Friday, October 24, 2008

The Joint Intelligence Organisation (JIO) and UFOs – a matter of history

(from my Nov-Dec 2007 UFO History Keys column, Ufologist magazine:

Keith Basterfield of the Disclosure Australia Project recently reported on identifying a JIO UFO file and is awaiting its security clearing review. I contacted him as I had undertaken similar efforts some years ago but put it on the “back-burner” due to indications that the JIO files I requested would not be made available under both FOI and Archive Act criteria. Fortunately I was able to access parts of this file in the course of some research conducted particularly during 2001. In discussion with Keith I learnt that the file series I had extracts of was the JIO file series he is waiting determinations on via the National Archives.

To assist with research into this matter I will outline information I have gathered over the years on the role of the Australian Joint Intelligence Organisation (formerly the Joint Intelligence Bureau (JIB) and now the Defence Intelligence Organisation (DIO). JIO emerged in 1970 and the DIO in 1989. The original JIB had emerged by 1947 but its intelligence activities were limited. Critical to our story was the expansion of its spheres of interest to scientific and technical intelligence in 1957. Some of my research material was originally included in the manuscript I wrote for my 1996 book “The OZ Files – the Australian UFO Story.” Because commercial editing requirements meant a lot of this information was left out of the final published book I chose to make it available in other ways, including my document “UFOs Sub Rosa Down Under” available on the web since 1999. See and the Project 1947 web site.

(The cover of Bob Mathams 1982 book "Sub Rosa" - the inspiration for my document title "UFO Sub Rosa Down Under". Bob's book has no mention of UFOs. The UFO connection came up in his 1982 correspondence with me)

It was science and technology that drove the drift of JIB and JIO into the UFO controversy but the organisation always tried to limit its embrace with the controversy. JIO’s reluctant dance with the UFO spectre had its tentative beginnings back in 1954 with two key events – the secret Turner report on the RAAF’s Directorate of Air Force Intelligence (DAFI) flying saucer files and the striking radar visual Sea Fury encounter. It was Harry Turner who wrote the report – an early “scientific appreciation” of the DAFI “flying saucer” reports. He argued for a serious investigation as the basis of his conclusion that their “unexplained” cases might well have an extraterrestrial basis. All this in a secret 1954 Australian study! The Sea Fury account leaked out into public eye by the end of 1954, but in secret the JIB had undertaken an investigation, one which the key witness – the Sea Fury naval pilot Lieutenant James O’Farrell – did not learn of until 1973 with the visit of former USAF consultant to Project Bluebook Dr. J. Allen Hynek.

(Photo: Harry Turner and Bill Chalker in 2004 - photo copyright Bill Chalker)

James O’Farrell told me in 1993, “It was done through Sir Arthur Tange, who was secretary of the Department of Defence at the time. Hynek contacted him direct.... Sir Arthur Tange contacted me and said Hynek was coming out. He had written to him, through the US Embassy, to set up a meeting.... And the next thing I knew I had a telephone call one day from Sir Arthur Tange saying that Hynek was coming and he would like me to met him. I said, well, I haven't got all the facts, there all a bit hazy. So he sent me the two Defence Department files over to read, to refresh it all…. All that happened was that it was more of a courtesy because he was a very important guy, Hynek, and they wanted to show him the courtesies etc. As far as Defence was concern it was dead and forgotten but they had not got rid of the files. They kept them. Normally when files like that are written off they are either decided they'll put them in Archives or dispose of them and destroy them. But they had done neither. They had remained in the JIO. They'd kept them. I don't know what they had in mind about it, I never questioned it. I just used them as a means to refresh my memory.

(RAN Sea Fury pilot O'Farrell)

“Later the guy who became the chief Defence scientist, John Farrands, was very interested in it to, and he had done a lot of early investigations in most of the reports when he was chief defence scientist and in the period just before he became chief defence scientist. He had a talk with me. I was a friend of his. I use to meet with him at lunch. He went over it in great detail. He knew it all. He agreed it was something that couldn't be refuted.” I interviewed John Farrands who it turned out even contemplated writing a book about UFOs. At the time he told me he would wait for mine!

James O’Farrell further told me, “No matter how hard they tried, and they tried very hard to knock it all back. They checked everything from medical, down to when was the last time I had had a drink.... I wanted to hush it all up. That sort of investigation made me look a bit of a fool. I was worried it wasn't going to do my career any good.
Apart from the radar witness) it locked in a sighting over the NDB (non directional beacon at Narulan, at the same time. There happened to be a guy working on the NDB. It was down at the time. He had gone to repair it. He happened to look up at the time because he saw these lights fly overhead. Also the air traffic control officer in the tower at Mascot saw them approaching him.”
James O’Farrell told me, “It was all investigated by the then RAAF guy who did it and later it was also investigated by the Joint Intelligence Bureau.”

