Saturday, February 1, 2014

MIB: a small addition to a legend.

OK, I feel guilty [a little] presenting this to you, but maybe it will be "diverting."

The impulse for this post came the other day as I was going through all the CE2 "miscellany" files [that's everything with a physical effect which is not a "landing trace", an electromagnetic effect, nor a physiological effect], and when I came to a folder labeled "New Haven, CT, 1953", I thought it was empty. Looking in, only a picture of the local guy standing next to that Connecticut signboard with the hole in it was there.

I thought: "That's ridiculous. The whole story surrounding that sign impact business is around here somewhere, and my file has just one picture. Pathetic!" So I decided [guilt-ridden] to try to repair the file. My trashing around led back of course to Albert Bender, the International Flying Saucer Bureau, and the beginnings of the legend of the Men in Black. As I re-immersed in that craziness, it seemed that a little more of the story, possibly anyway, floated to the surface. So.... you're stuck with a choice: keep reading or head for brighter pastures.

What I'm going to do to make this as merciful as possible is to make a timeline of events. If this works, I hope that you'll see the emergence of some possibilities as to why the Men in Black concept occurred and grew.

April 1952: Albert Bender, newly energized saucer enthusiast and science fiction hobbyist, founds a small organization, The International Flying Saucer Bureau, IFSB, composed of himself and a few of his science-fiction friends. He announces that the purpose of the organization is to be a force for friendship between Earth and the Flying Saucer people so as to avoid a disastrous war.

July 19-20 and July 26-27, 1952: The two weekends of the "Washington Merry-go-Round" visits of UFOs over DC. These two events, embedded in the Wave of 1952, demonstrated that military experts in psychological warfare were correct, and the American public was in fact panic-prone and semi-hysterical.

July 28, 1952: President Truman hands this problem to the CIA and asks for a policy.
July 29, 1952: General Samford holds his famous press conference for damage control.

August 19, 1952: The Sonny Desverges "landing" case occurs. It is taken very seriously. It appears to have been an incident [regardless of how it's told] wherein the witness was injured somehow. Meanwhile, Bender and IFSB have grown to 100 members in 16 states. Bender, proving to be as fanatical about saucers as he was about science fiction and horror story fiction, is contacting persons around the country, and shortly around the world, eliciting their membership.

September 12, 1952: The Flatwoods, WV case [The Braxton County Monster] occurs. Gray Barker, who does not yet know Bender, is one of the primary investigators, and surprisingly is still serious at that stage and does a pretty good job. Barker's work here ultimately brings him to Bender's attention, and during the late part of the year communications will culminate in Barker accepting the position as Chief of Investigations for IFSB.

October 1952: Meanwhile, an ambitious Al Bender has been pushing forward and publishes his first volume of his UFO magazine, Space Review [SR from now on]. It was 12 pages and, to my eyes, the best looking thing yet out there on UFO news. Bender sent this to Eddie Rickenbacker, then President of Eastern Airlines, and Rickenbacker liked it and continued to receive it from Bender.

The publication was set up to receive new story reports from members, of whom 16 [15 across US states and one in Canada] had special designation as local focus people. Bender stated that IFSB would soon have focus individuals in Britain and France and Brazil. All commentary in the magazine was ET-Hypothesis related. In the editorial, Bender reveals a mind spinning with ideas most of them fairly sensible. He then says that he believes that we [the USA] have already sent a rocket to the Moon containing passengers under, obviously, the highest secrecy.

"In summing it up, it would be wise for the public to start turning its eyes and thoughts toward the heavens, because there is more danger lurking there than on the Earth itself."

November and December 1952: Bender is on a roll. He begins to add some folks whom he believes are young investigative muscle to IFSB. Augie Roberts [top] was a photographer who believed that he has photographed the best UFO pictures yet [you can look them up and decide if you want to believe him; Bender did]. Gray Barker [bottom] was actually, as said, in his productive early stage and had not yet become a cynic. Other folks joining [or about to] were Lonzo Dove, an astronomer [amateur, I believe, but not unintelligent], and Dominick Lucchesi, an engineer [and enigmatic in that he appears to actually have had a good engineering job, was smart, but capable of thinking pretty whacky things]. These four plus Bender became the IFSB "A-Team".

