Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The 'Mirage Men' Meet Richard Shaver

In UFOlogy today, the term "Mirage Men" is understood to signify supposed shadowy government agents who, for inscrutable reasons, are allegedly tricking the public not by "debunking" UFOs, but creating belief in UFOs and the like. The title comes from a book by the British author Mark Pilkington, Mirage Men: An Adventure into Paranoia, Espionage, Psychological Warfare, and UFOs

In 2013 the book was made into a movie of the same title, written by Pilkington, directed by John Lundberg,  Roland Denning, and Kypros Kyprianou. The movie's website describes it as:
How the US government created a myth that took over the world.
 UFOs: weapons of mass deception... For over 60 years teams within the US Air Force and Intelligence services exploited and manipulated beliefs about UFOs and ET visitations as part of their counterintelligence programmes. In doing so they spawned a mythology so powerful that it captivated and warped many brilliant minds, including several of their own. Now, for the first time, some of those behind these operations, and their victims, speak out, revealing a true story that is part Manchurian Candidate and part Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Mark Pilkington
Next was Mark Pilkington, whose book (now also a movie) Mirage Men purports to show how military and intelligence operators have shaped and exploited belief in UFOs. He called his talk "The Abuses of  Enchantment." I would have to say that Pilkington is not a man who gets directly to the point.

While I can agree that such involvement has been shown to happen a few times, including incidents outside the United States - for example, he cites a Rand Corporation paper on exploiting local superstitions - I don't see how this has any real significance for our understanding of the UFO circus. I had only a brief opportunity to speak to him afterward. I said I didn't think such instances were of much significance to the UFO scene as a whole, and he agreed. I think what he was saying was that military and intelligence involvement was responsible for shaping the public perception of a UFO cover-up, which is at least partly true. Like I said, he doesn't get directly to the point, but if you can figure out what he means he seems to be pretty skeptical. Somebody asked him about crop circles - are there any that are not of human origin? Pilkington's answer: no, except for a few simple ones which may be of meteorological origin. (Thus none are made by aliens.)
I would also suggest that, from my limited interactions with John Lundberg, and from knowing of his connection with the deliberately enigmatic Crop Circle makers, he is also "not a man who gets directly to the point." 

From the standpoint of the skeptic, these are interesting claims. There are no ETs, and government Spooks created belief in UFOs. The problem is that, upon close examination, their evidence is very "soft." It suggests a possible involvement of intelligence agencies in a few cases, but no clear motive behind it, and no solid proof that agencies led (or mislead) the public to create belief in UFOs.

Ironically, James Oberg has documented several clear-cut instances of government agencies encouraging public belief in anomalous celestial phenomena - but in the USSR, not here. For example, on September 20, 1977 thousands of people in northwest Russia and in Finland saw a brilliant object in the pre-dawn sky that came to be known as the "jellyfish UFO." He notes how a party-controlled periodical (there were no other kinds at that time) published an article by a chemistry professor, claiming that the people had in essence seen "swampsky gas," luminescent industrial effluvia. The Soviet leaders preferred to have the public believe that absurdity, rather than admit it was a rocket launch from a secret space facility that officially did not exist.

One researcher who has been promoting the Mirage Men concept in a big way is James Carrion, who served as the International Director of MUFON from 2006 to 2009. I heard Carrion give a talk in 2008, and spoke with him a bit afterward. I realized at once that he was very different from the typical MUFON leader. Not even willing to defend Holy Roswell as an E.T. event, he was far too independent a thinker to fit in well at MUFON. It was no surprise when Carrion and MUFON went their separate ways, with him proclaiming that the UFO phenomenon "is based in deception - of the human kind."  He cited several very interesting examples of such deception, although none of them involved official agencies (see my book Bad UFOs, p. 4).

After promoting the Mirage Men hypothesis on his blog for several years, on August 20, 2016 Carrion claimed  to have found a 'smoking gun' that demonstrates "Human Deception at Play during the UFO Wave of 1947". Carrion cites
James Carrion
A July 21, 1947 FBI memo from E. G. Fitch to D. M. Ladd, Subject: Flying Discs detailed how Colonel Carl Goldbranson (misspelled Golbranson) of the Intelligence Division of the War Department advised Special Agent S. W. Reynolds of the FBI’s Liaison Section that the War Department had received the following telegram:

New York, NY July 5 Major Paul Gaynor AAF Hqts Wash DC
“For Further Details Concerning Flying Disks Suggest Immediate Contact Of (blacked out) Illinois Who May Have Important Information Concerning Their Origin.” Unsigned.
In it, Col. Goldbranson
desired the Bureau conduct some investigation of Shaver to determine whether or not he has any information pertaining to the origin of the flying saucers.
This, says Carrion, "unequivocally documents the connection between US strategic deception planners and early UFO events by relating how Colonel Carl Goldbranson petitioned FBI assistance in investigating UFO events. Goldbranson was a WW2 member of Joint Security Control and one of its principal deception planners." Jack Brewer promoted Carrion's findings in a posting on his Blog The UFO Trail, titled "Mirage Men Conclusively Linked to UFO Summer of '47."

June, 1947 issue - published just before Kenneth Arnold's "flying saucers" burst upon the world

On Aug. 23, I posted the following comment on Carrion's Blog:
Goldbranson "desired the Bureau conduct some investigation of Shaver to determine whether or not he has any information pertaining to the origin of the flying saucers."

So, am I correct in understanding that Col. Goldbranson was asking the FBI investigate Richard Shaver to see what he knows about the origin of the flying saucers? Shaver, the guy who claimed that underground robots are fighting in caves?

