internet of today, it became clear that new models for understanding our relationship to information were needed. It seems as if the way that this new network would be used by the wider public would be to research and exchange information. Areas of inquiry that were overlooked or uninteresting by “mainstream science” would become the focus of citizen investigators. UFO and conspiracy theory blogs sprung up at an alarming pace. The ability to share theories without any editing or filtering from traditional journalism created the perfect vector. With central nodes like Art Bell’s Coast to Coast radio show website, a vast network of theorists and researchers came into its own.
The internet enriched and heightened the experience of UFO research. Whereas before, new stories or details would have to be gleaned from attending conferences, reading books or doing investigative research into police reports or government disclosures, now new information could be fed to a hungry mind at breakneck speeds. Everyday could bring a new blog theory or account of abduction. This accelerated the refinement of UFO culture and deepened the belief in conspiracy theories. The coming digitalization of information, systems and economy was first stress-tested by UFO research communities. The modern UFO folklore, one that was produced by paradoxical psy-opped disclosure and official government denial had matured into a new age system of beliefs. Networked culture delivered on the promise of cultural paradigm shift towards the actualization of the individual, now armed with a keyboard and the ability to access and act upon the globe’s vast information resources.
Jacques Vallée worked on the construction of one of the seeds of the internet, the ARPANET. The conceptualization of this early military internet was developed in reaction to the threat of nuclear war. If part of the country went dark, an interconnected network of computers could continue operating, the anti-fragile interdependent design of ARPANET represented a paradigm shift in the structure of information. The archive became fluid, amorphous and without a unified index or discrete disciplines. Vallée applied the same structure of the database to his investigation of the paranormal. Pulling data points from religion, anthropology, biology, history, and folklore to assemble an archive and begin to find patterns in the hopes of outlining an underlying nature that they all share. The UFO story is one born out of this new approach to information as it does not have a discrete domain or solid structure, it moves between various areas of understanding and can only be sensed when these various areas are overlaid. Like the anti-fragile ARPANET, the UFO story is durable, headless and persists without directive.
THE GOD CALL IS COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE
And so, we arrive at today’s contradictory situation. Seventy years of disinformation and operationalization of the UFO story has poisoned the well of trust in anyone claiming authenticity on the matter, whether they are deep researchers, abduction survivors, or military intelligence testifying before congressional subcommittee. Nevertheless, it is imperative to wade into the nested psy-ops lest we become operationalized ourselves.
In the past ten years, a number of disclosures, leaks and stories have come out that give newfound interest and legitimacy to UFO studies. The development and implementation of higher-powered sensing systems on board fighter jets is one reason for the new sightings. Previously undetected anomalies are now picked up on Forward-Looking Infrared (FLIR) systems. As well as a widening of the scope of mass-capture in airspace via radar. Formerly, if an object did not conform to the parameters of what is expected in airspace (plane, helicopter or drone) then it was assumed to be a glitch and removed from the data. This widening of the scope led to the discovery of a surveillance balloon from China in the beginning of this year. Following the downing of the balloon three more “UAPs” or Unidentified Anomalous Phenomenon were detected and shot down. While it may seem as if we are under attack from unknown things in the sky, it may simply be that we are just now able to sense strangeness that was always there but previously went undetected.
This sense of strangeness is succinctly summed up in Venkatesh Rao’s Permaweird, a condition he characterizes as a new abnormality as a result of the massively connected sensing apparatus and the feedback loops that they create. Rather than a “polycrisis” unfolding as a result of X input, we are now permanently aware of crises happening throughout the world at all times as the result of a multitude of factors. Within the condition of the Permaweird, events began to happen far outside the realm of familiarity at an increasing frequency. Worldview-shattering events seem to take place every other week. Discovery and mass acceptance of advanced Alien visitation seems not so far fetched within this framework.
Behind the recent wave of disclosures, whistleblowing and official reports on UAPs is a fledgling industry focused on extracting scientific breakthroughs from “exo-materials” or materials recovered from crashed UAPs, sometimes referred to as “materials of exotic origin.” One of the leaders in the space is Dr. Garry Nolan, a head of pathology at Stanford Medicine. Nolan had an alien encounter at the age of six or seven that shaped his interest in the subject although this detail is not highlighted in his presentations as it undercuts his scientific approach. Along with Jacques Vallée and others, he published the first peer-reviewed paper analyzing “exo-materials” which in this case were molten metal hunks reportedly dropped from a UFO in 1977 at Council Bluffs, Iowa. As an immunologist, Nolan has studied the health impact of military personnel that have come into contact with UFOs in which he found brain abnormalities consistent with the unexplained wave of “Havana Syndrome” - chronic migraines among diplomats stationed overseas. Nolan and Vallée’s application of scientific rigor to previously too-fringe areas is increasing as more and more researchers take up this effort. Harvard University has launched Project Galileo to search for extraterrestrial life in response to the Preliminary Assessment of UAPs and the mysterious interstellar traveler, Oumaumau.