January 1953: IFSB has grown to 425 members with several residing in countries around the globe. Bender again re-iterated to the local press that his organization was begun to help humanity to avoid a future war. The magazine of IFSB appeared in its volume two this month. Within it were UFO reports from nine countries outside of the US. The formation of IFSB-UK was announced. A local sub-section for Indiana was announced. Contact with CSI-NZ was announced. On the quiet, Bender told Roberts that he was sending his photos to England, France, and Australia for analysis --- IFSB was growing like a weed patch.

Within the journal, Bender's editorial was all happy talk. The ubiquitous George Fawcett preached an overt message of extraterrestrialism complete with predictions of soon-to-occur landings and government cover-up. Other persons in the magazine tended to be right in step with this, and there was an strong undercurrent of interest in the Moon. Reverend S.L. Daw of Washington, DC, an investigator of the "Braxton County Monster", stated that in his opinion the West Virginia sightings [there were several claims] looked to him to be clearly related to constructs being envisioned [already applied?] by our scientists "in the attempt to shoot rockets to the Moon." He ended with: "The United States may be experimenting with something that the public is not aware of, and is doing its best to keep it secret." The SR was a well-done piece of print media, and appealed to a public starving for UFO news and speculation. It was at the point of becoming a force of sorts in this story, but still at the edge of the shadows. On the other side of the country, the aero-engineering-fueled CSI-LA was getting the press and the attention of the intelligence community.

Of course a little something else of significance was happening. President Truman's charge to CIA Director Smith had developed across the fall of 1952 into a showdown UFO meeting about future UFO policy. Naive people like Ed Ruppelt, Allen Hynek, and Dewey Fournet thought that this was to be a science-based assessment of UFO reality, but it was not. It was instead a security analysis of the phenomenon to serve as a basis for intel-handling and information-management from then on.

Everyone except the real insiders was deceived by this for a long time, mainly due to the nature of the participants of the infamous "Robertson Panel" of mid-January 1953. The featured characters were all elite physical scientists. This was entirely smoke. The secondary cast was predominantly "scientific intelligence operatives", engineers, and CIA personnel who "should be there". This also, other than plenty more smoke even from the manipulated naive "consultants", was assurance that both USAF and CIA turf was properly protected in the proceedings and conclusions.

But in the end, there may have been only one dominant figure in attendance. Not on the front page list of attendees, and only typed in as an afterthought on some versions of the meeting report, was the name Stefan Possony. Possony was the USAF Pentagon Intelligence Directorate's most influential expert on psychological warfare. He had an office and a project [The Special Studies Group] right in the office of the Director of USAF Intelligence itself. The Robertson Panel report swims its way across the UFO phenomenon adroitly saying almost nothing of consequence about what guys like Ruppelt and Hynek thought the panel was about. THEN it gets VERY specific about what to do to MANAGE THIS "PROBLEM".

There was, to our knowledge, only one psychological problem-manager in attendance: Possony.

Sticking with just the train of thought aimed at our current story, we know exactly what "Robertson" proposed: close monitoring of civilian UFO organizations judged to be potentially influential enough to impact large numbers of the American public. THESE ORGANIZATIONS ARE TO BE VIEWED AS CLEAR SECURITY ISSUES.

Two organizations were specifically named: CSI-LA which contained a totally out-of-the-closet UFO enthusiast in the German rocket wizard Walther Riedel [seen above], and Coral Lorenzen's Aerial Phenomenon Research Organization, still small and in Wisconsin, but growing across the planet just like IFSB. IFSB had not quite penetrated the consciousness of the intelligence community, but we know it would manage to do that as 1953 went on.

