Tuesday, March 20, 2018
How the government handles media requests about UFOs
How does the government handle media when it comes to inquiries about UFOs?
At least, that's what we can learn directly from a series of documents in the National Archives of Canada. And it's how the government responded to media in 1965, more than 50 years ago.
Have things changed since then?
Back in 1965, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), like all major networks, was interested in the topic of UFOs and wanted to do a special show about the subject. So they contacted the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) for information on what the RCA was doing about UFO reports.
In a Confidential memo dated February 22, 1965, Canadian Air Training Command (CANAIRTRAIN) in Winnipeg, Manitoba, asked Canadian Forces Headquarters (CANFORCEHED) in Ottawa for help in replying to a request from the CBC in Winnipeg.
The record of this memo is:
Document Title: Intelligence - Sighting of unknown objects. (See also microfilm reel No. T-3291)
Document Date: 3/4/1965
Record Group: Department of National Defence
Record Series: E-1-c
Record Number: C-940-105
MIKAN No: 135965
Directed to the Director of Information Services (DIS), the memo noted:
FOR DIS OMM CBC WINNIPEG WANT TO DO PROGRAMME ON UFO SIGHTINGS PD THIS OFFICE HAS BEEN ASKED FOR BACKGROUND OF ANY RCAF INPUT OR PROCEDURES THAT ARE FOLLOWED PD ADVISE CURRENT POLICY
The memo was bounced around a few offices during the next few days and was referred to the DIS on February 24, 1965. Someone named S.L. Tetreau added in handwriting: "What do we on this type of request?"
Obviously, no one really knew what to do with such a request. The CBC was Canada's most-watched national TV and radio network. It was not to be treated lightly, but at the same time, what could the RCAF actually say?
It took ten days, until March 4, 1965, before a decision was reached. In a memo from Colonel L.A. Bourgeois, Director of Information Services, to his staff at the DND Office of Information at RCAF Station Winnipeg, he noted:
1. This HQ does not wish to become involved with such a program. It is policy to stay clear of this subject whenever possible.
2. Many inquiries are received on this subject. They are answered by a standard letter as per attached copy.
3. Please tactfully say "NO" to CBC.
The UFO "hot potato" was to be avoided at all costs, even to the point of sending a national broadcaster a standard form letter.
This was reiterated in a memo signed by S/L Totman in the DIS office, who noted:
"I suggest the policy would be to stay clear of this type of program except to answer the query with information contained in attached "form letter" that has been used by DPR (now DIS) for some time."
Of course, this is more than staying clear of the topic. The DIS had no idea what angle the CBC was going to take with its program, and likely was going to use a comment from the RCAF to lend authority or credibility to the show. But refusing to be interviewed at all was distancing themselves from the subject completely. Was this because they were "covering up" the fact that alien spacecraft were hovering in Canadian skies, or because they had already decided that the subject was foolish and that witnesses were either themselves foolish or mistaken.
This latter view is perhaps borne out by a few other documents from that same time.
Coincidentally (or perhaps serendipitously) there was a UFO sighting on February 20, 1965, only a day or two before the CBC request.
A witness in Pouce Coupe, BC, just outside of Dawson Creek, saw a bright orange light moving slowly north, apparently at a high altitude. This was at about 7:11 pm local time, and the object was observed for four to five minutes. The case was listed as a "Fireball and Meteorite Observation," even though it could not have been either.
What's more relevant is a small accompanying memo, kind of a routing slip, to Dr. Peter Millman of the Geophysics Section of the Defense Research Board. Millman was later to become the chief debunker of UFO reports for the National Research Council of Canada. In this memo on February 23, 1965, by a writer named Smith, Millman's explanation that the UFO over Pouce Coupe was "Probably Echo I or Echo II" was noted and apparently accepted.
Given that scientists such as Peter Millman were advising the RCAF that reported UFOs had simple explanations, it was not surprising that the RCAF was reluctant to go on camera or do a radio interview about a subject that, to them, had no value.
One can wonder if this view of UFOs by the military has persisted, and whether the reluctance to cooperate with media is still policy.