This marks Goldbranson as an obvious crank.
Carrion seems not to have noticed that Goldbranson was in essence asking the FBI to investigate the "Shaver Mystery," a well-known series of crackpot stories about all kinds of impossible things. In his classic 1952 book Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science [Chapter 5], Martin Gardner explains : 
drawing on his "racial memories," Shaver described in great detail the activities of a midget race of degenerates called "deros" who live in huge caverns beneath the surface of the earth. By means of telepathy and secret rays, the deros are responsible for most of the earth's catastrophes - wars, fires, airplane crashes, shipwrecks, and nervous breakdowns.

Carrion replied to my comment,

Robert...I don't think you can describe the guy who planned the D-Day deception plans as well as the deception plans for the invasion of Japan a "Crank". Actually, your logic is nonsensical. For example, during WW2, the allies recruited an astrologer to try and influence Hitler and went to great lengths to have this astrologer's predictions "come true" to bolster his credibility. That did not make the deception planners cranks. The deception planner's goals cannot be diminished to simple guilt by association, just because you don't understand the overall goals of the deception plan.
 To which I replied,
If Goldbranson actually thought that Shaver's writings were anything other than 100% fiction, then he was a crank. Or thought that the FBI could learn anything worthwhile from Shaver.

So, is this the entire "proof" of "how Colonel Carl Goldbranson petitioned FBI assistance in investigating UFO events"? That he asked the FBI to interview the wacko Shaver?

Anyway, if nobody knew about this request, it wouldn't be any good as a "deception".
On August 25, Kevin Randle's blog A Different Perspective published a guest post by researcher Brad Sparks, questioning Carrion's conclusions. Sparks wrote,
[Carrion's] "proof" is what is now his central figure in the entire plot, a "Col." Carl Goldbranson, and an FBI memo of July 21, 1947, released decades ago.  But Carrion has so far failed to prove that Goldbranson did anything more than ask the FBI to investigate a notorious character who supposedly knew the origin of flying saucers and whose location and timing supposedly coincided with certain incidents in early July 1947.... Carrion apparently missed the fact that it was the infamous Richard Shaver whose name got through the document censors in one place of the FBI memo.  Yes, the Richard Shaver of the lunatic Shaver Mysteries, full of "deros" or "deranged robots" -- the so-called robots who were not actually even robots (how deranged is that?!?) -- and Lemuria tales.

Carrion has failed even to prove that Goldbranson was continuing his wartime deception duties 2 years after the war, in peacetime, in the face of his FBI memo placing Goldbranson in the wrong agency (Army Intelligence), not on the deception staff (Joint Chiefs).

But Goldbranson did not even ask the FBI to perpetrate any deception!  How is asking the FBI to investigate someone amount to carrying out a deception??  Does any of this deceive the Soviet intelligence agencies?  And into believing what?  That a marginal character like Richard Shaver of the Shaver Mystery stories and the "truth" about underground worlds and Lemuria, was a credible bearer of intelligence about flying saucers being US secret weapons??...
Right now, Carrion has not even proved that his crucial proof, Goldbranson, even worked on deception operations in 1947.  Maybe he did, but no such proof is given, it's just hinted at, and insinuated, Goldbranson "would" have been perfect to "fill that billet."  But did he? Carrion makes a crucial mistake in misreading Goldbranson's rank as of mid-1947 (his source seems to say G was a Lt. Col. and not full Colonel until December 1948).  This means Carrion has the wrong guy on the wrong staff of Joint Security Control even by his own argument. 
Carrion published a reply to Sparks later that same day, but I don't think it adresses Sparks' main points.

In my view, those hunting for Mirage Men supposedly promoting the Flying Saucer phenomenon are themselves chasing a mirage.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Kenneth Arnold and Pelicans

There have been various explanations suggested for Kenneth Arnold's very first sighting on June 24, 1947 of what came to be known as "flying saucers" (owing to a famous error, since Arnold described boomerang-shaped objects, not saucer-shaped ones).

The Harvard astronomer and skeptic Donald H. Menzel had several rather unconvincing explanations for what Arnold allegedly saw. According to Wikipedia:
  1. In 1953, Menzel suggested that Arnold had seen clouds of snow blown from the mountains south of Mt. Rainier. According to Maccabee, such snow clouds have hazy light, not the mirror-like brilliance reported by Arnold. Further, such clouds could not be in the rapid motion reported by Arnold, nor would they account for Arnold first seeing the bright objects north of Rainier.
  2. In 1963, Menzel proposed that Arnold had seen orographic clouds or wave clouds; Maccabee says that this conflicted with testimony from Arnold and others that the sky was clear, and again can't account for the objects' reported brightness and rapid motion over a very large angular region.
  3. In 1971, Menzel said that Arnold may have merely seen spots of water on his airplane's windows; Maccabee says that this contradicts Arnold's testimony that he had specifically ruled out water spots or reflections shortly after seeing the nine UFOs. For example, the early Bill Bequette article of June 26 in the East Oregonian has Arnold saying he at first thought that maybe he was seeing reflections off his window, but "he still saw the objects after rolling it down."
The late Philip J. Klass suggested that Kenneth Arnold probably saw Meteor Fireballs. 

The British researcher James Easton was the first to suggest that what Arnold actually saw was a flock of American White Pelicans, the largest birds in North America.  The object depicted above does look somewhat bird-like. But Jerome Clark and many other UFOlogists mocked that conclusion, calling it "Pelicanism." The British Fortean writer John Rimmer defiantly began using the pen name, "the Pelicanist."