Since the Sea Fury aircraft was in 1954 one of the fastest planes in Australian skies the existence of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) that made the Sea Fury look as though it was “standing still”, it was perhaps inevitable that this unidentified technology was of serious concern. However the UFO subject was laden with problems that went far beyond the ambit of intelligence. The RAAF Directorate of Air Force Intelligence attempted to divest themselves of the UFO problem, despite Harry Turner’s secret “scientific appreciation” report. When Group Captain A.D. Henderson, the Director of Air Force Intelligence learnt that JIB had a scientific intelligence division he wrote to the JIB director Harry King. In a letter dated April 1, 1957, Henderson indicated (DAFI) “frequently receives reports direct from civilians, or passed on by other departments, of unidentified flying objects. We also receive requests for assistance and advice from various "Flying Saucer Research societies". He further elaborated, “Many of these reports presumably cover such mundane things as meteorological and astronomical phenomena”, and in an interesting internal admission DAFI Henderson added, “Others appear to be inexplicable. He lamented, “Most of them are outside the aeronautical field. As your branch has now established a scientific Intelligence Section, it would appear that these reports could best be investigated and evaluated by one of your Scientific Research officers, who will have a broader background of knowledge of this type of phenomena than anyone in this Directorate. If you agree that you can accept this commitment I will be glad to make available all the papers which we have acquired, to date, on this subject.”

Harry Turner, who would later become a JIB scientist and their liaison man with DAFI, told me that JIB rejected the RAAF overture. The clandestine side of JIB did not want “a bar of it”, as they considered they would then be caught up in what they regarded as a complex conjectural matter, which might drag them into the limelight - the last thing an intelligence organisation would want. The reality was at that stage JIB’s resources were very limited. Harry King appointed Bob Mathams as the first Australian scientific intelligence analyst in May, 1955. His initial secondment ended in mid 1957. In October, 1958 he rejoined JIB as the first head of their Scientific Intelligence Branch. In 1982 Bob Mathams indicated to me that his Directorate of Scientific and Technical Intelligence (DSTI) “had only a marginal interest in UFOs; our analytical resources were limited and I had to take the position that we could not afford to become too involved in investigation of UFO sightings until we had reasonable grounds for believing that they were of foreign - as apposed to alien - origin. We relied on DAFI to make the initial investigations and, at times, assisted in the interpretation of the resulting data.” He advised me that his “interest (as DSTI) in UFO sightings was aroused only when there was sufficient evidence to suggest that they may have been connected with or caused by foreign scientific or technological developments. There were only one or two that fitted that category We never really decided who would take responsibility for further investigation if it were shown, convincingly, that a UFO sighting in Australia was of extra-terrestrial origin.”

This perspective was the primary template JIB/JIO applied to the UFO material it decided to evaluate. Generally there had to be a “technology” aspect which suggested the possibility of a foreign earthly power, such as the Russians. This attitude informed JIO’s flirtations with the UFO subject until Harry Turner re-entered the picture. I first had contact with Harry Tuner back in 1982 and have interviewed him on a number of occasions since then. He kindly opened his UFO files to me. I was able to facilitate the Disclosure Australia interview with him in 2004, which had Dominic McNamara and myself undertaking the video interview.

By 1968, Harry Turner, who prepared the classified 1954 report on the DAFI UFO reports, was working in the Directorate of Scientific and Technical Intelligence (DSTI) of the Joint Intelligence Bureau (JIB). At the end of 1954, Turner, a University of Western Australia trained physicist, went to England, where he worked at Harwell - the British atomic energy research establishment. He returned to Australia in 1956 and until 1964 was stationed at Maralinga. There he was the Australian Health Physics Representative during the controversial atomic bomb trials. When he joined DSTI, Turner functioned as a JIB liaison with DAFI and used the connection to try to once again encourage serious research within the secret world of Defence Science and intelligence. Harry Turner requested access to DAFI's UFO reports. This was granted.

As early as August 1968 in his position Turner drafted a memo for the JIB director entitled “U.F.O. Investigations with respect to DAFI, JIB and the future NIO”, which highlighted that “DAFI is not anxious to retain responsibility for UFO analysis but would be prepared to continue collation responsibility. The main problems are: (a) lack of scientific capability, (b) no specific position has been established for UFO work which means additional duties for personnel allocated to other duties.” He elaborated, “Many of the explanations offered by DAFI, usually under political pressure, impose a considerable scientific credibility gap.” Turner recommended tentative explorations of ways of mounting a limited assessment of the subject.

