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Volume 51

The Skeptics UFO Newsletter

Philip J. Klass

May 1, 1998

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“UFO Lawyer” Gersten Takes Over CAUS (UFO Group), Seeks Funds To Send Rocket To The Moon To Photograph (Alleged) ET Structures

Attorney Peter Gersten, who first achieved fame in UFO circles in the late 1970s by filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit to get the Central Intelligence Agency to release its UFO-related documents, and who later headed a small group called Citizens Against UFO Secrecy (CAUS) before becoming inactive in UFOlogy in the mid-1980s, has recently reasserted his control over CAUS and has launched an ambitious agenda for the organization. Gersten’s announced agenda includes:

Curiously, when SUN interviewed Gersten by telephone last Oct. 11, he said that since moving to Scottsdale, Ariz., about three years ago, his primary interest has shifted from UFOs to ASTROLOGY. Gersten said his interest in UFOs had been rekindled when he met Corso at last summer’s Roswell celebration and had read Corso’s book.

Gersten Pioneered Use Of FOIA To Obtain Once Classified UFO Documents

When Congress passed the Freedom Of Information Act in early 1975, Gersten was a young attorney with a longstanding interest in UFOs, then a junior member of a New York City (Bronx) law firm. Gersten wrote to several UFO organizations proposing to use the FOIA to obtain CIA documents dealing with UFOs, without charge for his services, if the UFO group would underwrite other legal expenses. A small UFO group called Ground Saucer Watch (GSW), headed by William Spaulding of Phoenix, Az., responded to Gersten’s offer. On Sept. 11, 1977, Gersten filed an FOIA suit in Federal Court against the CIA in GSW’s name. In addition to requesting a “true copy” of the CIA-sponsored Robertson Panel report of early 1953, Gersten also sought any CIA papers dealing with 600 specific UFO incidents.To Gersten’s surprise, the CIA responded on Aug. 17, 1978, asking that Gersten modify

his FOIA request to ask the CIA to conduct “a reasonable search” of its files and to release ALL UFO-related documents—not just those which Gersten had requested. Gersten agreed and the Court ordered the CIA to conduct “a reasonable search” within 90 days and release all UFO documents it found, which was done on Dec. 15, 1978.

A one-page press release announcing “CIA RELEASES UFO DOCUMENTS” was distributed to the news media not by GSW, but in the name of Citizens Against UFO Secrecy (CAUS), which had been created in early 1978 by a Wisconsin UFOlogist named W. Todd Zechel, who had earlier been associated with GSW. The CAUS press release said the “documents are dated from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, demonstrating continuous interest on the part of the agency despite frequent public denials. The significance of the information contained in the documents will not be known until after they have been fully analyzed.” A few weeks later, after SUN’s editor had had an opportunity to study the CIA documents, we called Gersten on Feb. 5, 1979, to obtain his assessment. Gersten responded: “As far as a coverup—coverup meaning they are not volunteering documents—I would think that the documents they have released seriously damages the theory of a coverup."

In fact, the once-highly classified CIA documents showed that the agency had become briefly involved with the UFO issue in mid-1952, at the request of the White House after seemingly mysterious radar blips appeared on the radar at Washington National Airport. But after the Robertson Panel studied the USAF’s best cases and concluded that all had prosaic explanations, the CIA decided in early 1953 NOT to launch its own UFO investigation. From that time, the agency had not been involved in investigating UFOs.

CAUS Founder Zechel Departs After False Claims Are Exposed

Zechel quickly zoomed to fame in UFO circles as a result of his newly created Citizens Against UFO Secrecy (CAUS) and his claim that, as a result of having been employed for 10 years by “two civilian intelligence agencies,” he had hard evidence of a government UFO coverup. For example, in an article published in the August 1978 issue of UFO Reports, UFO historian Jerome Clark offered the following appraisal: “At this moment in history, it’s distinctly possible that Todd Zechel is UFOlogy’s major figure.” (Emphasis added.)