The reason I am writing about pelicans now is that I just found out that, unlike many species, white pelicans habitually soar on thermals, like hang gliders, especially when they are traveling long distances in search of food (hat tip to Barbara Graham). And when pelicans are soaring, their wings do not move. Indeed, the author of this YouTube video writes how a "white pelican flock rides the wind over Bayou Corne for 10 minutes and never once flapped their wings."

Another aspect of Arnold's sighting was an unexpected "flash" of light that caught his attention. He said, "they seemed to flip and flash in the sun, just like a mirror.

A fact that few people seem to know is that a flock of pelicans, when soaring, appear to "flash" when their white bellies are turned toward the observer, then fade again as their dark wingtips are turned toward the observer once again. In the YouTube video above, we see the pelicans appear to "flash" at about 57 seconds, then again at about 1:20, 1:42, and 2:00.

Pelicans soaring above Lake Tahoe (www.tahoeculture.com).

Compare the shape of these pelicans soaring over Lake Tahoe with the shape of the object Arnold drew. Remember that when pelicans are riding thermals, their wings do not move.

An amazingly long and detailed investigation, The Singular Adventure of Mr. Kenneth Arnold (147 pages), by the Scottish UFOlogist Martin Shough - tells everything you ever wanted to know about the Arnold sighting. He concludes that the objects Arnold described could not have been birds or other prosaic objects, but does not suggest what he thinks they were.

Compare with Kenneth Arnold's boomerang-shaped object
Starting from Shough's investigation, Martin Kottmeyer wrote Joining Shough's Singular Adventure (see page 28), suggesting that Arnold just might have seen Pelicans after all. (Kottmeyer's interpretation of the term "echelon" is acknowledged to be incorrect). Some of Arnold's statements made the objects sound very much like a flock of birds:
Arnold has been telling us all along that the objects reminded him of birds, but we didn't seem to be listening, with our minds fixated on something else.
 In these interviews with reporter Bob Pratt, Arnold gives us good reason to doubt his credibility. He talks about "mystery submarines," says that his phone line has been tapped, that UFOs may be alive, and they seem to be able to read his mind. He  says he has spotted UFOs "seven or eight times."

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A New Investigation of the 1994 Ariel School Case

It's not very often that you allegedly have 62 witnesses to a supposed UFO landing. As described in UFO Evidence,

On 14th September, 1994, a UFO streaked across the sky over Southern Africa. Two days later, something landed in a schoolyard in Ruwa, Zimbabwe, with three or four things beside it, according to journalist Cynthia Hind. This was witnessed by 62 schoolchildren, who had little or no exposure to TV or popular press accounts of UFOs. Cynthia Hind interviewed them the day after the encounter and made them draw pictures of what they had seen.

The case has since gone on to become something of a classic. The Harvard psychiatrist and UFO abductionist Dr. John Mack (1929-2004) came to Zimbabwe two months after the incident, and spent two days at the school interviewing the children, and the school staff. Interestingly, according to Headmaster Colin Mackie, while there were about 250 children playing outside at the time, only 62 claim to have seen it. However, not all 62 children were interviewed by Hind or Mack.

The object that streaked across sky the sky of southern Africa two days earlier has since been identified: it was the re-entry of the rocket that launched the Cosmos 2290 satellite. And it generated a great deal of UFO excitement. Cynthia Hind, who was editor of the journal UFO Afrinews, wrote fourteen pages about sightings from that incident.

One of the childrens' drawings of what they supposedly saw.
Relatively little critical analysis has been given to this case - until recently. The French skeptic Gilles Fernandez, who has a PhD in Cognitive Psychology, writes the French-language Blog, Sceptiques vs. les Soucoupes Volantes (Skeptics vs. the Flying Saucers). On June 26, 2016 he published the results of his latest investigation of this case. Crediting skeptic "Nab Lator" and unnamed participants of other forums, this is the culmination of work begun in 2010 ( "thanks to Nab Lator who did 95 % of the work on the sources, ufologiques resources (articles, videos, web archives) key passages, and much more"). Nab Lator did an earlier analysis of the case in 2011 on the forum Reality Uncovered, making many important observations that Fernandez builds upon. (Nab Lator was also the one who successfully de-blurred the placard next to the body of the supposed "alien" in the Roswell Slides.) Viewing one of John Mack's interviews with a child, Lator writes,
The boy is coaxed to imagine a rationale, then transpose it into the real world in the next question. A manipulation that is hidden by the editing of short sequences in the video. John Mack is caught red-handed encouraging the child to confabulate, integrate imagination into reality. JM knew that there was no verbal communication, so why did he suggested so heavily a different type of communication? What else than telepathy could it have been? The children did not make up the telepathic message, JM did. It became a "compelling" element of the story, fully validated by the famous Harvard psychiatrist.
Fernandez' article is in French, but Google provides a readable translation of it. He writes, "it is particularly interesting (and telling) to see how the protection and ecology of the planet "appears" in the testimonies of the children when Mack questioned, while this theme was not present in the narratives collected by Cynthia Hind." This strongly suggests that Mack was "leading" the children to create narratives matching Mack's own beliefs and concerns.