In May 1969, at Turner's suggestion a new RAAF UFO report form was devised which was intended to give a more scientific slant to the reports. At this time Turner was working with other scientists to set up a “rapid intervention” team to scientifically investigate cases of UFO physical evidence. A firm proposal was developed with the team to operate within the Defence Science and Technical Organisation (DSTO). The team was to consist of 4 or 5 scientists, with its mainstay to be rapid intervention into UFO “landing” events, for which an aircraft was to be on standby. Turner, in a memo dated November 8th, 1969, to the Director of JIB, indicated that he had Dr. Morton from ANU, Dr. John Symonds from the Australian Atomic Energy Commission and Dr. Mike Duggin, then of the National Standards Laboratory. George Barlow, of Defence Science and Technology (DST) had also offered the help of his group. Turner indicated that Arthur Wills, then Chief Defence Scientist “had agreed to this.” The plans for the scientific team had been almost completed and authorisation to proceed appeared imminent. However fate had already intervened.

In the middle of 1969 a major flap broke out in Western Australia, centred in
Perth. One of the reports included an impressive radar visual event at Cloverdale and tracked on Kalamunda radar on May 23rd. The Director of Air Force Intelligence felt that things had gotten out of control and made an appeal for the Defence “intervention” group to assist. Unfortunately the group had not been finalised, and Harry Turner was seconded to help out. Turner found the radar case intriguing. As a physicist and analyst for the JIB, he concluded, “Neither the Kalamunda radar observation nor Mrs. C__'s sighting can be readily explained by conventional objects or phenomena.” His report also in part criticised the DAFI system for handling UFO reports, in particular referring to the lack of assistance given to the Air Force Intelligence officer “on the spot.” Hindsight is a wonderful thing, however at the time the DAFI “empire” was under threat. The Air Force did not take kindly to criticism, particularly when it came from what DAFI saw as an "outsider" a JIB scientist. The upshot of this was that Harry Turner's access to the DAFI UFO files was withdrawn.

This sorry turn of events occurred despite the lack of interest that the then Director of Air Force Intelligence (DAFI) Gp Capt R.S. Royston had in the subject. Royston’s attitude was described in a July 1971 memo: “Although I am directly concerned with any possible threat to Australian security, I am not particularly interested in the subject of UFOs, even though my directorate devotes valuable time to this problem. I accept the US assessments without question and consider that it would be a complete waste for we here in Australia to spend valuable time and money in further detailed investigations. However, should the Department of Supply wish to undertake such studies the records of this directorate would be freely available. It would have to be pointed out to Supply, however, that the RAAF could provide no additional assistance in the matter and Supply would have to undertake all the facets of the further investigations.”

Harry Turner's JIB superior was Bob (R.H.) Mathams, the Director of Scientific Intelligence and author of the book “Sub Rosa - Memoirs of an Australian Intelligence Analyst” (1982). Mathams told me that he didn't encourage Turner's UFO interests, and his access to DAFI (RAAF) materials was an informal liaison agreement, which got more unworkable in the environment of Defence restructuring.

There was an uneasy flux in JIO’s “dance” with UFOs. The interest was virtually entirely driven by Turner's interest. If Turner hadn't been there I doubt if the matter would have come up. Bluebook & the Condon Report status quo courtesy of the US would have prevailed, as it ultimately did anyway. This was all part of Turner's attempts to get the DSTO "rapid intervention" selective study up and running. Turner wrote numerous papers and memos in the period 1969 to 1971 trying to get the “UFO ship” afloat.

During early 1970 there were exchanges between the JIB deputy director and DSTI head Bob Mathams about Turner’s persistent “sub rosa” UFO crusade.

At that particular stage (January, 1970) Harry Turner even utilised Dr. Jacque Vallee's so called Magonia listing of 1000 worldwide UFO landing or near landing reports (appended in Vallee’s book “Passport to Magonia”) to highlight to JIB the potential military threats involved: “The information suggests the existence of 3 “weapon systems” - (1) a device to interfere with electrical circuits, (2) a device to induce paralysis, (3) a heat ray.” Turner indicated, “There is circumstantial evidence that these weapons are at times used deliberately, although mostly in a defensive role. A number of reports allege that a lone car at night has been followed, and after being stopped by a beam, some kind of interaction has developed between the car occupants and the landed craft occupants. Information is included which deals with residual effects on the environment of the landed craft. It is these residual effects which offer the greatest potential reward to scientific investigation at this stage.” Even reports of this nature within JIB that went to the heart of defence issues failed to get Turner's proposed study off the ground. The status quo had prevailed.