CSI-LA were "handled" by some USAF bullying by Ruppelt and a Colonel earlier, but mainly probably by "hints" to the aerospace companies of the LA area that the USAF would appreciate their engineers not publicly participating. The CSI-LA siege gun, Riedel, was handled by constant FBI surveillance of his public UFO talks beginning February 1953... what a coincidence. Both CSI-LA and Riedel faded from the scene in later 1953... a job well done.

Coral Lorenzen was a tougher cookie as we know. The USAF gave her a visit in June of 1953 in hopes of moderating her activity. Unfortunately they sent two of the worst choices they could have made to face The UFO Medusa. Pussycat Allen Hynek definitely wasn't up to the task, suggesting that she try to teach her readers astronomy with her bulletin, so that they could better correct their observational confusions, and semi-serious Bob Ollson [interim Blue Book chief at the moment] suggested holding back certain things in the cause of patriotism. Coral was polite but viewed the two of them as malfunctioning morons. She did at least include a requirement that members assert their anti-communist status in order to join.

There is a fairly believable story-rumor in the literature that after the tweedledum/tweedledee performance by Hynek and Ollson, the FBI convinced a worker in the APRO office to occasionally make a report to them about what she was doing. {don't ask me for my reference on this folks; I read this years ago, probably in some "private" Lorenzen letter to someone --- if somebody knows the exact source I'd like to get the citation}.

Meanwhile Bender is going along unaware of this bigger picture, but perhaps not totally so.

March 1953: Barker sends him his Flatwoods interviews on tapes and Bender replies: "I'll be afraid that one of the saucer people will be here to confiscate them anytime." Probably this was a jest, but with a soon-to-be paranoid like Bender you shouldn't assume too much.

Bender is pushing forward his SR magazine towards volume three in April of 1953. Much hullaballoo is going on about a photo by Augie Roberts [above right], which gets notice in SR and is published several places. This is to Bender one of the great proofs of the saucers. Bender is generally high-on-life at this moment and tries to get Augie Roberts to try some sound-induced technique whereby he claims to feel a "presence". During this same period, the slightly out-of-touch Bender writes the Department of Defense to alert them about how he has access to a great photo of a UFO. At a minimum this alerts the intelligence community that here was a "player" in the public UFO game.

April 1953: Volume three of SR. As said, Bender brags up Roberts' photo. He describes it however in terms more suitable to the more famous "shiny coin" picture attributable to Roberts rather than the thing above. Who knows what went on. Bender was also delighted to mention that The Pope had just come out with a statement that Catholics are free to accept or deny the existence of intelligent dwellers on other planets, and that The Church was happy to let Science be the determiner of that. Barker asked for open-mindedness about the saucers, but said that our established religions could be threatened by landings with communication. Bender followed that up with "open-minded" words about the possibility that the recent Adamski/ George Hunt Williamson interaction with a space traveler could be true. A fellow named John Armitage from England pointed to HG Wells and Mars as having the likely solution to this, while Bender, in his editorial, stated that 1953 would be the greatest year in world history for spectacular displays of nature.

This last was odd. Saying that "There is something unusual taking place in this vast universe", he went on to claim vast climate and weather changes already happening. He then turned focus to the polar ice caps, claiming that their weight could cause the earth to capsize. This he said happened earlier causing the floods of the Bible. Frozen animals discovered under the snows only further proved this shifting of the poles of the Earth. 1953 finds the Earth particularly wobbly and this could be the year. Then he ends with:

*****" Saucers from other planets have been sighted more so now than at any other time in our history. The coming of the saucers may have to do with saving us from our horrible fate." *****

........can you say "paranoid about to go over to the Dark Side"???

Into mid-summer of 1953 we go. lots of folks were focussed on Mars.

