The CIA Puts Hundreds of Declassified Documents About UFO Sightings Online, Plus 10 Tips for Investigating Flying Saucers


Let down by the X‑Files reboot? Maybe you nev­er real­ly dug the whole alien con­spir­a­cy thing with the bees and the black sludge in the first place. Maybe you didn’t need anoth­er con­vo­lut­ed, inscrutable, bonkers plot­line. Maybe you want­ed the truth. It’s out there. The CIA might know where it is.

In 1978, the agency known in some cir­cles for mas­ter­mind­ing near­ly every world event since its incep­tion declas­si­fied a vast num­ber of files, “hun­dreds of doc­u­ments… detail­ing the Agency’s inves­ti­ga­tions into Uniden­ti­fied Fly­ing Objects (UFOS). The doc­u­ments date pri­mar­i­ly from the late 1940s and 1950s.”

And since this past Jan­u­ary the pub­lic has had full and open access to all of those doc­u­ments on the inter­net. To cel­e­brate the seri­ous­ness of this archive’s wide­spread avail­abil­i­ty, the Agency made two lists of five dif­fer­ent doc­u­ments each, to “high­light a few doc­u­ments both skep­tics and believ­ers will find inter­est­ing.”

Who do you think they picked for their mod­el skep­tic and believ­er? “The truth is out there,” as the CIA is appar­ent­ly fond of say­ing, “click on the links to find it.”

The Mul­der and Scul­ly lists serve as light­heart­ed intro­duc­tions to the some­times bewil­der­ing array of doc­u­ments in the CIA’s Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion Act (FOIA) Elec­tron­ic Read­ing Room, which hosts those sev­er­al hun­dred reports, mem­os, etc., some­times redact­ed or writ­ten in Agency code.

Then, of course, there’s this pre­cious eye­wit­ness tes­ti­mo­ny, from Mulder’s list, tak­en from a man in East Ger­many in 1952:

Now, the side of the object on which the holes had been opened began to glit­ter. Its col­or seemed green but lat­er turned to red. At the same time I began to hear a slight hum. While the bright­ness and hum increased, the con­i­cal tow­er began to slide down into the cen­ter of the object. The whole object then began to rise slow­ly from the ground and rotate like a top.

If you’re see­ing a descrip­tion from a clas­sic sci-fi radio dra­ma or pulp mag­a­zine, read on. The craft becomes “sur­round­ed by a ring of flames,” ris­es, and flies away. And, of course, the man had ear­li­er wit­nessed men “dressed in some shiny metal­lic cloth­ing.” It all sounds very sil­ly except that many oth­er unre­lat­ed peo­ple in the small town report­ed see­ing some­thing very strange in the sky that night. One wit­ness­es’ over­ac­tive imag­i­na­tion does not inval­i­date the tes­ti­mo­ny of the oth­ers.

Or does it?

We’ve had many sight­ings of UFOs from astro­nauts and pilots in the last few decades (most­ly debunked), and ordi­nary peo­ple on the ground have nev­er stopped see­ing lights in the sky. So we might won­der why all of the CIA doc­u­ments on the site come from the 1960s and before? Is this a sign of increased activ­i­ty in the years after the sup­posed Roswell event? Per­haps the alien conspiracy’s fever­ish, devi­ous start?

Or, as Geek­Wire writes, was the CIA “wor­ried about the poten­tial threat that UFOs posed to nation­al secu­ri­ty… they assumed that the UFOs might be part of a Sovi­et weapons test pro­gram.” With the grad­ual warm­ing of rela­tions, then glas­nost, the spies lost inter­est… (Or…?) … but we might won­der why the Agency used the new X‑Files debut to draw atten­tion to itself. Your con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry is prob­a­bly as good as any oth­er.

If CIA did stop inves­ti­gat­ing alien inva­sions, you don’t have to. The Agency has left it in your capa­ble hands, pub­lish­ing “10 Tips When Inves­ti­gat­ing a Fly­ing Saucer” to guide you in your quest for the truth. Be warned: it’s a very skep­tic-friend­ly set of guide­lines; one that—were every­one to fol­low it—might vir­tu­al­ly elim­i­nate every report­ed UFO sight­ing. Curi­ous that. What are they hid­ing?

Find the list below, and see the com­plete expla­na­tion of each tip (such times we live in) at the CIA’s web­site.

1. Estab­lish a group to inves­ti­gate and eval­u­ate sight­ings
2. Deter­mine the objec­tives of your inves­ti­ga­tion
3. Con­sult with experts
4. Cre­ate a report­ing sys­tem to orga­nize incom­ing cas­es
5. Elim­i­nate false pos­i­tives
6. Devel­op method­ol­o­gy to iden­ti­fy air­craft and oth­er aer­i­al phe­nom­e­na often mis­tak­en for UFOs
7. Exam­ine wit­ness doc­u­men­ta­tion
8. Con­duct con­trolled exper­i­ments
9. Gath­er and test phys­i­cal and foren­sic evi­dence
10. Dis­cour­age false report­ing

Again, to dig deep­er into the CIA’s fas­ci­nat­ing archive of UFO sight­ings, vis­it its FOIA UFO col­lec­tion. True believ­ers may want to know more, and they can, if they’re will­ing to fol­low the Byzan­tine research instruc­tions on the UFO collection’s main page to find an Agency arti­cle about the “CIA’s Role in the Study of UFOs, 1947–1990.” Or they could just click here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Read the CIA’s Sim­ple Sab­o­tage Field Man­u­al: A Time­less, Kafkaesque Guide to Sub­vert­ing Any Orga­ni­za­tion with “Pur­pose­ful Stu­pid­i­ty” (1944)

The C.I.A.’s “Bes­tiary of Intel­li­gence Writ­ing” Sat­i­rizes Spook Jar­gon with Mau­rice Sendak-Style Draw­ings

Carl Jung’s Fas­ci­nat­ing 1957 Let­ter on UFOs

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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