The JIB deputy director wondered “should we maintain an incipient capacity in this field?” Matham replied, “I have discussed the paper … with Mr. Turner and have told him that my views on the subject of UFOs, from a scientific intelligence point of view, are as follows:
(a) …There is no surplus research capacity within the (DSTI) establishment that could be diverted to problems such as the investigation of UFO reports.
(b) I am not convinced that there is a sufficient scientific intelligence component in the UFO problem such as to warrant any diversion of Australia’s very limited resources for scientific intelligence research.
(c) It is evident that there is still considerable controversy concerning UFOs and this will undoubtedly continue until the subject is fully examined by some competent authority. Such an examination, however, would require a considerable effort to collect information on UFO sightings, to investigate reports of such sightings and to examine all information in an objective, scientific manner.”

The deputy director responded to Bob Matham. He wrote, “I have by now (February 1970) read a considerable amount of material on this subject. I am sure that there is an area for investigation that should be pursued by some authority. That authority, however, would need very considerable resources indeed. I have considered carefully whether a part of the subject might be undertaken by us, but this approach doesn’t seem practicable. I am forced, therefore, whilst agreeing that the subject should be studied somewhere, to decide that JIO cannot be that somewhere. Without considerable back-up we would be wasting our time and the RAAF have apparently cancelled out the little that they were doing.”
Harry Turner persisted in his efforts and even got JIO director R.W. Furlonger to sign off on a May 1971 minute paper on the “Investigation of UFO sightings” directed to the Deputy Secretary of Defence recommending passing on responsibility for the investigation of UFOs from the RAAF to the Department of Supply (namely DSTO (Defence Science & Technology Organisation), as distinct from DSTI), but focusing on a limited number of select cases (say six per year) over a two to three year period, after which JIO could make a better determination if “a strategic intelligence interest exists.” Despite some support from DSTO Turner was unable to maintain sufficient momentum in his “sub rosa” UFO campaign.

It was clear Turner wasn't going to get it up as a JIO deal - too limited resources and the subject was not within the main game of JIO, but DSTO which came on the scene in 1974 formed from ADSS (Australian Defence Scientific Service) out of Supply was seen by Turner as the best fit. The timing and the prevailing politics driven by the state of flux the Defence Science realm was in, played against the "UFO problem" coming under ADSS/DSTO. The UFO subject interested people like George Barlow (Defence Science No2) and Dr. John Farrands the Chief Defence Scientist, (both of whom I interviewed) but not enough though to rock the boat as much as Turner tried to. With Turner's attempt eventually terminally scuttled there was not enough momentum to get the subject enough profile outside of RAAF status quo. They seemed to have been left holding the bag, and we know what eventually happened there.

The Joint Intelligence Organisation (the reorganised JIB) maintained a secret BOLIDE file which seemed to be anchored to the premise that “UFOs” could involve the chance of retrieval of Soviet hardware and therefore contribute some useful intelligence. It appeared JIO had a “rapid intervention” capability as they have been able to institute prompt widespread ground searches in suspected “hardware” crashes. They did this through “special access” channels. This operation may be similiar to US activity operating under the code name Project Moondust. A specific example occurred in October 1979 when reports of a “fireball” over the Esperance area of Western Australian had JIO’s DSTI branch instigating “through “special access” channels a search over a 1,500 nautical nm radius of Esperance and covering the time frame of the reported sightings, but with nil results.”

The “sub rosa” JIO involvement in the UFO controversy could have been a good opportunity for a stepping stone towards the application of some solid science to the UFO mystery. Instead the situation was frustrated by perceptions of limited resources and politicking – a lost opportunity.

… and finally, a followup on my earlier column “The Joint Intelligence Organisation (JIO) and UFOs – a matter of history” in the Ufologist, November – December, 2007.
(from my UFO History Keys Column, July-Aug 2008, UFologist magazine)

In May 2008 Keith Basterfield managed to get a JIO UFO file released. He made a copy available, allowing the opportunity to see if there was anything beyond what I had described in my column last year. There seems very little beyond what we already knew or suspected. I had copied one of the key JIO memos to Keith in August 2007 – the 27 May 1971 Furlonger memo. Much of the rest of the now released file was discussed in my UFO History Keys column essay or in my “UFO Sub Rosa” document which has been on the Internet since 1999. Some of Harry Turner’s material is in the current JIO file release. Some is not. Indeed it is the apparent absences in the released file that are perhaps of more significance than the released contents.

(Keith Basterfield has written on these discoveries. See the Australian UFO Disclosure material on the AUFORN site at the UFO Disclosure Project link via

There is no holding of the important 1954 Sea Fury radar visual case. The pilot involved, James O’Farrell, had told me that 2 JIO files on his experience were made available to him in 1973, by Arthur Tange, the powerful and influential Defence Secretary, to “refresh” his memory of the episode, so that he could discuss the event with Dr. Allen Hynek, during his 1973 Australian visit.