Nolan, along with other technologists in this field such as Dr. Eric W. Davis advocated for the policy provision that was added to the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2021 that created the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO), which David Grusch was assigned to head up. Davis, an astrophysicist and military consultant, went as far as to leak a collection of memo notes detailing conversations with high ranking military officials discussing recovered UAPs. It would seem that the new attitude towards transparency and disclosure along the new more serious and less hokey nomenclature of “UAPs” is being pushed by a group of people that stand to gain from enriching declassified findings with the capabilities of public research institutions. In David Grusch’s bombshell interview with News Nation, he says as much, calling out the corruption of using over-classification to keep important discoveries within the purview of one military contractor. He doesn’t name the contractor, but it is almost certainly Northrop Grumman that holds this monopoly. It would be a sea change for public knowledge and scientific inquiry if classified findings of UAP materials are moved out of the purview of military technology and into the public sphere, hopefully leading to breakthroughs beyond those that benefit the military industry.
At the same time, many of the players in this area have deep ties to the military state. Tom Delonge, former frontman of Blink 182, founded “To The Stars” an entertainment and aerospace company that is dedicated to finding and contacting extraterrestrial intelligent life. Delonge and his company have been in the forefront of the recent disclosure push often taking to social media to celebrate and hyperstition new drops like product reveals. “To The Stars” has an ex-CIA Clandestine Services officer, Jim Semivan on its board as well as the CEO of Vivaris Capital, a VC fund that cites “rollup of niche military contractors” as a case study on its website. While Delonge’s company is most likely not an military intelligence cutout, it has many connections and overlapping interests with the military state, especially in terms of public messaging and softening the image of top secret programs.
As the “Summer of UAPs” as I am calling it, heats up, it is crucial to consider the geopolitical posturing. Knowledge and control of the UFO story projects an aura of dominance to competitor powers. While an international exchange of information about UAPs would push the field forward, other parties know that the U.S. would only operate in bad faith. Many have noted that the vast majority of UFO stories, sightings, findings and now formal governmental disclosures come from the U.S. This could be simply the result of a seventy year disinformation campaign with its own people as target, but it also has the effect of projecting the U.S. as a leader in this area with a stockpile of super advanced technology. The recent disclosures have also been hypothesized as a PR stunt for military technology contractors, essentially flying super-advanced drones in front of F-18s in order to demonstrate how superior the next-gen is. A story from 1967 that was reported to AARO of a craft that shutdown 10 nuclear warhead launch sites serves as a kind of geopolitical warning: if this was actually U.S. military tech then just imagine what we are capable of today. Of course, attributing every strange occurrence in the sky to a secret U.S. military program only reasserts the Pentagon’s power, but nevertheless, foreign analysts are considering this possibility and factoring it into threat models. The most salient angle though is one of confusion – disclosures hint at a reserve of knowledge far beyond what is known about U.S. defense capabilities. Hearings on UAPs and disclosures are projecting this power, without actually specifying what it is: dominance out of nothing.
What is happening now, begins to feel like the Mirage Men’s strategy, boosting the craziness of UFO groups with disinfo campaigns, coming back to haunt the internal workings of the military. This strategy has eroded all trust when it comes to UFO disclosure and limited hangouts, so now, when a military intelligence officer, David Grusch, comes forward and testifies under oath of having knowledge of “biologics” recovered from crashed UAPs, it is very hard to believe him. Perhaps one of the objectives here is to force public distrust of whistleblowers. By making us gaslight the person coming forward, we become habituated to doing this in the future when individuals come forward with more damning / consequential info. It is important to remember that Julian Assange is still locked up awaiting extradition to the U.S. for exposing the war crimes of the GWOT. In any event, the UAP story points to the extraordinary power and autonomy that the military state has enjoyed for decades. Even the senators in the subcommittee on national security were unable to obtain the proper security clearances to access the reports that Grusch cited. Whether the UAPs are of exotic / extraterrestrial / interdimensional origin or the product of a super-advanced R&D program deep within the military state, one thing is true: there has been a decades-long secret program cover-up that rivals The Manhattan Project in scope and gravity.