July 1953: Space Review volume number four is out. Frank Scully is in. That is, Frank Scully joins IFSB. Also, Colonel Robert Emerson, the owner of a testing laboratory, joins as a technical expert. In the magazine, Lonzo Dove gives an extensive [for this magazine] report on the "flashes" seen on the surface of Mars, and how such flashes have [in his mind] signaled the approach of another wave of UFOs to Earth. Meanwhile Bender has been reading "interesting literature":

SIR magazine: "Did the Abominable Snowman come from Mars?"
Popular Science: "Does Anybody Live on Mars?"
FATE: "The Saucer and the Monster" {Barker on Flatwoods}
STAG: "He was burned by a Flying Saucer" {Desverges}
NIGHT and DAY: "Humans Fly in the Saucers"
HIS Magazine: "The Saucers are Spies from Mars"
SIR magazine: "Is Mars trying to Contact Us?"

He is still fascinated with Adamski and speculates in his editorial that in this vast universe God would have designed other intelligences to look like us. Edgar Jarrold from Australia chimed in with his information that his studies show that the saucers are connected to Mars. Begging to differ, a California member pointed out that there had been discovered a two-mile-long "glassy tunnel" on the Moon. This pointed to the likelihood that we ourselves or the Russians are already there. Meanwhile, new engineering consultant Dominick Lucchesi unloaded the news that the construction of a "navigable disk" is not only possible today by us, but that he knows how to do it and will shortly inform the readers exactly how.

Hmmm... let's see: ex-military technical lab man, theories about how humans could build their own saucers now, theories that we are already on the Moon, Frank Scully joining in, Threat of a new saucer invasion due to signals from Mars, pro-Adamski notions, members in most states and a network in other countries..... I wonder if the intelligence community could be at all interested?? Yeh, it's a tough call.......

August 19th, 1953: "something" never explained rips a gaping hole in a metal sign in New Haven, CT. One of the first guys on the scene?: Augie Roberts.

Roberts, by coincidence, was visiting a casually-organized but serious group of saucer enthusiasts in New Haven calling themselves SPACE [Saucer Phenomena And Celestial Enquiry]. He was up there "to trade saucer news". The event occurred while he was meeting with a friend and they went out to investigate the scene. This friend, Joseph Barbieri, is the fellow pictured standing next to the holed sign [and I'm assuming that Roberts was the photographer]. Several residents had heard the impact and at least one said she saw a streak of light pass her house. Residents gathered at the scene where smoke still rose from the hole and a disagreeable odor persisted. Police and firemen were also quick to the spot.

Roberts was able to inspect the hole quite closely and found metal not of the sign's make-up embedded in the hole. Using good old fashioned pliers, they pulled two pieces out --- the physical leavings of a mystery. Could it be from a UFO? With one witness speaking of streaking light, and a second of a red ball of fire, it seemed it actually could be. Roberts, the loyal IFSB member, sent both samples to Bender. Bender struck out with a local lab, but sent the pieces to Colonel Emerson for testing.

Let's cogitate: could the intel community have any interest in that?

Early September 1953: Bender is out of town for a while on some sort of Science Fiction fling. He is temporarily unavailable. But the FBI is restless. Gray Barker gets a visit from them. So does another IFSB stalwart, the Reverend S.L. Daw. Both Barker and Daw complain loudly to Bender about what the hell is going on? They are not pleased being interrogated by the FBI. [1953 too folks --- still pretty scary in Hoover and McCarthy Land].

It would be neater if the FBI were accusing Barker and Daw of something associated with the New Haven sign. They weren't. It would be at least sort-of sensible if they were accusing them of something associated with the Flatwoods Monster case --- and since Barker and Daw were the two IFSB guys who had researched that, maybe they were. But the FBI said that that were there to clarify Barker's and Daw's involvement with a certain "secret document" that was discovered and turned into them by a patriotic citizen. What the heck!?

Barker talks about this particular FBI business in great detail in his book. The tale he tells is probably accurate, but makes no sense. His FBI visit [and presumably Daw's] borders on the absurd --- the agent spending almost no time and talking about almost no content. Something else had to be going on. The word got around to Bender that some of this was catalyzed by Dominick Lucchesi misplacing an investigation report of IFSB's. This was the "secret" report Bender was worried about. According to Barker, the lost copy was of a routine photo analysis case, which even Roberts thought was bogus.