The JIO file that Keith has managed to get released contains some, not all, of Harry Turner’s extensive memos and papers. One surprising omission is his detailed report on the 1969 Kalamunda Perth radar visual case. Turner’s report on the case was largely instrumental in closing the door on his access to the Directorate of Air Force Intelligence (DAFI) UFO files, because he was critical of the lack of DAFI support for the DAFI officer on the ground in Perth in his efforts to investigate the 1969 WA UFO flap. The officer was under resourced and overwhelmed by the UFO outbreak. The Director of Air Force Intelligence was not interested in ensuring a fully resourced UFO investigation by his own people, and was also not interested in supporting other efforts, such as Harry Turner’s attempts to establish a ‘rapid intervention’ team with the Defence Science & Technology Organisation (DSTO). This was a time of ‘empire wars’ and even if “the UFO problem” was an unwanted burden, DAFI wasn’t about to let it go. Rossarian of Catch 22 fame would have been proud.

Other omissions in the JIO file released to Keith may have been due to typical file attribution effects and file “borrowings”, sensitivities about the material or other matters, rather than any inherent substantial content. For example there is a Department of Supply internal memorandum from the Radar and Electronic Group: “Regarding Recent Symposium on UFOs” which discusses the 1971 ANZAAS UFO symposium. Another describes a sighting by crew of an ANL ship off Pipon Island in 1966. Other similarly miscellaneous content may lurk in other agency files and there presence in the papers of a JIO scientist may be just due to a variant on the “lightning rod” principle.

There is no material in the current JIO UFO file release on the classified “Bolide File” which indicated that JIO had “special access channels” for rapid wide searches in “Project Moondust” type investigations. These were generally anchored in the premise of attempts to retrieve “foreign technology”, as Bob Mathams, the former head of DSTI in JIO, told me back in 1982. Further Mathams said, that his Directorate of Scientific and Technical Intelligence (DSTI) “had only a marginal interest in UFOs; our analytical resources were limited and I had to take the position that we could not afford to become too involved in investigation of UFO sightings until we had reasonable grounds for believing that they were of foreign - as apposed to alien - origin. We relied on DAFI to make the initial investigations and, at times, assisted in the interpretation of the resulting data.” He advised me that his “interest (as DSTI) in UFO sightings was aroused only when there was sufficient evidence to suggest that they may have been connected with or caused by foreign scientific or technological developments. There were only one or two that fitted that category We never really decided who would take responsibility for further investigation if it were shown, convincingly, that a UFO sighting in Australia was of extra-terrestrial origin.”

During 1966 Bob Mathams drove out with three CIA staff to a location west of Alice Springs for a celebratory wine toast for the selection of a site for ‘Merino’ the codename for what was to become Pine Gap. (See “The Wizards of Langley” by Jeffrey Richelson (2001), page 109). So it shouldn’t be surprising if Matham’s DSTI group in JIB/JIO would occasionally forward UFO reports to the CIA. They were, after all, “brothers in arms”, tied together through the UKUSA agreement (See “The Ties that Bind” by Richelson & Ball (1985)). More interesting perhaps is the CIA’s role in examining the 1953 Drury film. Art Lundahl’s CIA NPIC group was apparently involved, just as it had been in other famous films of the same saucer era, such as the Great Falls and Tremonton footages.

It seems there are still further “sub rosa” activities to be revealed, but too much of it seems to be about politicking, empire wars and lost opportunities. Too little were such matters about serious engagements with the UFO mystery.


(from my October 2006 UFO History Keys column)

The Australian Disclosure Project, supported by AUFORN and carried out by AURA is a worthy and excellent effort at making much of the official UFO history more readily identified and accessible. Their efforts have complimented and expanded upon my own research of official government files which I carried out some two decades earlier, particularly during 1982 to 1984.
(Photo: (copyright Bill Chalker) Bill Chalker in the Russell Offices of the Australian Department of Defence studying Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF)/Directorate of Air Force Intelligence (DAFI) UAS (Unusual Aerial Sighings) files.)
The Disclosure project however identified one disturbing action on the part of the Australian Department of Defence where they indicated the DoD had destroyed a substantial part of their UFO files, for little more reason than “cleaning house”. The Disclosure project had John Peterson, case officer, FOI unit for the DoD in 2004 confirm that the AF 529/1/3 series and AF84/3265 Part 1 files were destroyed in accordance with NAA Disposal Authority GDA 14. These represent the RAAF UFO (or UAS) sightings files from 1974 to 1982! 8 years of official sighting files destroyed.

