Thursday, September 10, 2009
Psychological Warfare, Information Management, and the Day that Walter Cronkite Got Hosed
I used to be extremely naive. Now I think that I am only sort-of naive. Growing up in West Virginia, I believed that people were almost always honest about the big things at least. I even believed that if you read it in the newspaper, it was true. Most West Virginians were that way. We Mountain Folk aren't stupid [you can probably sell less swamp land in Florida to a hillbilly than anyone--for sure than to a New Yorker or a Californian--probably no one in WVA lost any money to Madow] and our folk philosopher, Mountain William, has among his wise sayings: If you keep your eye always on a star, you're bound to step in something on the road. But we don't usually look at great big pictures either; that's how I could not believe that the government would ever lie to me. Yes, I know, pathetic. I was cured of this malediction by studying UFOlogy. It's a good exercise to cure yourself of a lot of naivete. ------------------------------------- Very early in the UFO business (c.1948) the intelligence operatives in the Pentagon were getting worried about this "flying disk" stuff, not so much for the things themselves [whatever they turned out to be], but in concern as to how the IDEA of flying disks might be used as a psychological warfare tool to destabilize the public or confuse the lower ranks of the servicemen. Quite early in the game, PW experts like Dr. Stefan Possony [top row, far left--"far left"is sort of a wrong-way"in joke" as Possony was one of the most paranoid hawks in the whole government]. Possony feared that these things were at least usable in Soviet ploys of some kind. At this same general time in US history, the CIA was gaining strength and a "doctrine" was growing right alongside: that, in the interests of National Security, it was acceptable to use the news media [and even popular entertainment organizations like Walt Disney Productions] to create whatever impressions deemed necessary to best ensure that security, whether the produced "news" or "programs" held to the truth or not. Translation: it's OK to lie to the public if it's for a good cause. Persons like Frank Wisner [top, second left] were leaders in this DC combination of media people and intelligence operatives. -------------------------------------------This theory was to be applied to UFOs due to a remarkable onrush of cases during the summer of 1952, culminating in a group of overflights of the nation's capital [which the Air Force was utterly unable to do anything about] . The DC cases were remarkable not only for their own sake, but for the fact that we have managed to forget, as a nation, that they even happened. At the time they were not quickly forgotten as they had been the climax of a "flap" which excited the public so much that military communications lines were tied up for 45 minutes to two hours. That this was more than enough time for an enemy to launch a successful strike was not lost on the PW community. President Truman immediately got the ball rolling by calling on the head of the National Security Council [CIA chief, General Walter Bedell Smith][top, center] to find out what all this UFO business was about, but, more importantly, what should we do about it? All of this is available for anyone to read now through the documentation released through the Freedom of Information Act process, by the way. --------------------------------------------------CIA did not let any grass grow under its feet with this direct order from Truman. Operatives of the Office of Scientific Intelligence [led by Fred Durant, top, second right, and OSI director, H. Marshall Chadwell] began a survey of facts and potential dangers, such as PW concerns, through the fall of 1952. They called an intelligence panel of leading scientists and CIA consultants to "conclude" on what was almost certainly a pre-formed policy decision in January of 1953. This meeting, called the Robertson Panel after its chairman, had five panelists and many UFO experts from the military and intel community testifying [Possony was there, for instance]. The panelists were the five pictured in the second row above: [left to right] Drs. Howard P. Robertson; Lloyd Berkner; Samuel Goudsmit; Luis Alvarez; and Thornton Page. That panel concerned itself almost not-at-all with what UFOs might be. They were there to set policy against whatever hazards they might pose. Those hazards were deemed to be entirely psychological. The American public was judged to have a serious emotional weakness which could be exploited by the Soviets in a variety of ways, most spectacularly in a mass hysteria such as produced by Orson Welles in his War of the Worlds broadcast. The solution to this was to employ all effective means to strip the phenomenon of its aura of mystery [that's almost a quote]. This should be done by consistently negating the idea that anything about this phenomenon was dangerous, or even puzzling to the military, and that although the Air Force was always vigilant, it saw nothing in these reports that was even interesting. If necessary, Walt Disney and entertainers like Arthur Godfrey would be employed to reduce the public's interest and get any seriousness about the phenomenon out of everyone's minds. ---------------------------------------------Air Force policy was rewritten to ensure that no military base operatives were empowered to ever admit to witnesses nor the press that any new case was "unknown". There was even a hefty fine written into the directive. So, what does this have to do with Walter Cronkite? In 1966, we had one of our huge UFO waves, and everyone was doubting the military cant again. Cronkite decided that it was good TV to produce a documentary special about the subject. He did. When it showed, it was a well-done but mercilessly blasting production. UFO historians who watch the special get a creepy feeling as if it reminds them of something. And it should. The techniques used to debunk UFOs in the show are right out of the CIA Panel recommendations. How in the world could that be? One day I was in the Smithsonian and looking into the files of Fred Durant there. In one folder I turned over a page and there was a letter to him from a member of that CIA panel. It was from Thornton Page. He was reminiscing with Fred, who acted as the panel secretary, about those days, and then he informed him of this: Page had gotten himself assigned as Technical Advisor to the Cronkite special, and as he said "organized the program along Robertson lines". You may say as they do in the movies, that when it comes to your news and public icons, "I want the truth!" But in life as in the movies the answer back is: "You can't handle the truth!".
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