With the publication this month of Nick Redfern's Pyramids and the Pentagon, another in his series of UFO and ancient mystery conspiracy books based on U.S. government documents released through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), I've decided to examine some of the CIA and NSA files Redfern cites in his many books as important evidence for piecing together the story of government involvement in the exploration of ancient astronauts and other extraterrestrial mysteries. This is the second piece in my series on the U.S. government's FOIA files.
Is this the CIA’s smoking gun in ancient astronaut studies? Did the CIA know months before the publication of Chariots of the Gods (1968) that ancient astronauts flew through earth’s prehistoric skies? The following memo from the CIA archives would seem to confirm that they did. The relevant paragraphs are as follows (original spelling retained):
A close reading of the document shows that it is not, in fact, confirmation that the US government believed in ancient astronauts, but rather that CIA analysts were following Soviet ancient astronaut developments closely for what they had to say about potential Soviet weapons programs and technological developments.
The document is actually an English translation [edit: actually a CIA abstract of an article written in English] of ufologist Feliz Ziegel’s 1968 Soviet Life article advocating for the study of UFOs in the months when Ziegel was pressuring the Soviet government to launch an official UFO inquiry, a request the Soviet government denied. By 1970, the Soviet Academy of Physics denounced Ziegel’s claims, including ancient astronauts and a nuclear blast at Tunguska, as “fables.” Not only that, but the article contains little original research; its ancient astronaut claims had been floating around Soviet circles since 1959.
The CIA translated [edit: abstracted] this article as part of its longstanding effort to keep abreast of Soviet science. Out of context, it looks like CIA interest in ancient astronauts. In context, it is one of thousands of Soviet news reports and journal articles translated or abstracted on a bewildering variety of subjects. The CIA may have been interested in UFOs and ancient astronauts, but only because they could be used as leverage in the Cold War.
Interestingly, the American embassy in Moscow sent Washington an unclassified airgram—a secret communication by diplomatic pouch—on February 20, 1968 following up on this Soviet Life article and reporting that a new article by V. Lyustiberg “debunks flying saucers completely.” The author, the embassy said, “makes no attempt to square this belief with previously published Soviet articles, including that rather spectacular article primarily for U.S. consumption in Soviet Life.” The State Department could not have then known of the growing disapproval of UFO studies in the Soviet government or the efforts to end Zeigel’s pseudoscientific investigations.
The embassy attached a copy of Lyustiberg’s article and someone at the NSA carefully circled a paragraph reporting on “an abandoned silvery disc” found buried in a Norwegian coal mine on an island in Spitsbergen in 1952, “pierced and marked by micrometer impacts.” It was, the article said, “sent to the Pentagon” where it disappeared. Upon receipt, the NSA marked this paragraph with the word “PLANT” in all caps, demonstrating that the U.S. government was in the business of fooling the Soviets with false UFO reports. Unfortunately, the report fooled many Western ufologists, and when the story’s false premises began to unravel (witnesses, for example, turned out to be fictive), the tale was put down to fabrication on the part of a news reporter.
Spitsbergen was (and is) a coal-rich Norwegian island in the Svalbard archipelago high in the Arctic.
This much is well-reported in the ufological literature, including several books by journalist Nick Redfern. He dismisses the Spitsbergen crash as a government hoax, but does no additional probing to find out why it might have occurred. He simply implies nefarious government conspiracies of no certain purpose by the “all powerful” NSA (Body Snatchers in the Desert, 2005, p. 181).
CIA documents, however, present a plausible reason for the UFO hoax cover story, one that ufologists like Redfern would easily have found in the FOIA documents publicly available on the CIA website had they expanded their search beyond the keyword “UFO” and took the time to put together the clues scattered across a range of strategic documents. From these, the following story emerges relatively clearly:
1952 was the same year that the CIA began monitoring the Yakutsk Cosmic Ray Station, a Soviet research facility whose work remained mysterious through the 1950s. (It was monitoring neutron radiation from space, but the CIA thought it might have served as cover for nuclear research.) The site is a relatively short hop across the North Pole from Spitsbergen, and Spitsbergen was the closest Western territory to Yakutsk in 1952. The U.S. expressed strategic interest in Spitsbergen from at least World War II, and declared it a strategic imperative to monitor Soviet activities in concessions the USSR claimed in the Svalbard archipelago, where the CIA feared the USSR might build a covert air or submarine base to attack Europe or the United States. The USSR had demanded Norway cede Bear Island and other Svalbard archipelago territories to the Soviet Union in 1944 and 1946, a request Norway rejected. Translated Soviet material kept classified by the CIA until 2009 confirms that the Soviets viewed Spitsbergen as an essential territory to control for unrestricted nuclear-armed submarine warfare against NATO.
Additionally, the CIA in 1954 wrote that it needed to study the effects of Arctic magnetism on magnetically-guided long-range missiles in order to counter Soviet advances in understanding Arctic magnetism. This was sparked by a wave of Soviet aerial activity in the Arctic region, beginning in 1948, of immense concern to the CIA since the North Pole is the quickest route to deliver nuclear weapons from Russia to North America. This route had been thought closed to the Soviet Union until the first Soviet polar flight in 1947, the same year that the UFO hysteria began in America.
Putting it all together, the available information supports three possible conclusions: (a) America hoaxed a UFO crash as a message to the Soviets; (b) America hoaxed a UFO crash to cover up a weapons or vehicular test aimed at the Soviet Arctic; (c) America hoaxed a UFO crash to cover up the recovery of a Soviet missile, submarine, or aircraft. Without more information, it is not possible to determine which actually occurred, but none requires an extraterrestrial craft.
Therefore, CIA monitoring of Soviet UFO and ancient astronaut research was about more than interest in ETs; rather, it appears to be intimately tied in to Cold War geopolitics by other means.
Again, let me emphasize that no UFO researcher I have been able to discover has ever tried to place the Spitsbergen UFO hoax in its geopolitical context, or even acknowledged that Cold War tensions were playing out on the island.
So much for “proof” of the CIA’s interest in ancient astronauts and buried UFOs.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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