The FOI decision maker in this extraordinary destruction of important UFO case material was Group Captain G. MacDonald, Director of Coordination – Air Force. This unfortunate and extremely short sighted decision needs to be closely scrutinised and forcefully addressed to avoid any further destruction of official Australian UFO files.

Fortunately I had the opportunity during 1982 to 1984 to examine these now destroyed files and was able to photocopy key documents from them. So at least many of the key case events and documents have been independently preserved despite the recent DoD file destruction.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Arrival of the Saucers down under

(my July 2006 UFO History Keys column for the Ufologist magazine)
"Flying saucers" entered the mainstream in 1947. Initially perceived as an American passing fad newspapers in Australia picked up on the controversy. It wasn't long before locals were reporting their own "saucer" sightings. There were many reports before 1947 but it was this wide public manifestation and reporting that ushered in the "flying saucer" era which in turn would be recognised and defined as the UFO phenomenon. My web site documents some of the Australian pre 1947 sightings along with a few 1947 reports.An example of the Australian reporting of the period can be seen in the front page of the Sydney afternoon newspaper "The Sun" of July 8 1947 - "39 STATES SEE 'SAUCERS', MYSTERY DEEPENS, FANTASTIC THEORIES, 6 Claim They Saw "Saucers" Over Sydney, "Illusions," Claims Psychologist." Other Sydney newspaper coverage at the time included the following headlines: "First 'Saucer' Found Was A Balloon" (a reference to the Roswell story - The Sun, July 9), "MORE 'FLYING SAUCERS' REPORTED IN U.S." (Daily Mirror July 7), "TWO "FLYING SAUCERS" SEEN TO LAND IN U.S., Searchers Fail To Find Any Traces, Phenomena Seen By Sydney People." (Daily Mirror, July 8), (and in a measure of how quickly the treatment changed) "SAUCERS BEGINNING TO MAKE FOR SHELVES, Back-To-EARTH Flight Route, Festival For the Screwballs." (Daily Mirror, July 9) Inside the Mirror reported "FLYING SAUCER" GROUNDED ON RANCH Handed Over to U.S. Army DETAILS OF DISC KEPT SECRET. SKY GAZERS GOT IT IN THE NECK (this story announced "Sydney people have given up gazing into the heavens after "flying saucers") , The Sydney Daily Telegraph newspaper reported a similar evolution in reporting: "FLYING SAUCERS" REPORTED IN AMERICAN SKIES (July 7), "AMERICAN PLANES PATROL FOR "FLYING SAUCERS" (July 8), "It Was Only A Storm In A Saucer U.S.A. NOW LAUGHS AT DISC "Flights Of Fancy" (July 9), "Flying Saucers" Queer Tales Told By "Observers" (July 9). Sydney's "newspaper of record" - the Sydney Morning Herald chimed in with stories like "Students At Sydney University See "Flying Saucers"; Professor F..S. Cotton's Theory" (July 8) and "Sydney People Still Say They're Seeing "Flying Saucers" (July 9).It was a pretty tough gauntlet that any "saucer" spotter would have to run. The media treatment ensured that the UFO phenomenon's manifestations would remain largely marginalised and somewhat hidden.

One of the more interesting early cases was the following experience. In October, 1949, two men observed a UFO near Townsville, Queensland. One of them, Mr. J. Baxter, recalled the event in a 1967 letter to the UFO Investigation Centre:
“I was a commercial fisherman, fishing at the time for spanish mackerel,
with a chap named John Campbell ... It was a bad season, and we were fishing
desperately to get out of the red, (and) not to be easily distracted by anything
“Well! We were fishing off North Palm Island ... on a clear,
bright, sunny day, with perfect visibility, when we saw this object - a bright,
shining, metallic cigar shaped construction, (over 100 feet long) poised about
70 to 80 feet above the sea, and about 500 or 600 yards distant. “There was no
sign of wings, propellers, or portholes ....
“At the time we were making
circles in the boat, to try and excite the mackerel ... We would lose sight of
it (as they turned) for a minute or maybe two. But we kept watching it, mainly
because we were intrigued by the fact that it was motionless, just poised there,
between sea and sky....
“We had a noisy engine ... so we did not hear any
noise from it.... We watched it, as we made our tight circles, for maybe, half
an hour, and the while I was intently watching, the bow swund between us and it,
and it was gone - without any fuss, or even a contrail. This was incredible, and
really rocked us, that anything could get out of sight on a clear day, almost
instantaneously. Not even the modern planes of today could equal such a

