COSMIC CONSPIRACY: SIX DECADES
OF GOVERNMENT UFO COVER-UPS
BY DENNIS STACY, OMNI MAGAZINE
This is the fifth piece in a six-part series on government secrecy
through the decades. Here we look at the 1980s.
From their vantage point 22,300 miles above the earth's surface,
a fleet of
supersecret military satellites monitors our planet for missile launches and
nuclear detonations. On a clear day, these satellites can see forever, so it's
no surprise when they also pick up erupting volcanos, oil well fires, incoming
meteors, sunlight reflections off the ocean, and a host of other heat sources,
including those that still remain unexplained.
Since 1985, all this data has been beamed down in near real-time
to the U.S.
Space Command's Missile Warning Center, operating from within Cheyenne Mounta-
in, near Colorado Springs. The purpose: coordinating satellite-based early
warning systems for the army, navy, air force, and marines. Whether harmless
or threatening, the information has always been a guarded national secret.
But suddenly, in 1993, with the Cold War over, the Defense Department agreed
to declassify some satellite information not related to intercontinental ball-
istic missile (ICBM) launches and nuclear events. Since then, scientists rang-
ing from astronomers to geophysicists have rushed to get their hands on this
motherlode of data.
Among researchers hoping to glean some truth from the declassified
UFOlogists, long frustrated by the critics classic retort: If UFOs are real
why haven't they been detected by our satellites? Well, some UFO researchers
are now saying, they have been. With access to the most sophisticated space
data ever generated, say some UFO researchers, they may finally find the Holy
Grail of their profession: bona fide, irrefutable, nuts-and-bolts proof of
As this series of articles explains, UFO researchers have been searching
such evidence in government vaults for years. In the Fifties and Sixties,
some UFOlogists claimed, the military kept alien corpses and a ship under
wraps. The search for proof was fueled throughout the Seventies by the Freedom
of Information Act, which yielded thousands of pages of government documents,
but no hard, technical, incontrovertible evidence of UFOs. Finally, in the
1980s, a supposedly explosive memo revealed the existence of a top-secret
group, dubbed MJ12, made up of high-level government officials devoted to the
secret reality of UFOs. Only problem is, according to most UFO experts, the
memo was a hoax. Of course, data from crude detection systems like gun cameras
and radar were available. But they merely confirmed the obvious: that military
and government personnel, like many other sectors of the population, saw and
reported mysterious lights in the sky.
If they could ever prove their theories, UFOlogists knew, they would
tap the most sophisticated information-gathering technology available: Depart-
ment of Defense spy satellites, like the Defense Support Program (DSP) satelli-
tes, in geosynchronous orbit above the earth. In fact, rumor had it, heat,
light, and infrared sensors at the heart of the satellites were routinely
picking up moving targets clearly not missiles and tagged "Valid IR Source.
Some of these targets were given the mysterious code name of "Fast Walker."
Unfortunately for UFOlogists, few secrets in this country's vast
enal have been so closely guarded as the operational parameters of DSP satell-
ites. Even their exact number is classified. That shouldn't surprise anyone
explains Captain John Kennedy, public affairs officer with the USAF Space
Command Center at Peterson Air Force Base. It's an early ICBM launch detection
system, and we have to protect our own technology for obvious reasons. If
everyone knew what the system's capabilities were, they would try to take
steps to get around it. But in recent years, thanks to a loosening of the
reigns, a few tantalizing tidbits of information have managed to sleep under
the satellite secrecy dam, allowing UFOlogists a small glimpse of some surpri-
sing nearspace events.
The first issue for UFOlogists to examine, explains Ron
Regehr of Aerojet Gen-
eral in California, the company that builds the DSP sensor systems, is whether
the satellites could detect UFOs even if we wanted them to. According to Rege-
hr, who has worked on the satellite sensors for the last 25 years and even
wrote its operational software specifications, the answer to that question was
revealed in 1990, during Operation Desert Storm. AS we now know, says Regehr,
the satellites picked up every one of the 70 Iraqi Scud launches, and the
Scud is a very low-intensity infrared source compared to the average ICBM.