Cynthia Hind, and Dr. John Mack

Fernandez also notes that
Interviewing children has been the subject of numerous scientific papers and experiments, adaptations and creations of interview standard protocols, in psychology or criminology, to well avoid or minimize biases that occur when such interviews (or questionnaires) "pollute" the evidence. Cynthia Hind's interview methodology with children is very far from these standards.... Cynthia Hind and an adult (Headmaster?) debrief and discuss "other planets", "space travel", etc. while children are in the room and hear everything ...
He notes that the children were not being interviewed individually, but instead all together:
The child must be interviewed individually (again following proper procedure). Now, in the video-recorded excerpts above, it is striking to see that children are interviewed in a "line" from four to six. Sometimes other children are in the background and listen to another child being questioned. The adults talk to each other or "debrief" while the children are still very close and present ... Also, children hear what others say (including adults), and therefore are likely to influence each other. Even worse, a child who has seen very little or nothing, sees his classmates details and that this is something that greatly interests adults (verbal and non-verbal rewards). This could encourage them to participate in the "game" ...

These collective sessions have therefore enabled children to hear each other and even to copy each other, caught in a game where they see adults and a nice lady interested in the narratives. We must therefore deliver in our turn, not be excluded or unwelcome in this "game" that took place. This potential participation or having participated give a certain homogeneity to the stories and therefore reported details ...
Also, Cynthia Hind conducting the interview is constantly interrupting the children and not allowing the free narrative. We must also wonder if the fact that the interviews as drawings sessions were held in the school, this did not lead them precisely, encouraged or "biased" them to make what would be compilations of stories ... kinds of school events, where, for example, the child thinks he must absolutely answer questions, produce a drawing, the adult (or authority here) will be waiting for answers and therefore it happens.
Then, as if the problems in the interrogation technique were not bad enough, Fernandez notes
Finally, and this is rarely mentioned or noticed, there was also a session where the children were invited [by Hind] to draw on the board this time around-and not just on paper. Again, this does not back it literally "to send the child to the table"  ? And it is still in my opinion a methodological error: the child is placed as in a school exercise status, "forcing him to produce" adult authority and waiting for something (and "authority" that the reward verbally or non-verbally) ... John Mack also, two months later, again invited children to draw ...
 I wrote earlier about Emily Trim, who was one of the witnesses to the incident in 1994. She spoke to the International UFO Congress in February, and gave an extremely emotional account of her experience:
Emily Trim
She spoke on "E.T. Contacts and the Ariel School Incident." Her talk was highly emotional. She was crying as she spoke of encountering ETs floating above the ground. She said that she fell to her knees before one such being, whose face kept changing between that of an alien, and that of a lion. She has also had a conversation with a magic butterfly. The audience liked Ms. Trim's talk so much that they gave her a standing ovation.
Fernandez notes that Ms. Trim was only in Third Grade at the time of the incident. Thus she was among the youngest in the school at that time, and she is never quoted by Cynthia Hind or John Mack.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

George Adamski's Saucers are Still Flying High!

George Adamski's saucers are still flying high - for some people, at least.

Glen Steckling

Glen Steckling is the head of the Adamski Foundation, dedicated to promoting the teachings of the most famous of the "classic" UFO Contactees of the 1950s. After Adamski died in 1965, Glen's late father Fred Steckling took over the Adamski Foundation from Adamski's longtime disciple Alice K. Wells, and continued the work of spreading the gospel of the Space Brothers. The Keys to that Kingdom have now passed into the capable hands of his son, currently "the only authorized & original source for George Adamski information."

Steckling obviously can't afford a proofreader for his "Extrodinary" book. (Or even use SpellCheck).
Twice in the past six months. Steckling has spoken to the San Diego chapter of MUFON. Unlike some UFO groups, this one can't afford to pay speakers, and so they never get 'big name' UFOlogists, who invariably request an honorarium of something like $500 or more. So obviously Steckling isn't speaking for the money, but for the "exposure." (In fact, at his first talk to San Diego MUFON, Steckling complained that he was no longer getting invitations to speak at the International UFO Congress, or Contact in the Desert. Perhaps it is because he has nothing new to say?)

This most recent time, Steckling was passing out copies of his newest book to attendees. He said something to the effect that he had made up a lot of these books for the recent Contact in the Desert UFO conference, where he assisted in giving tours of nearby Giant Rock, and contactee George Van Tassel's Integratron, as well as selling Adamski stuff. Apparently the books didn't sell very well, leaving him with quite an inventory.

In brief, Steckling's speil is:
  • Everything Adamski said is true. All his photos are authentic. "Bioluminosity" on the photos (whatever that is) proves that they are authentic.
  • The Space Brothers are human beings physically identical to us. However, they are in a more Enlightened state of development, having overcome war, greed, exploitation, etc.
  • Venus isn't nearly as hot as NASA tells us it is.
  • NASA and the government know all about the Space Brothers, but keep covering up saucer information.
  • There are approximately 200,000 aliens living on earth. He has met some of them.
Steckling is nothing if not diligent. His list of things that Adamski's photos supposedly are not, chicken brooders and such, includes the most recent explanation, Joel Carpenter's argument that it is the top of a Coleman lantern. (I agree with Steckling that the resemblance of Adamski's "Scout Ship"  photo to a "chicken brooder" is purely superficial).

I placed Carpenter's explanation on the internet. I had been discussing various UFO cases with Joel Carpenter for several years, mostly the Trent/McMinnville photos. Unexpectedly, he sent me a copy of his paper "Preliminary Notes on the Adamski Scout Ship Photos," dated April 2, 2012, asking for my comments. I told him I thought it was probably correct, and didn't hear any more about it. Two years later, I learned that Carpenter had died, with his paper on Adamski unpublished. I began to reassemble the fragments of Carpenter's long-unavailable (and invaluable) website on the Trent photos, and placed all of it on the Internet Archive, in its original format. I also included Carpenter's "preliminary" paper on Adamski's Scout Ship photo, since there would be no later version.

