On chasing history
Will Congress pursue the big picture on UFOs?
OK, so the political status of UFOs on Capitol Hill is being upgraded — now what comes next?
On the evening of November 21, 1963, John Gedney and two fellow train-hopping winos he called Buzz and Cal rode the rails into Dallas and spent the night in a homeless shelter. Next day, after getting haircuts, showers, shaves and clean clothes, the three were about to board a boxcar for the next ride out when they stumbled into history’s dragnet.
Accidental suspects in the Kennedy assassination, Gedney and more than a dozen other vagrants in the trainyard were rounded up and thrown in the city jail. Gedney remembered when Lee Harvey Oswald, sporting a shiner from a scuffle with police, got hustled into the tank – they were close enough to spit on each other. Three days later, Gedney, Buzz and Cal were charged with vagrancy, sentenced to time served, then dispatched back into anonymity. Or so it seemed. But as the unacceptable disproportionality of a Lone Nut taking out the most powerful human on the planet sank in, counternarratives emerged and flourished. And the Three Tramps — Gedney, Gus Abrams and Harold Doyle — found themselves fingered by conspiracy culture as actors in the sprawling plot to murder JFK.
Gedney’s skill set as a projected hired gun, however, was suspect. Disgracing himself before friends and family, shuffling in and out of jails across the country, throwing $ away on dogs, shivering through the DTs, rolling with bedbugs, lice, and floozies, chug-a-lugging paint thinner mixed with orange soda when the wine ran dry, guzzling Mennen aftershave lotion, ripping off fellow drunks, reaping payback from the karma wheel, Gedney’s contempt for everything in his sight generated images that can’t be unseen. E.g.:
He once “crept into an unlocked car to sleep and puked on the floor when I could have easily opened the door and thrown up on the ground. Then, with a feeling of satisfaction, I etched the finish along the entire length of it. It was a good feeling.”
Bogus IDs at the Pentagon
We know all these flattering details because the man touted in fringe corners as The Tall Tramp felt so stigmatized by the paranoia crowd, he wrote an unsparing autobiography in 2001 to set the record straight. He called it The Making of a Bum: From Notoriety to Sobriety. And the only reason I mention it here is because of this passage. It’s a scene from a temp gig he landed when he was hanging out in Washington, D.C. It was as close as he ever came to the inner sanctum.
“Several of us were sent to the Pentagon as laborers. Having some guy’s ID and security clearance badge with his picture on it made me nervous, but damned if I didn’t look a little like him,” Gedney wrote. “We were moving furniture, rugs and files marked top secret. It didn’t bother me a bit when I had to go into the office of the secretary of defense or the atomic energy area down in the basement.
“When we were hauling files down a long ramp, my hand truck got away from me and tipped over. Papers scattered across the floor, every one marked top secret. All I did was cram them back in a drawer any old way and went on about my business as if nothing had happened. I was sent there three different times with two IDs, neither of them mine. I finally got drunk one day, didn’t show up for work, and lost the job.”
I couldn’t help thinking about the late John Gedney the other day as I tried to keep up with the firehose of UFO news spewing out of the legislative and executive branches. And I’ll get back to Gedney in a minute. But first – you have been paying attention, right? To all those acronyms the Defense Department has been assigning to UFO programs since Junior Bush was president? AAWSAP, then AATIP, then UAPTF, then AOIMSG?
AOIMSG is gone — yay!
Well, good news: AOIMSG is now kaput. And so is the UAPTF. That’s because they’re being funneled into something called the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office, or AARO. Say AOIMSG. Bleah. Now say AARO. Out loud. “AARO!” For this, we can thank Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, who made the announcement on July 15. Consequently, AARO will be receiving “oversight and direction” from unnamed members on the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office Executive Council – AAROEXEC.
According to Hicks, AARO’s mission will be pretty much what its predecessors were all about, i.e., trying to collect data on UFOs breezing through restricted airspace and figuring out how the hell they do it. But whoa, hold your horses, AARO may not be the final acronym. In a proposed amendment to the 2023 Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA), the U.S. Senate wants to conduct UFO research out of something called the Unidentified Aerospace-Undersea Phenomena Joint Program Office, or the UAPJPO.