For Australia at least it would take a rash of sightings in 1950 to give a more substantial public launch for the UFO mystery down under. These included the sightings of Fred Bepps in Geelong Victoria during June 1950 and Alex Holland near Avoca Victoria in July 1950.
It is ironic that the reporting of a less compelling sighting in New South Wales in April 1950 on the front page of the "Sunday Sun" of April 23 (THEY CALL THESE FLYING SAUCERS Strange sight scares women) may have registered prominently in the consciousness of the "father of Australian ufology" Edgar Jarrold. Inside the same issue Jarrold was "profiled" in the Sun's "People: Human Stories" but not for any UFO or flying saucer angle. That would come with his own sighting in the following year (1951), which led to him to form his Sydney based UFO group - the Australian Flying Saucer Bureau - in July 1952. The Sun's 1950 "profile" described Jarrold as "a man with a secret" - "a book with such a weird plot that it frightens him whenever he thinks about it", a mystery novel called "Death's Darkness". Interviewed at the plaster factory where he worked Jarrold lamented the lot of a struggling writer. He indicated, "I received no encouragement from my parents, who simply bought me expensive accountancy courses which I never finished." The piece is accompaned with a photo of the 31 year old Edgar Ruce Jarrold. A better copy of the photo of Jarrold used in the article was kindly provided to me by his son Karl. The same column reported that E. Stanley Brookes of the Melbourne Society of Psychic and Occult Scientific Research had psychic circle "insights" into the nature of "flying saucers" - "radar-controlled war weapons ... being experimented with by at least two nations". Stanley Brookes, indicated he was also known as "the Graveyard Man" and "the only Australian Red Indian Chief". I think I get his "grave" drift .... lets put it down to the era and a bit of eccentricity.
Jarrold's past was rather colourful and interesting. Indeed during World War Two he languished for some time in an internment camp on the Isle of Man for expressing anti-British opinions and becoming a security concern. His internment was probably over extended because of the complication of his use of a false name - Roy Peter Simpson. He was eventually released returning to Australia in August 1943. An extensive security file exists and is accessible via the National Archives of Australia (File Series A367 Item C70388) Keith Basterfield of the Australian Disclosure project kindly provided me with a copy of the file in 2004.

There was of course evidence of earlier cursory interest by the military. Among the earliest of the still extant sighting reports in the Directorate of Air Force Intelligence (DAFI) files was a nocturnal light account at Bass Point, NSW, on July 16, 1950. The growing number of reports that involved official agencies and highly regarded sources served to heightened official interest, initially from two quarters, namely the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA).

The following report is striking not only because of the contents but also because of the calibre of the witness. Just one day earlier, the Minister for Air, William McMahon (a future Australian Prime Minister) had stated in parliament that the “flying saucer” reports were “probably based on flights of imagination”. Flight Lieutenant William Scott, the chief test pilot for the Government Aircraft Factories, was not given to “flights of imagination” and yet at approximately 1200 hours on August 14th, 1952, while flying in a Vampire aircraft, between 35,000 and 36,000 feet, near Rockhampton, Queensland, he observed something he could not explain. Looking east, towards the coast, Scott saw a large circular light at a lower elevation which could not be estimated due to bad ground haze. The light was the colour of an ordinary incandescent light globe. After approximately one minute a number of small lights (6 to 10) appeared to come from the main light. The smaller lights appeared to surround the bright light for about 2 minutes before disappearing. After a further 2 minutes the big light also disappeared. That report did not become public knowledge. It may have been embarassing for the Minister if it had. The report remained classified until I found it in DCA UFO files I was permitted to examine at the offices of the Bureau of Air Safety Investigations during November, 1982.

The first major sighting wave of real significance occurred in May, 1953, with the “Mackay Incident” as its cornerstone. On May 10th, the crew of an ANA DC3 aircraft observed “a strange object like a lighted glass dome” manoeuvring around them for some 5 minutes. The UFO was also observed from the ground by Mackay airport personnel.
Despite the delayed and tentative beginnings the UFO controversy in Australia is an extraordinary manifestation of a global phenomenon with many rich and potent expressions with numerous breakthrough cases and developments emerging from down under. Excellent examples can be found within the pages of the Ufologist magazine and in the published record of Australian groups and researchers. You can also find some on my web site (at the link given above) and in my books "The OZ Files - the Australian UFO Story" (1996) and "Hair of the Alien" (2005) (the latter focuses on the alien DNA paradigm strikingly revealed in the DNA study of the biological evidence involved in the Peter Khoury abduction milieu - a case study from Sydney Australia).
Images: The photo of Edgar Jarrold from 1950 was secured from his son Karl during my meeting and interview with Karl Jarrold (Bill Chalker)
The front page of the July 8 1947 Sun newspaper was acquired by Bill Chalker from the Sun newspaper microfilm file held at the NSW State Library (Bill Chalker)