My brief investigation into Zechel’s claims revealed him to be a spinner of tall tales. During most of the 10 years he claimed to have been employed by “two civilian intelligence agencies” he was actually employed as a carpenter, a fireman, and later managed a “sex shop.” The results of my investigation, reported in a brief White Paper dated Sept. 1, 1978, were sent to Clark and other UFOlogists. Clark sharply criticized me for doing so, saying that he had gotten to know Zechel very well and that he was a person of "uncompromising integrity.” Within a year, Clark would admit that he had been wrong about Zechel’s integrity and would later write me to say: “If I’d listened to you, I’d have saved myself a hell of a lot of heartache.” By mid-1979, Zechel abandoned CAUS for Hollywood, hoping to sell a script for a UFO-coverup movie.

Gersten, who had worked with Zechel during the CIA litigation, took over as Director of CAUS. In the early 1980s, having failed to find any “smoking gun” in the CIA’s UFO documents, Gersten/CAUS filed an FOIA request to obtain UFO documents from the National Security Agency. But NSA refused to release most of the documents because they would have revealed that NSA was covertly evesdropping on communications of Soviet air-defense centers. (In late 1996, NSA released the documents whose highlights were first reported in SUN #43/Jan. 1997.) By 1984, Gersten had lost interest and CAUS was essentially defunct.

Barry Greenwood and Larry Fawcett, who had authored a book accusing the government of UFO coverup, obtained Gersten’s approval to publish a quarterly newsletter in CAUS’s name, with Greenwood as editor. Their first issue of Just Cause was published in the fall of 1984.

For the past 13 years, Just Cause has been the voice of CAUS, and reason, and in recent years Greenwood has played the dominant role. More importantly, Greenwood has become more skeptical, questioning the authenticity of the MJ-12 papers and claims of a Roswell crashed saucer. Increasingly, Just Cause has focused on obtaining once-classified UFO documents dating back to the 1940s and 1950s.

Gersten Stages “Coup D'etat"

Several months ago—on Jan. 18—Greenwood first learned from UFOlogist Jan Aldrich that Gersten had announced that he was taking over as Director of CAUS to make it “an effective and viable activist organization dedicated to ending all secrecy about extraterrestrial contact....” Ten days later, after learning more about Gersten’s new associates, Greenwood announced that he had resigned as editor of Just Cause and from CAUS. Greenwood will launch a new publication called UFO Historical Review.

Possibly the first clue that Gersten might return the UFO field came a year ago when he was a featured speaker at a conference sponsored by the Connecticut chapter of the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON). The title of Gersten’s talk was: “Government Secrecy, UFOs and the Nazi Connection.” In an interview published in the May 17, 1997, edition of the Connecticut Post, Gersten was quoted as saying that he did not think UFOs “come from some other planet, but from the frozen south. He said it has been long established that Nazi scientists were testing flying-saucer-like craft during World War II, and after the war it’s possible that some fled to Antarctica to continue the experiments. If not, the technology was likely stolen after the war by another country, perhaps the U.S., he said. But that’s not to say the aliens aren’t here or coming, he cautioned. Those mysterious circles that appear in European crops are definite alien messages, he said, and it could be proven there are ancient artifacts on Mars and its moon [sic] if only scientists would point the Hubble space telescope in that direction.”

Gersten told SUN last October: “I don’t get excited any more about lights-in-the-sky type of UFOs. I think most, if not all, of the things we see are earthly technology.” Gersten added: “I believe this planet is in connection with another form of intelligence but I don’t think UFOs [sightings] are the best evidence. I think that crop circles are the best evidence...”

California Revokes Another UFO-Abduction Therapist’s License

Prominent psychotherapist Dr. Edith Fiore of Saratoga, Calif., one of the earliest to embrace the reality of UFO abductions and other far-out ideas, agreed to surrender her license on Aug. 10 after the California State Board of Psychology charged her with “being grossly negligent” in the treatment of a female patient—identified as JH. In 1989, Fiore authored a book “Encounter: A Psychologist Reveals Case Studies of Abductions by Extraterrestrials.” This is the second time that the California Board has revoked the license of a psychotherapist who attempted to convince patients they had suffered UFO abductions. Two years ago, the Board revoked the license of Dr. Richard Boylan of Sacramento, who also specialized in treating patients he believed had been abducted by UFOs [SUN #37/Jan. 1996].