Pursuing the matter further, Regehr
turned to an article published in MIJI
Quarterly, "Now You See It, Now You Don't" which detailed a September, 1976
UFO encounter near Teheran. The incident involved two brilliantly glowing UFOs
first seen by ground observes. One object, or light source, an estimated 30
feet in diameter, reportedly went from ground level to an altitude of 40,000
feet, and was visible at a distance of 70 miles. An Imperial Iranian Air Force
f-4 jet fighter was sent aloft and managed to aim a Sidewinder AIM-19 air-to-
air missile at the target before its electronic systems failed.
Apart from the visible light factor, there's the indication that
the UFO gave
off enough infrared energy for the Sidewinder's IR sensor to lock on to it,
says Regehr. You can do a few simple calculations he adds, and conclude that
the DSP satellites of the day should easily have been able to see the same
thing. Of course, I can't says they did, or if they did, whether or not it
was recorded in the database.
Part of the problem, according to Regehr,
is the sheer mountain of data that
the DSP satellites generate. On average, an infrared portrait of the earth's
surface and surrounding space is downloaded every ten seconds. All of the data
is then stored on large 14-inch reels of magnetic tape, the kind, says Regehr,
that you always see spinning around in science-fiction movies, and which fill
up in about 15 minutes. The tapes are eventually erased and refused.
Technicians visually monitor the datastream on a near real time basis,
only follow up a narrow range of events - those that match up with what the
air force calls "templates." Based on known rocket fuel burn times and color
spectra, the templates are used to identify ballistic missile launches and
nuclear explosions. But the system also picks up other infrared events rangi-
ng from mid-air collisions of planes to oil-well fires and volcanoes.
I would say that rarely a week goes by that we don't get some kind
source that is valid, or real, but unknown, admits Edward Tagliaferri, a phys-
icist and consultant to the Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, California,
a nonprofit air force satellite engineering contractor. But once we determine
it isn't a threat, that's basically the end of our job. We aren't paid to look
at each and every one.
Tagliaferri and a handful of colleagues are among the few civilian
ntists who have thus far been allowed access to the Department of Defense
database. Their research, based on spy satellite data declassified in the fall
of 1993, is part of a chapter in Hazards Due to Comets and Asteroids, from
the University of Arizona Press. I think the air force finally agreed that
the data had scientific, as well as political and global security value, says
What Tagliaferri and his collaborators were able to confirm was that
1975 and 1992, DOD satellites detected 136 upper atmosphere explosions, a few
equivalent in energy to the atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasak-
i. Unlike the tree to ten minute burn periods of an ICBM, these previously
unacknowledged flash events typically take place in a matter of seconds. They
are attributable to meteorites and small asteroids. Most of what we see are
objects that are probably 10 to 50 meters in diameter, about the size of a
house, and packing 300 times the kinetic energy of dynamite, Tagliaferri says.
The ramification, however, is that nervous governments might mistake
flash events for nuclear bombs aimed in their direction and trigger a like
response. One of the brightest unknown flash events occurred over Indonesia
on April 15, 1988, shortly before noon, exploding with the approximate fire-
power of 5,000 tons of high explosives. A slightly less powerful detonation
shook and uninhabited expanse of the Pacific Ocean on October 1, 1990, in the
midst of Operation Desert Shield.
But what if the latter event had exploded a little lower in the atmosphere,
and over, say, Baghdad? Tagliaferri warns. The consequences could well have
been disastrous. Ground observers would have seen a fireball the brightness
of the sun and heard a shock wave rattle windows. Given the mindset of the
Iraqis, Israelis, and the other combatants in the area at the time, any of
them might have concluded that they were under nuclear attack and responded
The argument that parable of triggering a similar false alarm has
been made many
times in the past by, among others, the Soviets. An article titled "UFOs and
Security," which appeared in the June, 1989 issue of Soviet Military Review,
states: We believe that lack of information on the characteristics and influ-
ence of UFOs increases the threat of incorrect identification. Then, mass
transit of UFOs along trajectories close to those of combat missiles could
be regarded by computers as an attack.
But when asked if some unknowns detected by satellite sensors might
real UFOs rather than incoming meteorites, Tagliaferri chuckles. Personally,
I don't think so, he says. But who knows? How can you tell? I'm a scientist,
a physicist, and to my mind the evidence of UFOs is just not convincing. On
the other hand, I've been wrong before.