It’s an unprecedented move that, like its House counterpart, would legally shield government employees whose nondisclosure agreements prevent them from telling lawmakers what they know about UFOs. In fact, the language is downright aggressive. The Senate wants “a complete historical record of the intelligence community’s involvement” with UFOs, which includes an accounting of all efforts to “obfuscate, manipulate public opinion, hide, or otherwise provide unclassified or classified misinformation” about the phenomenon – going all the way back to 1947.
As if not to be outdone, however, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence just a few days ago added a new stipulation to its own IAA bill. Now it wants the Comptroller General of the Government Accountability Office to investigate “efforts to recover or transfer related technologies” – read, UFO – “to United States-based industry or National Laboratories.”
Not total idiots
That’s kinda huge. And this is apparently what happens – lately, anyway – when you aggravate lawmakers with the sort of half-assed effort performed in front of the House Intel Committee on May 17 by Deputy Director of Navy Intelligence Scott Bray and Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security Ronald Moultrie.
At least a few elected officials appeared to know more about UFOs, or have more curiosity, than those two monotone careerists did. So here’s hoping Deputy Secretary Hicks’ choice to lead the AARO – Sean Kirkpatrick, most recently the chief scientist at the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Missile and Space Intelligence Center – doesn’t take congressional audiences for total idiots. Maybe the brass is getting the message now.
In a July 20 followup to Hicks’ press release, Moultrie, who will evidently be “managing” the AAROEXEC, listed “Mitigation and Defeat” — presumably of UFOs — as part of AARO’s mission statement. Exactly how one might get the phenomenon to surrender isn’t spelled out. Frankly, if we could just get UFOs to pay entry fees every time they flash through U.S. airspace, we could probably erase the national debt. And I’d call that a win.
Mark Rodeghier of the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) sees at least one problem with the Senate language. Although “this bill has everything in the kitchen sink in it,” the director of one of the world’s oldest research groups says we’ve been down one of these roads before. And “I would be extremely annoyed if I was in the intelligence community being tasked to do that.”
Where to even begin? Well, the alleged Roswell crash of 1947 is arguably the granddaddy of American conspiracy theories. And as the milestone closed in on its 50th anniversary during the early days of the Clinton administration, the stars appeared to be lining up for big moves. Art Bell’s paranormal radio ruled the late-night airwaves from Nevada’s high desert, “The X-Files” cult following included the White House, and New Mexico rep Steven Schiff caught heat from constituents demanding answers. So the GAO – known back then as the General Accounting Office – was ordered to figure it out.
Cobwebs and dust
In 1994, by chance, Rodeghier was teaching statistics workshops at the GAO headquarters in Washington. He strolled on over and introduced himself to a couple of staffers on the Roswell project. It was an informal session, but he says it was clear they lacked foundational knowledge of the UFO issue at large.
When the GAO produced its report in 1995, it rewarded us with cobwebs and dust. Key records pertaining to the controversial events of July 1947 had long since been destroyed, perhaps illegally. Scrounging for eyewitnesses, the Clinton admin offered waivers to military personnel willing to step forward. The results were minimal, considering how most of the guys were dead. The Air Force then issued its flawed “Case Closed” brushoff in hopes that the nosy media would just go away, and most did.
“It’s a fabulous thing” to want a complete documentation of Uncle Sam’s checkered history with UAP, Rodeghier says. And it’s “probably good that Congress isn’t telling the Defense Department to investigate itself. But the GAO isn’t going to reach out to ufologists, that’s for sure. When I talked with them (in 1994), it was only because I was being proactive – it never would’ve occurred to them to maybe consult with somebody like me for background.
“I’d be really surprised if they did it now.”
Which means GAO newbies to this UFO business would have to start from scratch. Again.
Roughly three generations have passed since whatever happened in Roswell dug a deep well of endless speculation. And while it’s not hard to imagine the cynical and systematic shredding of handwritten notes, carbon copies, and “eyes only” status reports by the highest authorities, my bloodstream is getting toxic with conspiracy theories. Lately I just want to wear rose-colored glasses and attribute the paucity of cold hard facts to pre-digital 20th-century human ineptitude, indifference and imbecility. I want to think about things like overzealous cleaning ladies, toppled boxes, state secrets fluttering off like birds in the wind, and cheap labor like John Gedney, swaying in an aftershave hangover, knees buckling, trying hard not to vomit.
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