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Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Battle for MUFON, Part 1

UFO history is once again being made.

The UFO phenomenon really hit the airwaves in 1947 with three major cases. I will only name them here because in UFO lore they are already famous. I speak of the Roswell crash, the Maury Island case, and Kenneth Arnold’s sighting of the discs that became known as flying saucers. The Air Force got involved with Project Sign in 1947, which became Project Grudge In 1949, and Project Blue Book in 1951. In 1953 another committee produced a report called the Robertson Panel, which concluded that UFOs are not a significant threat to public safety or national security and do not require official attention. Scientists interested in UFO research, experiencers, and believers all found the methodology and conclusions of these projects to be extremely unsatisfying. In 1969 Project Blue Book (which should have been called Project Eyeroll) was closed. That year another committee report, the result of two years of study, came out to settle the question once and for all. J. Allen Hynek’s opinion of the Condon Report was that “it was a masterpiece of throwing a scrap of political meat to the critic dogs” [The UFO Experience, 1974, 218]. The Condon Report contributed greatly to the demise of a well-known UFO research group called NICAP (National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena). (J. Allen Hynek, d. 1986, was an astronomer and college professor, and was a consultant for the AF during Project Blue Book)

The latter chapters of Hynek’s book reflect his utter frustration with the lack of proper scientific attention to the topic of UFOs and the blindness of officialdom to the potential importance of the phenomenon. He called for further intelligent and professional assessment of the many reports that were accumulating all over the globe. Enter MUFON, Mutual UFO Network, a large, international organization with a well-known journal called the MUFON Journal. Wikipedia reports: MUFON was originally established as the Mid-west UFO Network in Quincy, Illinois on May 30, 1969 by Walter H. Andrus, Allen Utke, John Schuessler, and others. Most of MUFON's early members had earlier been associated with Aerial Phenomena Research Organization (APRO).

Thus, for over 40 years, MUFON has brought together the average citizen on the street, the highly trained specialists, and everything in between to answer the call for careful, methodical UFO research for the betterment of humanity. There are now thousands of members. The hierarchy includes the witness who reports an incident on the MUFON website, dispatchers who sort the cases, State Directors (SDs), Asst. SDs, regional investigators, local Field Investigators (FIs), Star Team responders (able to deploy within 24 hours, have their own sophisticated equipment, and can pay their own travel expenses). There are oversight positions such as Star Team Manager, Director of Investigations, Deputy Director. Then there is the Board of Directors and the International Director. All these positions are voluntary except for a rather low salary for the ID and his two secretaries. The volunteers for the most part are extremely loyal to MUFON. They work hard, take their jobs seriously, and believe that what they do is really important. Up to just a few years ago, MUFON was a relatively orderly, well-cared-for garden. I say relatively only because it is run by people, and no organization with that many people in it can be perfect. But, for the most part, the volunteers loved their work and the people that they worked with.

In all of this apparent bliss, there was one thing that MUFON did not have an abundance of. Money. Money for research, money for their symposiums, money for travel, money for salaries, phone bills, printing costs, etc. MUFON barely stayed in the black with the sale of merchandise, donations, and membership fees.

In 2009, a new presence presented itself in the MUFON garden, an entity proffering a partnership… MUFON research services for bags and bundles of money. Money beyond the wildest dreams of the ID and the Board of Directors. Enter stage left, billionaire Robert Bigelow, Las Vegas entrepreneur.

Mr. Robert Bigelow had previously founded a paranormal research group called NIDS (National Institute of Discovery Science). He funded a research project on a ranch in Utah which allegedly had a reputation for being a paranormal hotspot. He had a board of eminent academicians and scientists whose job it was to keep the ranch research as credible and scientific as possible. In the end, an excellent book was written about it by Colm Kelleher called The Hunt for the Skinwalker. Mr. Bigelow was generous in his support. When a significant event occurred at the ranch, a simple phone call would bring the researchers post haste to the ranch on a corporate jet. When I came to the last page of that book for the second time, I had nothing but respect for Robert Bigelow and the two people that I personally knew on their board.

So when the conversations began in January 2009 between John Schuessler, MUFON ID James Carrion, Jan Harzan, and Bigelow’s company BAASS (Bigelow Aerospace Advance Space Studies Company) it seemed like a good idea. A small contract with BAASS had already closed with satisfactory results. BAASS was offering $56,000/month for a year for access to MUFON’S CMS reporting site, past files, and future investigations. They had the right to question witnesses if those witnesses checked a box on the website report form allowing their information to be shared with third parties. There would be two funding dates during the year in which the contract could be reviewed. It could be terminated then, or re-funded, or funding could be increased. If funding was dropped, the contract would cease. It was made known that Mr. Bigelow was not using his own money. He had backers, but no one knew who they were except John Schuessler, and he was not to disclose that information.

The branches of the tree hung low to the ground, laden with tantalizing fruit. It looked good, it smelled good. What could possibly….go…..wrong…..?

To be continued…