Regular readers of my blog know that I don’t think much of the research prowess of Ivan Petricevic, the proprietor of Ancient Code, an ancient astronaut “news” site. This week Petricevic recycled an old ancient astronaut and UFO claim and in so doing started yet another round of reader excitement over what is almost certainly a lie.
On Ancient Code Petricevic presents what he claims is a draft document written in in June 1947 by Albert Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer making a complex legal argument about how extraterrestrials would fit into the framework of international law. According to the scan of the document, it was classified as “top secret,” and Petricevic claims its contents were unknown until recent declassification. If a legal discussion of the position of aliens vis-à-vis res nullius and res communis seems like a very strange thing for two physicists to be opining on, there is a good reason for that: They didn’t write it.
The document in question is a rather crude hoax. The text is copied mostly verbatim from Cosmic International Law by Modesto Seara Vázquez, published by Wayne State University Press in 1965, a translation of his 1959 Sorbonne doctoral dissertation, Études de Droit Interplanetaire. Compare the opening lines, including a copy-editing number agreement error in the first line of both:
THE DOCUMENT, p.1
Crucially, we cannot support the argument that Vázquez may have copied without credit from a genuine document since the author wrote in French and the Wayne State edition was translated from the French by Elaine Malley. It would be an impossible coincidence to translate material back perfectly into the original, unless we would like to pretend that not only is Vázquez a plagiarist but that he provided Malley with the original documents for her to abate the plagiarism, along with Wayne State University, all while weaving the scientists’ absurdly detailed legal arguments seamlessly into a dissertation for the Sorbonne!
Both Einstein and Oppenheimer are name-checked in the book, but not in the section used to forge a document under their names.
Incidentally, Modesto Seara Vázquez, who is considered the founder of space law, is still alive and serving as the rector of a university in Oaxaca, Mexico.
The hoax document uses large blocks of text from Cosmic International Law, though in places it has adapted the text by adding or removing a few words, as in the section halfway down page 4, where the words “such as the moon” were added to a sentence on res nullius to mask where several lines were omitted from the original.
What’s somewhat surprising is that the document is still being touted as legitimate despite how easy it is to find the textual source of the document. This is mildly surprising, but not entirely unexpected. The document appears to have first made the rounds on the UFO websites in 2013 after it was posted on The Majestic Documents, a website run by Robert and Ryan Wood and devoted to promoting the Majestic-12 conspiracy. However, it had been published much earlier, at least as far back as 2003 in a book by Nancy Red Star called Life with a Cosmos Clearance (where it was misidentified as a letter from Oppenheimer to Einstein, despite carrying both their typed signatures). Unfortunately, the Majestic webpage hosting the document is no longer accessible, a mirror site laughably informs us that “a considerable amount of investigation and testing has been completed and their (sic) are strong signs of authenticity.” The Majestic Documents claims that the text was first obtained by Tim Cooper from Salina Cantwheel as part of a batch of “new” Majestic 12 documents in 1996, and not to go into too much detail, but both skeptics and major ufologists conclude that Tim Cooper forged the “new” MJ-12 documents (and that Cantwheel is likely not real). When even Stanton Friedman is certain that someone was forging and plagiarizing documents, it’s pretty clear that the document is extremely dubious. However, as you can see from this link Wood has been promoting the authenticity of the documents since at least 1999 despite strong evidence of forgery.
So, Tim Cooper is the likely origin point for the hoaxed Einstein-Oppenheimer document, which was posted to Ryan Wood’s The Majestic Documents and from there spread to sites like Above Top Secret and Before Its News. Once it entered those websites, it cross-pollinated from UFO conspiracy sites to ancient astronaut sites on account of the similarity of the content with conspiracies about Oppenheimer and Einstein that appear on Ancient Aliens and in other ancient astronaut media. From there it was reposted and repeated with regularity between 2013 and 2015, when Petricevic recycled it as grist for his ancient astronaut click-bait site.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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