Carpenter's partial reproduction of Adamski's famous Scout Ship photo, using the top of a Coleman lantern.
Today, does anybody besides Steckling still take Adamski seriously? Apparently, yes. Something like half of the people at the MUFON meeting seemed inclined to take at least some of Steckling's claims seriously. (The other half were rolling their eyes, along with me.) And among "serious UFOlogists," those taking at least some of Adamski's claims seriously include Timothy Good, James McCampbell, and Michael Salla.

If you want a second opinion on the Adamski question, I strongly recommend the 2015 book A Critical Appraisal of George Adamski, by the Belgian UFO investigator Marc Hallet, assisted by the American researcher Richard W. Heiden.  It is a free download on the Internet Archive (reviewed here by the Pelicanist, John Rimmer). Hallet was a former member of the Adamski cult, who while researching Adamski's life discovered a number of his lies and impostures. He presents a lengthy and detailed account of Adamski's life and lies, from an insider's perspective (which he summarizes here in a 2005 article, "Why I can say that Adamski was a Liar").
In fact, [Adamski's]  Inside The Space Ships is nothing more than a science fiction book. The best proof we have of this is that it is a “remake” of a science-fiction book entitled Pioneers of Space which Adamski wrote in 1949. That book was ghost written by Lucy McGinnis and is now very rare. You can order a microfilm copy from the US Library of Congress and easily compare its content with Inside The Space Ships
In the book, Hallet goes into Adamski's early days peddling dubious "mysteries"of the Royal Order of Tibet, many years before he met the Space Brothers. Today we would say that Adamski already had a long career peddling New Age rubbish when he discovered Flying Saucers.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Facts About Silas Newton's Claimed "Successful" Oil Discoveries - Guest Post by Dan Plazak

Silas Newton was the main informant (or misinformant) concerning the supposed saucer crash at Aztec, New Mexico in 1948, made famous by Frank Scully in his book Behind the Flying Saucers (1950).  Thoroughly debunked by J.P. Cahn in a 1952 article in True magazine, followed by a second article in 1956, interest in the supposed Aztec crash all but disappeared. However, in recent years interest has been building up again, largely because of Scott and Susanne Ramseys' The Aztec UFO Incident (2012, revised 2016, http://www.theaztecincident.com/ ). I have previously published a review of the 2012 edition of that book.

The FBI's website describes Newton as "a wealthy oil producer and con-man who claimed that he had a gadget that could detect minerals and oil."

The following is a guest post by Dan Plazak, a Denver geologist who has been studying the career of Silas Newton. Dan says his main interest in the story is not the saucers, but instead the “doodlebug” that Newton claims to have invented using crashed saucer technology [beating a similar claim by Col. Philip J. Corso by almost fifty years!]


Guest Post by Dan Plazak

Aztec crash aficionados describe Silas Newton as a multimillionaire geophysicist, who famously rediscovered the Rangely oil field in Colorado. But the Silas Newton in the skeptical literature is a completely different person: a professional con man without scientific credentials, who made up the Aztec crash story for one of his con games. Which Silas Newton is the real one?

The Aztec UFO Incident (2016 edition) presents a highly fictionalized Silas Newton:
Silas Newton
“Newton was famous for finding oil.” (page 75)
A search of newspaper reports and oil-industry literature can find no such fame, and, after all, a person cannot be secretly famous.
“Newton’s great success in finding oil,” (page 105); 
“wildly successful in finding oil.” (page 115)
Quite the contrary, Silas Newton drilled one dry hole after another, until he was broke and in debt. I’m still researching his drilling records, but the following is what I know so far, for the period starting in 1937. For his lack of success at Rangely field in Colorado, see below. In Kansas, Newton drilled one dry hole and at least one producer; his FBI file from 1941 mentions “three small producing wells” in Kansas, giving him about $200 per month. In California, Newton drilled 6 dry holes, and no producers. In Wyoming, he drilled 7 dry holes, and no producers. In Arizona, he drilled 6 dry holes and no producers. It’s no shame to drill a dry hole on a wildcat location, if you have good reason to think there might be oil there, but Newton was the opposite of “wildly successful”.
“Oil companies that had abandoned oil fields were quick to lease unproductive fields to him, only to reap embarrassment when Silas Newton returned the fields to profitability after finding deep reserves.” (page 247)
Frank Scully started this nonsense when he passed along Newton’s bragging that he had “rediscovered” the Rangely Oil Field in Colorado. Newton did no such thing, and Rangely appears to have been a financial debacle for him. Now The Aztec UFO Incident shows how myths grow in the retelling, by changing the single Rangely Field into the plural “fields.” Of course, the book does not name these additional oil fields where Newton supposedly worked his magic.

Silas Newton was convicted of fraud, but escaped going to jail.
Of Silas Newton in the late 1940s: “The oilman was so wealthy that he had no need to swindle anyone, and simple logic must intrude.” (page 115)

The authors support this with a newspaper article from 1930, about 20 years previous to the period in question. And it may have been true in 1930 (although Newton’s finances appear to have started to unravel in 1929, with the crash), but by the late 1940s, Newton was being dunned by creditors, and in 1952 could not afford his $5,000 bail. Page 100 of The Aztec UFO Incident even shows an article from a Denver daily newspaper, Oct. 19, 1952, discussing Newton’s inability to pay his bail.

Did Silas Newton “Rediscover” the Rangely Oil Field?

Silas Newton’s most touted alleged accomplishment is the rediscovery of the Rangely oil field in Colorado.