According to an article in the Aug. 20 edition of the Saratoga News, one of the charges against Fiore was that she used an unusual treatment procedure without obtaining patient JH’s consent. According to JH, by means of hypnosis, Fiore claimed to have removed “90 entities, comprised of dead persons,” from JH’s body. Then, JH said that Fiore told her that "they should explore whether JH may have been abducted by Unidentified Flying Objects [UFOs].” The article noted that after three years Fiore can request reinstatement of her license. But if granted, Fiore would have to pay the cost of the Board’s investigation: $10,706. (SUN wonders when other states will follow California’s lead. And when persons without psychotherapist training will be prosecuted for using hypnosis to “treat” UFO-abduction “experiencers.”)

Another “Top Secret” Document Indicates No Roswell Crashed Saucer

Because not one of the many hundreds of formerly “SECRET” CIA or USAF documents provides any evidence that any agency of the U.S. government has ever recovered a crashed saucer, those who promote the Roswell crashed-saucer-coverup myth “invent” the explanation that such information would be classified “TOP SECRET.” This explains why books and articles promoting the Roswell crashed-saucer myth typically avoid any mention of the TOP SECRET Air Intelligence Report No. 100-203-79, dated 10 December 1948, titled “Analysis of Flying Object Incidents in the U.S.” This report, declassified in early 1985, concludes that “it would be most logical to consider that they [UFOs] are from a Soviet source.”

Another pertinent “TOP SECRET” document has recently been discovered by UFO researcher Jan Aldrich, and a copy was obtained by Robert Todd, who provided a copy to SUN. The document, dated 20 April 1949, is a report by the USAF’s Director of Intelligence for the Joint Intelligence Committee. The report briefly summarizes the Air Force’s efforts to determine what UFOs really were, including the following:

“Inasmuch as various surmises have been advanced that some of the reported [UFO] observations may have represented ‘space ships’ or satellite vehicles, a special study has been initiated with the RAND Corporation, under the RAND Project, to provide an analysis from this standpoint and also to provide fundamental information pertaining to the basic design and performance characteristics that might distinguish a possible ‘space ship.’ [NOTE: RAND was then the center of U.S. research on man-made satellites and had issued several highly classified reports on the design of earth satellites and their potential benefits for different military applications.] RAND Corporation has also informed AMC [Air Materiel Command] that their analysis of all incidents leads them to the conclusion that there is nothing in any reported incidents which would go against a rational [i.e., prosaic] explanation.” (Emphasis added.)

The report notes: “Members of the [Air Force] Advisory Board to the Chief of Staff, USAF, who have provided consultant services to Project Grudge [the USAF’s UFO investigation effort], include Dr. Irving Langmuir, chief, General Electric Research and Dr. G.E. Valley of MIT.” (Dr. Valley had recently been named to lead a Massachusetts Institute of Technology effort to develop an effective defense against Soviet bomber attack.]

The report adds that AMC had contracted with nearby Ohio State University for the services of Dr. J. Allen Hynek, an astrophysicist, to assist in analyzing UFO reports. “Preliminary report of Dr. Hynek indicates that 30 percent of the first 200 [UFO] incidents are positively attributable to astronomical phenomena...” Also: “The Air Weather Service has reviewed incident data and has provided information that 24 of the first 172 [UFO reports], both with respect to location and time, coincide with the release of weather balloons.”


Travis Walton Book Reveals Break With Mike Rogers

A previously unknown rift between “UFO abductee” Travis Walton and his crew chief, Mike Rogers, is revealed in Walton’s book “Fire In The Sky” [SUN #50/March 1998]. Although Travis had been a long-time friend of Rogers and was happily married to his sister Dana, Travis admits “there was a blowup. We hardly spoke to each other for a number of years” [p. 191]. Walton tries to blame the rift on the fact that Rogers was often criticized for having driven off after Travis (allegedly) was zapped by a blue beam from the UFO, leaving Travis behind to be abducted. Travis denies that he himself ever leveled such criticism at Rogers but adds: "Certain members of my family made known their strong feelings about it."