Again, this makes no sense.... The only way it MIGHT make sense is if the FBI was showing the key characters in IFSB that they were indeed being watched.

Very quickly, Bender got his own visit. To believe that these visitors were anyone else but Robertson-policy-inspired FBI agents stretches the imagination. Bender the latent paranoid has had just enough time to digest the FBI invasions of Barker's and Daw's lives, and knows that they are scrutinizing the IFSB's case investigations. HE IS BEING WATCHED!!

For their parts, the agents seem relatively benign in their behavior as far as is known. They show typical Robertson interest --- upon inspecting Bender's map with its array of pins locating all his members, they say: "God, but you're all over the place!!"

This visit as we know hit Bender hard. The government had come right into his home. His life had just gotten out of control. Why? He had plenty of possibilities, as we've seen, to stir up his head.

Space Review #5 was ready for printing basically and met its October deadline.

Prior to this publication, Bender had told the other insiders that he was quitting UFO research. They tried to get the story out of him, but he refused and got "shorter" with them as they persisted, finally refusing even to see them personally for a while. He was in full-blown paranoia. Why?

I doubt that anyone will ever confidently be able to say what went on in his brain, but there are a whole lot of thoughts that could have pushed him over. Bender had a complex stew of ideas which he seems not to have been able to process fully. Lucchesi was telling him that saucers, whether we make them or not, are using lines of magnetic force as propulsion. Scully is telling him the same thing. Earth's own magnetic field is in danger of failing and the poles shifting catastrophically. Plus we're exploding nuclear bombs in the atmosphere. In 1953 the USA series Upshot-Knothole blew eleven nukes in the American desert. What were these bombs doing? Were they blowing holes in our ionosphere, creating dangerous instabilities in Earth's magnetic protection? From Australia, Edgar Jarrold is telling him that the UFOs are here as a warning to us that we must turn towards pacifism to survive --- but there is no sign that we are doing so. His final editorial in SR #5 was entirely about us destroying ourselves with nuclear bombs.

In the Barker papers I found a fragmentary, enigmatic piece of paper very hard to read, but which sounds like Bender thinking. It mentions some catastrophe of the atmosphere which requires the human race [only the wealthy, the governmental, the big business,] to build vast underground living spaces to ride out the toxic period before emerging to attempt to recreate human civilization. The saucers somehow are to be involved in this transition from the world as it is now to the world to be, saving basically only the world economic underpinnings. Bender? Here is my "romantic?" speculation: Bender, in the end, really DID believe that we were already on the Moon preparing all the rich and influential guys their safe havens against the coming global catastrophe. The saucers were the signs of our power people leaving the rest of us behind to face the disaster.

Bender was in constant depression during the few conversations with people like Roberts and Lucchesi shortly after the closing of IFSB. He seemed to be saying to them that the saucers had something to do with "natural phenomena" --- acts of nature which portended worldwide doom.

So, OK. I have not completely solved the Bender Mystery. He had demons and how they came together in his mind is your guess. I say with some assurance though, that the mere fact that he was under FBI governmental watch, and "we weren't just playing kids games anymore", was plenty enough to unnerve him permanently.

... then again.... these "persons" are called the Martian Mandrills --- three persons --- black hairy suits --- hmmmm.............. the REAL reason behind the end of IFSB??

Peace, Joy, and no ionosphere-splitting H-bombs.


  1. I suspect that the Bender affair is mostly fiction, surely -- as you suggest -- rooted in an FBI visit and Bender's subsequent paranoia and/or grand hyperbole. Moreover, anything that went through Gray Barker tended to get blown up beyond recognition. We wouldn't even be talking about Bender if not for Barker's They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers. A few years later Bender proved himself willing to contribute to the evolving legend with his Flying Saucers and the Three Men, a third-rate SF novel only pretending (and perhaps not too strenuously) to be anything else.