“He hunted for oil with instruments which had cost a fortune and were a closely guarded secret. With them he had rediscovered the Rangely oil field, years after the major oil companies had written it off as a failure.”
- Frank Scully, Behind the Flying Saucers (1950)

You see much the same thing repeated throughout the Aztec UFO-crash literature. Always paraphrasing Scully: Silas Newton, the geophysical genius, the famous oil-finder, “rediscovered” the Rangely oil field in Colorado by using a secret geophysical device. But is it true?

To anyone familiar with the history of oil in the Rocky Mountains, or who bothers to do even minimal literature search on the history of Rangely, the answer is obvious: Silas Newton did not discover, or “rediscover,” anything at Rangely field – not one thing. Let’s review the history of Rangely oil field.

The Real History of Rangely Oil Field

Oil at Rangely was first discovered in 1902, in the shallow Mancos shale. Despite the low production – most wells pumped only 5 to 7 barrels per day – and the remote location in Northwest Colorado, many shallow oil wells between 400 to 700 feet deep were drilled by small independent oil men in the years up to World War I. But Rangely oil was handicapped by having to be trucked many miles down dirt roads to a refinery. The road was often made impassible by snow or mud.[i]

In 1932, the California Company (the corporate ancestor of Chevron) drilled the Raven #1A well at Rangely to explore deeper that anyone had before. The location was chosen not by any geophysical device, but because it was on top of the Rangely anticline, an obvious and well-mapped geologic structure known to be favorable for finding oil. In June 1933, the California Company announced that it had discovered a massive oil deposit: a 600-foot thickness of oil-saturated Weber sandstone, and the industry bible Oil & Gas Journal headlined across the top of a page: “Rangely Dome Discovery of Major Importance; First Oil Producer in the Weber Formation.”[ii]

The deep Weber oil pool would later catapult Rangely into the most productive oil field in Colorado, but at the depression oil prices of 1933, the oil flow from the deep well at Rangely was not enough to pay for the cost of deep drilling and trucking from the remote location. No more deep wells were drilled at Rangely for the next ten years, but oil men remembered the California Company’s discovery. And far-thinking major oil companies bought up the oil rights over the Rangely anticline, betting that oil would not always be cheap.

World War II required prodigious amounts of oil for the war effort, and the well-known but previously uneconomic deep Rangely oil was suddenly a potential bonanza. The California company began producing its ten-year-old deep Weber well in September 1943, and the Oil & Gas Journal commented that the event marked “the beginning of a new era” for the oil field. With a major supply of oil assured, the road to Rangely was paved, the landscape became dotted with oil rigs, and companies began building pipelines to Rangely. The big winners were a handful of major oil companies which had bought almost all the oil rights over the Rangely oil field, in anticipation of this moment.[iii]

Silas Newton at Rangely Oil Field

So, where does Newton’s “rediscovery” fit in? What was Newton’s contribution to discovering or rediscovering the oil at Rangely? Absolutely none. No doodlebug was used to discover Rangely, and none was needed; it was drilled because such anticlines were obvious places to drill for oil. Newton never even saw Rangely until nine years after the deep Weber discovery. He was just one of the many latecomers who flocked to Rangely to see if they could find some oil that the others had overlooked.

By his own account, Newton visited Rangely for the first time in 1942, and tried to find some oil leases. Unfortunately for Newton, the best part of the field was already owned by three majors: the California Company, the Texas Company (Texaco), and Stanolind (Amoco). They all knew that they were sitting on a bonanza, and were not interested in selling. But Newton found John Bockhold, a small-time oil man from Kansas who had leased about 3,000 acres along the south edge of the Rangely anticline, but needed to sell his lease to pay some debts. Newton gambled that the deep Rangely field would cover a much larger area, and he bought the 3,000 acres of oil leases for $250,000, a high price at the time. But Newton talked his way into paying only a small sum up front, with the rest to be paid from future oil production. Now he had a sizeable oil lease; but did any of it have oil?

The Weber sandstone at Rangely is a classic structural oil field: it is shaped like an elongate inverted bowl. The oil floats on top of the water, so that if you drill the top of the bowl, you find oil; if you drill too far down the sides, you find only water. Only no one yet knew exactly how much of the bowl was filled with oil. Newton’s lease included part of the south flank of the structure, so with a bit of luck, he would find oil in the northernmost part of the lease. With a lot of luck, he would find oil under a significant part of the lease.

After drilling a shallow well to the Mancos shale in late 1943, Newton began drilling his first Weber well at Rangely in April 1944, about the same time that the California Company started drilling their second deep well.[iv] The California Company’s new well started producing oil from the Weber sandstone in September 1944. But Newton had drilling problems, and in September 1945, 17 months after he started drilling, Newton finally gave up without reaching the Weber sandstone.[v]

Newton’s first partial ownership in a successful deep well at Rangely was the Wasatch Oil Gentry #2-D, which started drilling in February 1945. When the well was tested in September 1945, Silas Newton proved himself a master of public relations. The Steamboat Pilot in nearby Steamboat Springs printed the headline “Newton Oil Co. Strikes Gusher at Rangely.” Beyond the fact that a couple of hundred barrels per day is far below the “gusher” class, the Pilot article neglected to even mention that it was the Wasatch Oil Company that actually struck oil, because the well was a joint venture between Newton and Wasatch: For ease of drilling, Newton drilled the shallow part of the hole with his cable-tool drilling rig, then Wasatch Oil moved on with rotary drilling equipment, drilled the deep part of the hole, and completed it as an oil producer.  But even though he owned only a partial interest in the well, Newton tried to take all the credit.