UFOlogists, meanwhile, think that proof might be lurking in the stacks
printouts from the DSP system computers. But the only material of this sort
likely to see the light of day will probably have to come from inside leaks.
And that may have already happened. One UFO researcher, using sources he won't
reveal, has turned up evidence of what he believes might be a UFO tracked by
satellite. Last year, Joe Stefula, formerly a special agent with the army's
Criminal Investigation Command, made public on several electronic bulletin
boards what purports to be a diagram of an infrared event detected by a DSP
satellite on May 5, 1984. I haven't been able to determine that the documents
absolutely authentic, says Stefula, but I have been able to confirm that the
DSP printout for that date shows an event at the same time with the same
According to Stefula's alleged source, now said to be retired from
ry, the official code name for unidentified objects exhibiting ballistic miss-
ile characteristics is Fast Walker. But what makes this particular Fast Walker
so peculiar, says Stefula, is that it comes in from outer space on a curved
trajectory, passes within three kilometers of the satellite platform, and then
disappears back into space. Whatever it is, it was tracked for nine minutes.
That doesn't sound like a meteorite to me.
Regehr agrees: It was there too long. It was going too slow. It didn't
enough speed for escape velocity. But escape it did.
The May 1984 event allegedly generated a 300 page internal report,
ons of which are classified, though none of it has yet been released. I don't
think they would do a 300 page report on everything they detect, says Stefula,
whose efforts to obtain the report have so far been unsuccessful, so there
must have been something significant about this that led them to look into it.
My source told me that they basically looked at every possibility and couldn't
explain it by natural or man made means.
Nor was this apparently an isolated event. According to the unnamed
such Fast Walkers are detected, on the average, two to three times a month.
Even longtime arch UFO skeptic Philip J. Klass, contributing avionics
to Aviation Week and Space Technology, admits that the military's DSP satelli-
tes could detect physical flying saucers from outer space - but with one very
large proviso: If you assume, says Klass, that a UFO traveling at, say, 80,000
feet leaves a long, strong plume like a space shuttle launch. But we know that
isn't the way UFOs are usually reported.
Part of the problem, according to Klass, who has written a book on
spy satellites titled Secret Sentries in Space, is that the DSP system has
performed better than spec. It's too good, or too sensitive, if you prefer, he
says. In fact, it was so good that it was sent back to research and developme-
t for fine tuning, in order to eliminate as many false alarms as possible.
Obviously, we didn't want a fuel storage tank fire next to a Soviet missile
silo to set off a launch alarm, he explains. Nor did we want the system to
track the dozens or hundreds of Russian jet fighters in the air every day.
Klass's best guess is that the mysterious may, 1984 Fast Walker event
ed by Stefula probably represents nothing more than a classified mission flown
by our own SR-71 highaltitude Blackbird spyplane. It's admittedly too long a
duration to be a meteor fireball, he concedes, but the Blackbird typically
flies at an altitude of 80,000 to 100,000 feet, which makes its afterburner
trail easily visible to the DSP system.
In the same context, says Klass, Fast Walker might be a code name
for the rec-
ently retired SR-71 itself, or, conceivably, its Soviet counterpart, assuming
the Soviets had one at the time. Either way, Klass concludes, it's no surprise
that the air force would want to keep much of this information secret.
Apparently, keep most of it secret they will. Despirte the success
and a few others had in getting past the military censores, don't anticipate
a flood of similar studies, especially one in search of UFO reports. I don't
see the air force declassifying a whole lot more of the DSP data to other
scientists, not without an incredible amount of cleanup, says Captain Kennedy.
And it's certainly not accessible to requests through the Freedom of Informat-
Even if some unknowns turn out to be UFOs, the Air Force Space Command
going to hand UFOlogists - or anyone else - that information on a silver
platter. Meanwhile, the dividing line between what might constitute extraterre-
strial technology and our own twentieth century equivalent grows increasingly
narrow and blurred with every new device sent into space. Somewhere out there,
no doubt, is a sensor system that already knows whether we are being visited
by UFOs or not, but the owners of those systems aren't talking.