April 21, 2002
[Author’s Note: With a few modifications, this article is essentially excerpted from the second edition of UFOs and the National Security State, Volume 1. I am indebted to UFO researcher Val Germann for his assistance in preparing this article.]
Astronomer J. Allen Hynek is universally regarded as the most important scientist in the history of Ufology. He has even been called the “Galileo” of UFO research.
Yet, it is impossible to ignore Hynek’s complicity in publicly debunking UFOs for years. His own justification is well known: in order to retain access to official UFO reports, he could not afford to risk an open confrontation with the Air Force. Hynek made these claims as a matter of self defense, years after the fact in the 1970s, after he had been criticized by nearly everyone in the UFO field as an Air Force lackey. That this was Hynek’s reputation in the 1950s and 1960s seems all but forgotten today.
Jacques Vallee worked very closely with Hynek for years during the 1960s, and eventually concluded that “the Air Force kept Hynek around only as long as he was silent.” This is certainly true. The question is, why did Hynek keep silent? Was it because he was an unassertive type of person – that is, because of a feature of his personality? Nearly all UFO researchers who have written about Hynek say, in effect: yes, for all of his scientific virtues, he was not a fighter. An unfortunate but all too human weakness.
A detached analysis of the historical record does not justify this conclusion.
Generally speaking, Hyenk was a genial man who did not seek out open confrontations. This, in fact, was one of the important traits that made him valuable to national security interests. In the first place, Hynek was much more than a mere civilian scientist who “helped out” the Air Force. From 1942 to 1946, Hynek took a leave of absence from Ohio State University to work at the Johns Hopkins University, in Silver Springs, Maryland. While there, he was in charge of document security for the highly classified project sponsored by the Navy to develop a radio proximity fuse.
Along with radar and the atomic bomb, this is often considered as one of the three great scientific developments of the war. The device was a radio-operated fuse designed to screw into the nose of a shell and timed to explode at any desired distance from target.
- Allen Hynek. A central, and problematic, figure in the history of UFO research.
Many scientists, of course, performed work for the defense establishment during World War Two. But Hynek’s project was of considerable importance, and it does not appear that his main contribution was scientific: after all, he was an astrophysicist. Rather, one of his main efforts was in a security related area.
Vallee kept a diary during the period that he worked with Hynek. It remained unpublished until 1992 as Forbidden Science, long after Hynek was dead and enshrined as the “father of scientific ufology.” When read with care, Vallee’s observations make it clear that there was much more to J. Allen Hynek than initially met the eye. And yet, the UFO research community has continued to ignore the implications, and even the plain facts, that Vallee related.
The proximity fuse was six times more effective than the timed fuses it replaced. Hynek was in charge of document security for the development of this important weapon
For example, rumors had abounded through the 1960s that Blue Book was a public relations facade, and that there was a “secret study” of UFOs going on. Vallee, too, had his suspicions, and broached this subject with Hynek every so often. Hynek inevitably rejected such opinions without reservation. Blue Book, Hynek maintained, was the real thing, albeit a project that was being done incompetently.
Vallee was never quite convinced. He noticed Hynek’s cagey attitude about UFOs, that he seemed to know much more than he usually let on about the subject, that he often appeared to be more interested in self promotion than actual study of the problem, and that his personal records were in a state of near disaster.
Then Vallee found the infamous “Pentacle Memorandum” in Hynek’s office. This was a highly classified document from January 1953, proving the existence of a separate study group of UFOs, and which urged that the Robertson Panel be delayed until they had come to their own conclusions. Very strong stuff. In the mid 1960s, there was still no inkling among the wider public that there was any such study as this.
On another occasion, a colleague of Vallee and Hynek showed Vallee “some very interesting photographs taken from an airplane.” Here is the relevant passage:
“Do you know who took these? Allen did! But he hasn’t recorded the place, the date or the time …” It turns out Allen was aboard an airliner when he suddenly noticed a white object at his altitude, seemingly flying at the same speed as the plane. He made sure it wasn’t a reflection and he convinced himself it must be some faraway cloud with an unusual shape. He pulled out his camera ‘to see how fast he could snap pictures.’ In all he took two pairs of stereoscopic photographs and gave it no more thought.
The photographs themselves appeared in a book authored by Hynek and Vallee in 1975, The Edge of Reality. They may or may not be of a flying saucer, but they are certainly not clouds. The importance of stereoscopic photographs cannot be overemphasized. Such a camera is of outstanding evidentiary value. Hynek, in effect, had captured a possible Holy Grail on film. But what happened?
Fred only learned about this a few weeks later. But then Hynek had lost the negatives and one shot from every pair was missing. … Naturally the loss of the negatives makes it impossible to determine whether it was really a cloud or not. Fred is indignant: “Sometimes I have the feeling Allen doesn’t want to know,” he says.
Hynek, who had headed document security for the proximity fuse project, “lost” one (and only one) negative from such a set as this. One might well wonder, to whom did he actually pass this material?
One of the two photographs Hynek took from a plane with a stereoscopic camera. He nevertheless lost one (and only one) negative from each image.