In August 1945, the Newton Oil Company started drilling its second operated deep well at Rangely. He stopped drilling at a depth of 1,838 feet. Although Newton completed the well as a gas producer, there was no gas pipeline out of Rangely, so that the only use for gas was a small amount used by drilling and production equipment. The well was essentially a dry hole.[vi]

In October 1945, the Newton Company started drilling its third deep well, and in June 1946 announced that it was a dry hole. Up to that time, oil companies had drilled 71 wells to the Weber, and every one of those wells had found oil. Newton’s was the first well at Rangely to penetrate the Weber and find only water. The Associated Press picked up the story, and newspapers across the country publicized Newton Oil as the company that drilled the first dry hole at Rangely, breaking the string of 71 successful oil wells in a row.[vii]

So by June 1946, after more than two years of drilling, Newton had drilled three dry holes, and owned partial interests in one oil well completed by another company. This was a very bad record for a development drilling project, which should have carried minimal risk. And it was now clear, although Newton did his best to deny it, that, at best, only the very northern edge of his large lease was prospective for oil.  

Newton then drilled four oil wells to the Weber. Each of these produced oil, but two of them produced only at low rates. Typical Rangely oil wells were making from 100 to 600 barrels per day, but the Associated #1A and #1B started off making only 45 and 23 barrels per day. In addition, all four Associated wells were at the very edge of the field, so they had thinner sections of oil pay. The field had a partial water drive, and these wells would be the first wells to go to water as the oil was withdrawn, and the oil-water contact moved upward.[viii]

For reasons difficult to explain, Newton also drilled a well that he knew, or should have known by then, was too far south to be in the oil pay: the Newton Oil Government #14F. Newton said that he had drilled the well based on geophysics, and loudly insisted that the Government #14F had found oil in a new oil pay, the Dakota sandstone, although many in the oil industry doubted him. After a lot of typical Silas Newton overblown publicity, the well was finally put on production – and produced no oil, only a small amount of natural gas. Essentially, this was another dry hole. In 1947, Newton sold the productive part of his Rangely lease to Stanolind for an undisclosed sum.

The creditors of the original leaseholder, John Buckhold, sued Silas Newton, saying that the $67,000 that Newton had received for selling part of the lease should have been paid to them as part of the $250,000 purchase price. Their lawsuit was a legal success, in the sense that the court ordered Newton to pay, but a financial failure, because Newton had apparently already spent the money.[ix]

Newton’s record of drilling deep Weber wells at Rangely was: four oil wells, all marginal, and all would water out quickly, plus a partial interest in one somewhat less marginal oil well. He also drilled four dry holes, although some of them were apparently completed in the shallow Mancos shale, and produced small amounts of oil. 

This is not a good record for a development project of this type. If Newton had acted prudently, at least two of the dry holes would have been avoided. Adding up Newton’s expenditures and income from the project, he probably lost something more than a million dollars at Rangely. That he lost money at Rangely is supported by fact that he never fully paid the $250,000 for the lease, and the Buckhold creditors were still suing him for payment in 1952. Perhaps not coincidentally, signs of Newton’s financial distress started in the late 1940s, followed shortly by accusations of fraud.

Conclusions on the Rangely field

1) Silas Newton did not in any way discover or rediscover Rangely Field, or any of the major oil-bearing zones at Rangely. The history of Rangely oil field is too well-documented to admit of any doubt on this point.

2) Nor was the Rangely field discovered through the use of any geophysical device; it was found through basic geology and the willingness of Chevron to take a chance on drilling a deep hole.

3) Newton not only didn’t rediscover Rangely, but also probably lost a lot of money there. He drilled too many dry holes, and completed a few marginal producers. Five years after he sold out, he was still being sued for money he owed for buying the oil lease.

Silas Newton’s falsehood that he had rediscovered the Rangely oil field is easily disproven. It was believed only because his audience – originally Frank Scully, was gullible, and also unlikely to do any minimal literature search, which would have exposed Newton’s nonsense. Today, Newton’s bragging imposes on the gullibility of a much larger audience.

Did Newton find oil with a Magnetic Detection Device?

One of the theses in The Aztec UFO Incident is that Silas Newton found oil by using a top-secret magnetic detection device developed during World War II to find enemy submarines. The Ramseys ask:
“How did Scully know this [magnetic submarine detection] in 1949 when he was writing the book, which was published in 1950, a time when all of these secret programs were still in place?” (page 250)
Short answer: by reading Life magazine (Nov. 14, 1949: “Scientific weapons and a future war”) First, by Scully’s own account, he began writing the book in 1950, not 1949. Second, a cursory literature search shows that the magnetic detection of submarines during the war was public knowledge well before Scully started writing his book. The MAD program was publicized in such not-quite-top-secret documents as daily newspapers, Life magazine, Flying (Jan. 1947: “The MAD cats”), Science News Letter (Aug. 14, 1948: “Doodlebug hunts oil”), and Popular Science (Mar. 1950: “How good is our anti-submarine defense”). The Aztec UFO Incident creates a false dilemma by fudging Scully’s writing back one year, and by pretending that the existence of the magnetic submarine detection program was kept secret at least four years longer than it really was.

Scully’s knowledge of the program was sketchy at best, as shown by his wildly exaggerated statement (page 37 of Behind the Flying Saucers) that, using the magnetic detection, “we were able to knock out as many as 17 Jap subs in one day.” In fact, during the entire war, no more than two Japanese submarines ever sank, from all causes combined, in a single day.[x] The real question is not how Scully knew of the program, which was well known at the time, but which grossly unreliable source told him that magnetic detection had resulted in 17 submarines sunk in a single day?