Yet neither Travis’ mother or older brother Duane criticized Rogers for his (alleged) action during the time when Travis was “missing” and his fate (seemingly) was unknown. When Travis’ mother was first informed by Rogers and deputy sheriff Ken Coplan that her son seemingly had been abducted by a UFO, she took the news very calmly, according to Coplan. She did NOT then criticize Rogers for his actions. Three days later, when Travis was still “missing,” Rogers and Travis’ older brother Duane were interviewed by UFOlogist Fred Sylvanus. Not once during the hour-long tape-recorded interview did Duane criticize Rogers for having abandoned Travis to his fate. At one point, Duane said: “I don’t think he’s in any danger at all....I wish I was with him” [SUN #50/March 1998].

When Travis reappeared five days later and was promptly examined by two physicians, there were no burn or bruise marks on his body or any other evidence of injury. When the Walton incident was selected by the National Enquirer as the best UFO case of 1975, Travis received $2,500 as his share—as much as he earned in many months cutting timber for Rogers.

The Unforeseen, Unhappy Impact On Travis’s Life

If the incident were a hoax concocted by Rogers, in the hope that it might provide an excuse for Rogers’ default on his seriously delinquent Forest Service contract, and that they might win the $100,000 grand prize offered by the National Enquirer for positive proof that some UFOs were ET craft, the unforeseen, unpleasant consequences could prompt Travis and his family to blame Rogers. Travis briefly mentions a few of these in his book [p. 189-191]:

Rogers experienced a similar aftermath for which he might blame Travis for agreeing to participate in a hoax. Rogers’ marriage ended in divorce, as did those of several other crew members. (Travis says he doubts whether any of the divorces “were directly caused by the incident.”) According to Travis, “Mike started to withdraw, to become an emotional hermit....Mike was hired [as a logger]. During one of his seasons up there he lived alone in a cabin."

Travis comments that “Writing this book makes me look back over the years for perspective on all the changes that have occurred, both personal and global.” If Travis was really abducted by a UFO one might then expect him to comment in the closing chapters of his book something like the following: “But all these irritations are a small price to pay for having experienced a UFO abduction, being taken to a hangar somewhere on earth or on their planet where I saw three flying saucers, and being returned safely without any injury. It’s an adventure that I will treasure for my entire life. I am eager to devote my life to helping resolve the UFO controversy and preventing UFOs from abducting innocent citizens."

BUT NOWHERE IN THE BOOK DOES TRAVIS EXPRESS ANY SUCH VIEW. Instead, he writes: “One community might have welcomed me with open arms: The UFO community. I was repeatedly invited to attend their gatherings, but I rarely accepted. That wasn’t a put-down of those people. It’s just that I’d had enough of the controversy, the reaction, the subject. My best coping strategy was simply to try to get on with my life and live it as normally as possible.”

Prospect Of Hollywood Movie Heals Rift Between Travis And Rogers

Travis does not disclose what prompted a reconcilation with Rogers or when it occurred. On Nov. 5, 1985—exactly 10 years after the UFO incident—Tracy Torme arrived in Snowflake, Az., to meet with Travis and Mike. Torme sought their cooperation for a movie on the Walton incident which he hoped to sell to a Hollywood producer. The prospect of a movie and payment for their assistance healed the rift. Mike and Travis have been close buddies ever since.

At first, Travis writes, he told Torme he was not interested: “What could a movie bring to my life? Stir up all the old controversies, animosities, and ridicule?” [p. 211]. While sitting in a doughnut shop and watching local traffic, Travis remarked to Torme “how few of these people seemed to base their opinions concerning the incident on the facts; their opinions seemed to be mostly derived from their prejudices and emotions. Tracy responded that a movie would induce people to experience the sighting and its aftermath for themselves and open up their thinking about it. That viewpoint immediately clicked for me.” (Emphasis added.) Under the agreement which Travis signed, he would assist Torme in obtaining the written permission of other members of the Rogers crew to being portrayed in the movie. But “Ken Peterson simply refused to sign. It wasn’t the money. He felt some personal principle would be violated by his signing. We never figured out what it was, but his decision was final.” [SUN Comment: If Peterson knew the incident were a hoax, this could explain his refusal to be portrayed by name in the movie.]