During another conversation, Hynek mentioned to Vallee that the Air Force had sent him a new contract draft. He did not know whether or not he should sign it, and gave it to Vallee to read.
The contract, I was surprised to read, was not really with the Air Force but with the Dodge Corporation, a subsidiary of McGraw Hill. “What’s McGraw Hill doing in the middle of all this?” I asked without trying to hide my bafflement. “Is that some sort of cut out?” “Oh, they are just contractors to the Foreign Technology Division,” Hynek replied. “By working through companies like McGraw Hill, which is a textbook publisher, it’s easier for them to hire professors and scholars to conduct some Intelligence activities, keeping up with Soviet technology, for example. Many academics would be nervous saying they were working for the Foreign Technology Division.” The contract clearly puts Hynek under the administrative supervision of a man named Sweeney, who is not a scientist. And it clearly specifies Hynek’s task as evaluating the sightings of unknown objects to determine if they represent a danger for the security of the United States.
Hynek’s substantial Air Force money was passed to him through a third party. Thus, Hynek’s relationship with “security” continued right through the 1960s. We also learn from Vallee that Hynek, despite his monthly trips to Wright-Patterson AFB, almost never saw Blue Book Chief Hector Quintanilla, but was received personally by the commander, who usually took him to lunch at the officer’s club. When Vallee asked Hynek what they talked about, Hynek replied, “innocently,” the weather and foreign cuisine.
The preceding passage raises other unanswered questions, such as how many other academics were receiving cut out money to hide their intelligence value? Hynek’s remarks implied that he knew quite a lot about this topic, but unfortunately, the conversation appeared to stop dead at that point. One might also wonder, who was Sweeney? And, since Hynek was being funded through one cut out organization, why not two (not at all an unusual intelligence practice)? That is, was the Air Force itself a cut out for another organization? This is currently an unanswerable question, but well worth asking in light of the clear evidence that the CIA was a major perhaps the major player behind the scenes in the UFO mystery.
Another interesting and generally ignored fact about Hynek was the close relationship he had with C. The astronomical community has always been small, and of course it is not surprising that, aside from the issue of UFOs, the two men would know each other well. But this relationship was more than a simple professional acquaintance.
From 1955 to 1960, for instance, Hynek was associate director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Astrophysics Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and headed its optical satellite tracking program. During this period he also lectured at Harvard University. Menzel, meanwhile, had been a full professor at Harvard since 1938 and was the most prestigious astrophysicist in North America. For all intents and purposes, Menzel was Harvard’s Astronomy Department. While Hynek was in town, Menzel was full director of the Harvard Observatory, and (as Vallee noted in passing) was Hynek’s mentor. On one occasion, Hynek declined to write a Forward for Menzel’s book. One assumes, then, that Menzel asked in the first place.
Donald Menzel was an arch-UFO debunker, senior member of the U.S. intelligence community, and an alleged MJ-12 member. He was also a mentor of J. Allen Hynek.
When considering the public opposition the two occasionally had (such as their participation in a scientific debate on UFOs in late 1952), this closeness seems out of place. But the public view is often the misleading view.
Menzel, of course, was not merely one of the world’s leading astronomers. He was a man tightly connected to the upper levels of the American national security community, and personally close to Vannevar Bush. During the war, Menzel chaired the Radio Propagation Committee of the Joint and Combined Chiefs of Staff and the Section of Mathematical and Physical Research of U.S. Naval Communications. He was a top level cryptologist who had a longstanding association with the National Security Agency, possessed a Navy Top Secret Ultra security clearance, consulted for 30 companies on classified projects, and worked for the CIA. Through the entire 1950s, Menzel was still a serving intelligence officer.
Revelations such as these about are especially important when one considers how sanitized Hynek’s treatment continues to be at the hands of most writers in the UFO field. Indeed, even Menzel is sanitized. Jerome Clark, for instance, claimed that Menzel’s secret government work “does not significantly differentiate him from many other elite scientists of his generation.” There is some truth in this statement, but the larger picture is missed. What matters is that the surface and undercurrent move in different directions.
In the 1950s, as today, UFOs were a topic of great secrecy. They were important. In this context, the classified lives of men like Hynek and Menzel matter a very great deal. These were men strongly connected with the topic of UFOs, who by their outward appearance were at antipodes. Yet, below the surface, many commonalities existed.
Hynek’s defenders have remained at the surface, claiming that his position on UFOs evolved over the years from skeptic to believer. Such a simple transition is unlikely. For years, Hynek had access to classified Air Force UFO reports. Many of those reports were unusual and unconventional – as Hynek himself stated years after the fact – and the Air Force official explanations for many of these were clearly absurd. Yet, for year after year, he did nothing. Even followers in good faith might ask: what took him so long?
Hynek’s remarks and insights, provided years after the fact, remain of value to the UFO researcher. But the careful reader must remain mindful of Hynek’s history in this subject. It is a history that, depending upon which character flaw was his correct one, leads any serious researcher into a stance of wariness regarding J. Allen Hynek.