The Ramseys' book also makes a complete hash of the history of magnetic research during World War II. Although peripheral to the Aztec crash, these glaring errors reflect poorly on the supposed 28 years of research that went into the book. The book states:

1) The anti-submarine magnetic anomaly detection device, or MADD, was invented by the principals of GSI.
Fact: the MADD was invented by scientists at Gulf Research, most notably Victor Vacquier,[xi],[xii] and it is a shame for Ramsey et al to deprive him of the credit he is due. GSI (now Texas Instruments) was contracted during the war only to manufacture the device.[xiii] According to Texas Instruments’ own website, their defense contracts did not include any of their own inventions until the mid-1950s. (see: http://www.ti.com/corp/docs/company/history/timeline/popup.htm under Defense: Overview)

2) The MADD is known today as the Magnetron.
Fact: the MADD and the magnetron are entirely separate things. The MADD did not use a magnetron tube; it instead used the fluxgate magnetometer. GSI did not invent the magnetron, either. The original magnetron was invented by General Electric engineer Albert Hull in 1920,[xiv] and the cavity magnetron, which was used in World War II as a source of radar waves, was invented by British scientists J. T. Randall and H. A. Boot.[xv]

3) The MADD was kept secret into the 1950s, delaying its use in oil exploration.
Fact: Gulf Research was in the business of selling geophysical services, and soon after the war they were promoting their airborne fluxgate magnetometer, in essence the MADD, to oil and mineral exploration. The wartime program and its application to oil exploration was described in technical detail in Geophysics (issues of July 1946 and April 1948), including a schematic of the fluxgate magnetometer.

Geophysics, by the way, was mailed to each member of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists, in 1950 the membership was 2,566 scientists working in the field of finding oil and gas with geophysics. If you want to be a top scientist, you join such professional organizations to keep up with cutting-edge developments. Of course, Leo GeBauer and Silas Newton do not appear in the published membership lists of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (I searched the lists from 1937 through 1950). Neither were GeBauer or Newton listed as members of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists; nor of the American Geophysical Union. Some top scientists.

Conclusions on Newton and magnetic oil detectors

If Silas Newton was using a MADD-derived magnetic device to find oil, he was just one of many, because the technology was available to anyone. But whatever he was using, it obviously didn’t do him much good, based on his overwhelming lack of success in finding oil.

The Aztec UFO Incident asserts that there is a genuine mystery behind the Aztec UFO crash. But the real mystery posed by the book is this: how can three authors, one of whom repeatedly brags about his 28 years of research on the topic, produce a book with so many careless errors of fact and logic?

Dan Plazak is a geologist in Denver, and author of a history of swindling in the mining industry: A Hole in the Ground with a Liar at the Top (University of Utah Press, 2007), see www.miningswindles.com. He is currently working on a book about doodlebugs and other unscientific ways to search for oil and minerals.


                [i] W. Y. Pickering and C. L. Dorn, “Rangely oil field, Rio Blanco County, Colorado,” in J V. Howell (ed.) Structure of Typical American Oil Fields, v.3, (Tulsa: American Association of Petroleum Geologists, 1948) 132-152.

                [ii] Tolbert R. Ingram, “Rangely dome discovery of major importance; first oil producer in the Weber formation,” Oil & Gas Journal, 22 June 1933, p.119. Graham S. Campbell, “Weber pool of Rangely field, Colorado,” in Guidebook to the Geology of Northwest Colorado (Salt Lake: Intermountain Association of Petroleum Geologists, 1955) 99-100.

                [iii] “Old Rangely well opened after 10-year shutdown,” Oil & Gas Journal, 7 Oct. 1943, p103. C. R. Thomas, “Rangely, one-time shallow field, now Rocky Mountains’ most active area,” Oil & Gas Journal, 24 Nov. 1945, p.90-96.

                [iv] “Rangely field promises to become an active area,” Oil & Gas Journal, 30 Mar. 1944, p.132.

                [v] Oil Reporter (Denver) 25 Aug. 1945, p4.

                [vi] Oil Reporter (Denver), 25 Oct. 1945.

                [vii] Rangely oil field of Colorado has first failure,” Pampa (TX) Daily News, 14 June, p.6 c.4. “Rangely gets first dry hole in Weber,” Oil & Gas Journal, 29 June 1946, p.149.

                [viii] Oil Reporter (Denver), 25 Mar. 1947, p.6, 29 July 1947, p.10, 26 Aug. 1947, p.10.

                [ix] Charles Roos, “Newton oil firm due to answer contempt action,” Denver Post, 16 Oct. 1952.
 Capt. S. W. Roskill’s multivolume The War at Sea lists every Japanese submarine that sank during World  War II, including dates, locations, and identification numbers. (London: HM Stationary Office, 1960, 1961) v.3 part 1 p.373-374, part 2 p.470-471.
[xi] M. N. Nabighian and others, “The historical development of the magnetic method in exploration,” Geophysics, Nov.-Dec. 2005, v.70 n.6 p.37ND.
[xii] M S. Reford and J. S. Sumner, “Aeromagnetics,” Geophysics, Aug. 1964, v. 29 n.4 p.483.
[xiii] Caleb Pirtle III, Engineering the World: Stories from the First 75 Years of Texas Instruments (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 2005) 28-30.
[xiv] Albert W. Hull, “The magnetron,” Journal of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, Sept. 1921, v.40 n.9 p.715-723.
[xv] S. S. Swords, Technical History of the Beginnings of RADAR (Institution of Electrical Engineers, 1986) 258.