More than five years would elapse before Torme was able to get a firm commitment from Paramount Pictures to buy his script, and there would be many changes in Torme’s script before “Fire In The Sky” made its debut in March of 1993 [SUN #21/May 1993].

Clark Denies He Served As Ghostwriter For Any Part Of Walton’s Book But Admits He Provided Anti-PJK Articles At Walton’s Request

The last issue of SUN noted the strong endorsement of the Walton UFO incident, and of Walton’s recent book, by Jerome Clark (editor of International UFO Reporter, published by the Center for UFO Studies/CUFOS). We then reported: “It is rumored that Clark helped Walton write his first book and there is evidence that he served as ‘ghostwriter’ for much of the new material in Walton’s recent book.” The “evidence” included harsh criticism similar to that voiced in some of Clark’s articles and in our personal correspondence. Clark has responded that he “ghostwrote not a word of either book. I did supply Walton, at his request, with copies of a few pieces [articles] I’d written on Klass and CSICOP [a skeptics organization with which I am affiliated] for the second book, and Walton indicates as much in his coverage of debunking treatments of his story.” In only one instance that we can find (p. 290) is criticism of “PJK” or CSICOP credited to a Clark article. (The Walton book does not contain an Index.)

On page 366 of the Walton book he writes: “I've been told that he [PJK] owns an apartment complex, a big oceangoing boat, and makes frequent trips to places like the Bahamas.” Travis does not say who told him, but when Clark visited me in 1980, I mentioned that the bank and I owned two other small studio apartments in our condominium complex. And I would later invite Clark to go sailing on my 27-ft. sailboat, based near the Chesapeake Bay. On April 8, 1984, at a time when our relations were more cordial, I concluded my letter to Clark as follows: “If business or pleasure should bring you to the D.C. area, I invite you to join me aboard the ‘Hanky Pank,’ but warn you of the dangers of the mysterious Chesapeake Quadrangle in which many UFOPs (UFO Promoters) have disappeared mysteriously. A few have been found with their bodies riddled with bullet holes. Some who are anxious to keep the Cosmic Watergate under cover, will stop at absolutely nothing."

Clark responded in friendly fashion, indicating that he recognized the foregoing was intended as a joke. So my May 14, 1984, letter to Clark concluded: “The yacht Hanky Pank made her maiden voyage of 1984 and all systems including the marine toilet were A-OK....Perhaps you will join us some day (and your body will be found floating in the Chesapeake).” Clark replied on May 21, saying that he considered my May 14 letter to be a “death threat,” and not a joke. “Unless you make a full, immediate and unqualified apology, all communication between us will cease and I will have nothing further to do with you.” I replied on May 25: "If you honestly believe that my letter of May 14 contained a serious ‘death threat,’ then I would urge you to immediately bring it to the attention of the FBI and the U.S. Coast Guard—the latter because the foul deed would be performed in its waters. However, if you fear that the FBI and USCG might think you a dum-dum and a kook, then perhaps you may not wish to do so. The choice is yours and I will not venture any advice...” If Clark reported my “death threat” to the FBI, the agency did not pursue it with me. And Clark terminated our correspondence.

Clark Admits Walton Case Might Be A Hoax, But Not Like PJK Scenario

In “The UFO Book,” authored by Clark, he offers the following evaluation of the Walton case: “Nearly all the available evidence would lead one to the conclusion that Walton, his family, and the logging crew are not hoaxers. If there is compelling evidence to the contrary, it has yet to emerge. In the end, Klass’ case rests on a single dubious polygraph result and a mass of lurid but apparently baseless speculations. Should the Walton episode turn out to be a hoax, we may be confident that it will not be the kind of hoax Klass says it was...” (Emphasis added.)


Short Shrift

NOTE: Opinions expressed in SUN are those of its editor—unless otherwise noted—and do NOT necessarily represent the views of any organization with which he is affiliated—or his spouse. We thank Dr. Gary Posner for help in proofreading.

Philip J. Klass

Phil Klass was a UFO researcher with a background in electrical engineering. He was author of seven books on UFOs, including UFOs Explained and UFO Abductions: A Dangerous Game. He was also editor of the SUN newsletter, a UFO-related publication.