I WILL MAKE YOU BELIEVE
As we enter a new era of the UFO, one marked by a sense of demystification, or as Benjamen Walker describes, the transition from UFO to Drone, I think it is key to look back at the cultures and theories that the lights in the sky have inspired. It is a keenly postmodern narrative, downstream from military psy-oppers making their own run-away fanfiction and enriched by digital networks. The need to believe, to hold onto the possibility that there is something beyond our understanding is a reflexive new religion in a period when science promises to solve all our problems and answer all our questions. This is why the debunkers today tend to sound even crazier than the true believers. Indeed a recent Pew poll puts belief in UFOs at 65% in the U.S. The rigid adherence to historical knowledge without the possibility for new data to enter one’s model is a decidedly backwards looking position to take. I think that it is more salient to try and understand all the possibilities surrounding the unexplainable, including government subversion and non-human intelligence.
On the aesthetic level, the UFO has become a symbol of hope for outsiders. Those at the margins of society have looked to these unexplainable occurrences as proof that the structures that govern life have a limited ability to capture the vastness of experience. Ionel Talpazan’s artwork explored this expansion of reality through obsessive representation of flying saucers in paint and pen. His childhood UFO encounter in Romania set him on a path to outsider art notoriety, selling his work on the street outside the Outsider Art Fair. He dedicated his life to UFOs and his art was a way to communicate their existence and spiritual grace. Talpazan lived meagerly, describing his life as, “I have my art, that’s all. My life is like a bomb, atomic—it can explode, any time.”
Ostracization by society is reflected back to us in these stories. It is not inconsequential that Betty and Barny Hill were an interracial couple at a time when such relationships were taboo. The desire for legitimacy, for others to believe a sighting or abduction story is analogous to the struggle over the decades against the social stigmatization of mental illness. The Alien features as an edge case, an extreme misfire of synapsis. It is not useful or important for us to be the arbiter of truth, but rather to acknowledge that for the survivor or experiencer it is real. The reality of this situation is no less powerful as a collective hyperstitional entity as the medical professional describes, or a visitation from another world beyond our understanding. Given the plethora of stories both must be considered in any holistic model. Both point to the existence of powerful entities beyond our control.
In the political arena, the resurgence of interest and renewed investigation into UFOs speaks to deep-seated frustration with the stagnation of political progress as well as technological improvement. The flying cars and teleportation devices that we were promised by science fiction have been forgone in favor of more and more surveillance communication devices a la social media. Solutions past this grave disappointment as a result of entrenched political machines are debated by Peter Thiel (right-wing venture capitalist behind Paypal, Facebook and Palantir) and David Graeber (economic historian and activist who coined “The 99%”). Both offer differing frameworks and diagnosis, but agree on the certain lack of a sense of the future. In a society without a futuristic vision to look towards, one in which only the exorbitantly wealthy can hope to benefit from new technology, we start to lose our ability to cultivate imagination. Perhaps the UFO revival, is a collective yearning for the sense of the new, to have paradigms shifted, and new political horizons materialized.
At the same time it is crucial to be weary of the trap of parapolitics. In that by shifting the terrain of political struggle towards matters of the paranormal, which by definition can never be solved or overcome, defangs the actor or movement. This depoliticization that comes with UFO intrigue is seen in the “Storm Area 51” ironic facebook event. This meme took the shape of political action (mass movement to confront an army base) but was only interested in online posturing, the only stated objective was to “free the aliens and floss dance.” The aestheticization of action is echoed in the starseed phenomenon, where traditional practices of meditation and prayer are turned into a roleplaying game where participants believe or pretend that they are reincarnated alien souls from distant planets or parallel timelines. While spiritual practice endeavors to connect one with the world and crucial the ego’s impulse, the social media hallucination of starseeds turns the gaze inward, obsessing over one’s own psychedelic history. Once again, the alien story serves as escapism. In my view, if we are to engage with Aliens politically, then we should look to J. Posadist, a Trotskyists writer, who put forth the idea that UFOs proved the existence of advanced technology, and the only way for humanity to achieve this tech was through global cooperation and adopting a socialist economic model. His essay uses metaphysics to argue for egalitarianism, asking: if the Aliens could achieve utopia, then why can’t we?
Massive thank you to everyone who sent me links, takes and gripes. Thank you Jamieson for getting me up to speed. Thank you JC Dentun for so much insight and deep research. Thank you Trevor for taking me behind the scenes. Shout out New Models, Do Not Research & Otherworld discords. Read Günseli's piece on Dazed and listen to our conversation on Dazed Logged On podcast. If you have comments, corrections, or thoughts please DM me or shoot me an email.
Deny Everything. Don't Get Captured. - Jak
~~~ Edit made on August 6, 2023. Previous version attributed the discovery of LSD to secret mind control programs by the CIA which is incorrect.