(from my May 2006 UFO History Keys column in the Ufologist magazine)
During May 2006 the release of a previously secret UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) report on UFOs, identified with the code name “Condign”, attracted a media response that characterised the UFO phenomenon as much a’ do about nothing, and if it was anything it was innocuous. In this case it was “UFOs (are) just plasma” (The Australian, May 8, 2006) or “UFO study finds no sign of aliens” (BBC, May 7, 2006). The inevitable media takes of “the death” of UFOs followed, one of the silliest being Rod Liddle’s “Who needs UFOs when you can play Sudoku?” in the Spectator (May 13, 2006). Other accounts were slightly more discriminating, such as Nature on line, which described the study as “pointless research”, based on poor science ( May 9 2006). Few took the trouble to go beyond the “Executive summary” of the 3 volume report, which was released a week before the full MOD release by a team of researchers led by Dr. David Clarke, who had secured the full report via a Freedom of Information request. His book “Out of the Shadows – UFOs, the Establishment & the official Cover-up” (2002), co-authored with Andy Roberts highlighted his credentials as a solid researcher, but his take on the subject has been sceptical.

More detailed examination of the 460 page study reveals a major problem, as the quality of the MOD sighting report data used was very limited, with most of them taking the form of a 2 page MOD sighting report form, with a mere 17 question prompt points. As the data extracted from these was so limited, the very obvious point is the data falls far short of a credible data base to extrapolate findings from with any serious degree of confidence. Any conclusions extracted from the severe limitations of the MOD sighting report forms would be fraught with uncertainty. Combine this with the dubious research and science that backs up the findings, one can only at best use the report as a helpful insight into the background and workings of MOD deliberations on “the UFO problem”. The MOD UAP (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena) reports are just very pale approximations of the more in-depth case studies that inform the deliberations of more serious sighting investigations undertaken in competent civilian investigations. An excellent summary study of such civilian data exists in, for example, in the 681 page book “The UFO Evidence – A Thirty-Year Report” by Richard Hall (2001). I certainly attach more credibility to that study than I do to the 2000 UK MOD “Condign” report.

The explanatory focuses of the 2000 UK MOD study are “plasmas”, and indeed the hypothesised “airborne buoyant charged bodies”, allegedly the result of atmospheric or environmental factors, or meteor activity, serve up a striking sense of deja-vu to researchers well informed on UFO history.

Plasmas as an answer for UFOs were examined in the 1960s and abandoned as an inadequate explanation. In fact it was plasmas that served as the late Philip Klass entry point into the UFO controversy. He wrote a book “UFOs Identified” (1968) which sought to explain away the more substantial UFO reports. Unfortunately his “explanation” was demolished by a leading atmospheric physicist, Dr. James E. McDonald, who himself had been engaged in a very detailed investigation of the UFO subject. His demolition can be read in his 1968 paper “UFOs – An International Scientific Problem”. The US Air Force’s commissioned study – the Condon report – had also examined “plasmas” as an explanation for UFOs and found them to be not a viable one. See the Condon report published as “Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects” (1969), specifically Section VI Chapter 7 “Atmospheric Electricity and Plasma Interpretations of UFOs” by Martin Altschuler. The Condon study even convened a Plasma UFO conference in October 1967.

Had the UK MOD analyst who prepared the 2000 “Condign” report properly considered these earlier examinations of plasmas I doubt if there would have been much left to sustain the report, and it would have been largely inconclusive, as the original limited sighting material it was based on, should have suggested. Instead the MOD report even lurches more uncertainly into “plasmas” spawned by meteors. Such dubious and uncertain connections are hardly new.

For example, even our own government minister Lord Richard Casey (External Affairs (now foreign affairs) and the CSIRO, and later Governor General) put forward meteors as a primary explanation as early as 1952 and also in 1954. In fact he had the then Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) head Alfred Brookes secure information from British intelligence and military science sources, specifically G. I. Turney, of the Directorate of Scientific Intelligence, MOD and Dr. Blount. Turney was the chairman of the UK MOD “flying saucer working party” which in 1951 concluded all UFOs were explainable by mundane sources (not plasmas I might add). Turney even wrote of Casey’s “meteor” hypothesis as being “entirely sensible, if not very original” (via Brookes ASIS memo to Casey, External affairs, February 23 1954).

So while the uncritical media and debunking skeptics might embrace the newly released 2000 MOD “Condign” report as the final nail in the UFO coffin, the UFO “corpse” is hardly dead and is very much in vital evidence through continued substantial sightings and robust and often impressive civilian research. In fact the MOD report is an excellent case study of an example of a dubious response of military intelligence to the UFO phenomenon.