    One point I haven't seen in any discussion (or at least don't recall) comes out of Barker's worship of Ray Palmer. I once observed Barker literally at Palmer's feet, a near-comical starstuck expression on his face. Palmer had his "Shaver mystery" -- actually discussed in a chapter of TKTMAFS -- and in that context Barker, when opportunity permitted, concocted what he called the "Bender mystery." Like Palmer with his SM, Barker hawked its Bender equivalent to the end of his days. In common with some other characters in the early UFO era (Keyhoe, Sanderson, Williamson) Barker deserves a real biography, one equal to the two Palmer has received in the past couple of years (Fred Nadis's and Richard Toronto's). Presumably, a serious biographer could sort out the truth behind the Bender "mystery."

    I might add there is a fine film documentary on Barker, Bob Wilkinson's Shades of Gray (2010) -- I happen to be among the talking heads whose pearls of wisdom are preserved therein for the ages -- but its focus is a fairly narrow one, examining Barker's hard life as a closeted gay man in the conservative small city of Clarksburg, West Virginia. Barker's saucer activities are viewed extensively through that lens. A capable biographer would find additional lenses through which to scrutinize this complicated and interesting man.

    1. Hi, Jerry. The thought of your pearls of wisdom preserved across the ages is a mind-staggering one for sure. Almost drives me into Benderian Paranoia.

      {for those of you who don't know what great friends Jerry and I are... relax. A little goofing off is appropriate to frame a Bender/ Barker post.}

  2. I'm so glad you wrote about this. I had been thinking about this story for the last month or so since we found some old Saucerian books in a used book store. I wanted to hear the story again. If you are up to it, I would still like to hear you tell it again when we see you again. Thanks!

    1. Hah! Yep Elsie it's a fun part of UFOlogy [even though it apparently wasn't fun for Bender --- though he "recovered" quite nicely to write his fictional account of the events later.] What would really be great is if we could get Jerry over here at the same time, as there's probably no one on the planet who knows and enjoys this topic more.

      In a nostalgic way, this takes me back to a simpler time full of great wonders and possibilities --- menacing only in a fictional feeling way, and more innocent. Wish I could go back to some of that.

    2. I am up for recreating as much nostalgia as possible. It can recharge the batteries and spark inspiration. Sounds like great fun to me too and I would love to hear from Jerry.

  3. Back in prehistoric times, I bought a series of photos from Augie Roberts (long since lost) of that signboard, and the fragments recovered. There was also a professional chemist's report (though not necessarily a really sophisticated one) saying that the fragments were "copper and copper oxide." In those days, copper was quite cheap, and stray pieces of copper tubing were often among the detritus of our mechanical society. I often wondered back then and thenafterwards if the cause of the hole (with its pointed petal-like curls of sheet metal on the exit side) was a copper pipe-bomb, or (when I learned a bit about the subject) if someone was fooling with a shaped charge explosion using a copper holder. Being rational, I also wondered if one of those stray lengths of tubing had been somehow hung on the back of a signboard that some actually interesting object had pierced, right in that spot. What I always found really odd was that no "official interest" on ANY level seemed to have been shown in an incident that at least made a menacingly loud noise. Unless, of course, those FBI visitors asked a few convincingly casual questions....

    Frank John Reid

    1. Well, Frank, MAYBE your premises are correct, but I don't know. Roberts said that the police were there as well as the firemen. That would seem to me to be almost an assurance of some sort of official report. The fact that the UFO community never has gotten word of it is hardly surprising --- should we have assumed competence and insider-ship out of the SPACE group and Augie Roberts? I'd say "have fun and run" was a lot more likely.

      The other thing: Roberts claims no other copperish debris scattered about --- hard to buy that he never looked. THAT's easy to do.

      So, with respect, my friend, I don't buy the attached copper pipe bomb hypothesis. {plus that happily ignores the lady's statement of the passing flash of light before the explosive sound}. My preferred hypothesis, admittedly built of gossamer, is that someone had an accident with an unloaded piece of small ordnance, igniting/firing it. This rocketed way across New Haven for some distance, ripped through the sign, and was powerful enough to just keep on going [to the sea or wherever.] Naturally the culprit, military or not, was reluctant to come clean on the event.