The Cover-up

The Cover-up while General Twining was flying back and forth from Ohio to New Mexico, on the other side of the world in Moscow, Chairman Josef Stalin was furious. Red-faced and not even trying to hide the rage that erupted like an exploding volcano, Stalin held up a copy of the Roswell Daily Record for Tuesday, July 8,1947, and threw it out onto the center of the table for any of the scientists in the room who could read English. Stalin didn’t need an American newspaper to tell him what his NKVD agents on the ground at Alamogordo reported weeks before: that a U.S. Army retrieval team had pulled a crashed alien spacecraft out of the New Mexico desert and was already evaluating the valuable technology they’d recovered.

At first, when the Soviet intelligence bosses got the reports from their agents at the American bases, they were more than skeptical. They figured the stories were plants, false information to flush out the Soviet spies the Americans suspected had infiltrated their most secret bases. If the Soviet government reacted to the disinformation, the American counter intelligence agents would be able to determine the path of the story and isolate the spies. But when newspapers began reporting the crash, then covered it up with stories about weather balloons, the Soviets knew they had stumbled onto the real thing. So it was true, Stalin told the group, the Americans had actually gotten their own flying saucer. Now, he asked, what would they do with it?

One of the chief designers of the Soviet’s embryonic liquid-fuel-rocket program was at the meeting. He, like many of the Soviet engineers who’d read the German secret weapons files at the end of the war, knew exactly where the Americans should have been in their guided-missile-development program. What information his bosses in the Kremlin thought he still needed to know, they gave him from the reports they received from agents in the field. But nothing, nothing about the V2 launches at White Sands, nothing about the new tracking radars at Alamogordo gave the scientists in the Soviet rocket program any indications the Americans were even an iota ahead of them in guided missiles until he heard the news of the Roswell crash.

Both the Russian and American missile programs were based almost entirely upon the German weapons research spoils that the Allies were dividing up even before the end of the war. I was a firsthand participant in this, secreting out German weapons scientists through Italy after we occupied Rome as part of a secret operation code named “Paper Clip that began in 1944. With V2 designers Wernher von Braun, Willy Ley, and others running experiments on the German missiles we brought back to the United States, the army had successfully appropriated much of the German advanced weapons research and was carrying on experiments in New Mexico. The Soviets also got their own share of German technology through their own intelligence agents and local Communist Party cells in occupied countries.

And what a technology it was. The Germans had developed a crescent shaped jet powered flying wing, jet powered Messerschmitts that blazed by our P51s as if they were standing still, and a U boat launched VI/V2 that, had the Germans been able to hide even a small flotilla off the American East Coast, could have bombed out much of heavily concentrated downtown Washington in a matter of hours. All they needed to buy was enough time to deploy their weapons and get their U-boats in position. And that was their strategy toward the end of 1944 when they turned around and counter attacked through Belgium in the dead of winter and pinned us down at the Battle of the Bulge.


Break our advance on the ground, blast us out of the air with their new jets, bomb North American cities, and knock Britain out of the war. With their new weapons they could have fought us to a stand still and won a bitter truce. Both the Americans and the Soviets wanted to get their hands on those German weapons, especially the V2s.

Stalin didn’t have to worry much about who held the advantage in German weaponry after the war. Both sides were about equal. But this flying saucer crash, that was a different matter, and it meant that in an instant the United States could have gained an enormous advantage in the Cold War weapons race that had begun only moments after the Germans surrendered. What might that advantage be? The Russian liquid fuel engineer wondered aloud. What could the Americans have retrieved from that crash?

Soviet agents reported that the townspeople in Roswell had talked about little creatures at the crash site and a crescent shaped aircraft that the army hauled away on trucks, but the stories had been quickly silenced by military counter intelligence. So any real intelligence on what the Americans might be developing would have to come from Soviet agents deep inside the U.S. government. Stalin would order it. And, as if they were activated by an invisible switch, spies from one of the most efficient and ruthless intelligence machines in the world began homing in on the American military bases associated with the Roswell retrieval and the key American military and civilian personnel the Russians knew would have to be involved.

The Americans might not have been the most efficient spy catchers in 1947, but Army Counter intelligence had been put on alert even before the Soviets knew that a flying saucer had been retrieved. Starting from the central point at the nexus of sensitive New Mexico bases during the summer of 1947, CIC agents questioned anybody who seemed interested in learning about what happened in Roswell. Ask too many questions and knocking at your door would be a couple of plain clothes investigators who didn’t need a search warrant to rummage through your things. So maybe the army was a little overzealous about their interrogation procedures, but by early August it began producing results. By the time General Twining was writing his report to Army Air Forces command in Washington, both Army and Navy Intelligence commanders knew that the Soviets had a high priority operation in place at military bases around the country.

Soviet agents were everywhere. Central Intelligence group director Adm. Roscoe Hillenkoetter, a member of President Truman’s advisory group on UFOs, informed the president. A top down counter intelligence operation had to he put in place immediately, here commended, or every plan the military had to evaluate what they’d retrieved from Roswell would be compromised. There were a million questions. Were these flying objects the prelude to something much bigger? Were they communicating with the Soviets? Were they allied with the Soviets? Were they probing our defenses for a planetary invasion? We had already assumed that the behavior of these aircraft was hostile, but what did they want?


Meanwhile, other reports of civilian flying saucer sightings were turning up in newspapers and coming in through local police. Even airline pilots were seeing strange lights. There wasn’t much time to act. A secret this big about flying saucers was bound to get out and cause untold panic among the civilian population unless an elaborate camouflage was established. And worse, we had to keep the Soviets away from this until we knew what we had. We needed a plan, and right away.

Some have said it was Secretary of Defense James Forrestal’s idea. Others said the whole scheme belonged to Central Intelligence director Hillenkoetter. I, frankly, don’t know first hand because when the plan was hatched I was sweating out the end of the summer at Fort Riley, still trying to shake out of my mind the image of that ghoulishly unearthly thing I’d seen floating in its container. But whoever said it first was saying the obvious, according to the people on Eisenhower’s National Security staff whom I worked with six years later. Maybe it was Forrestal after all who was the only person in the cabinet who could have spoken to Truman that bluntly just a little over two years after the man had inherited the office from FD Rand was already a very unpopular president.

“It’s like this, “ I had heard President Truman was told. “We’re in a real pickle here. Nate Twining says he doesn’t know what the hell this thing is except that if the Soviets get a hold of it, it’ll change the shape of things to come for sure. “
“You fellas going to write up some report for me?” the President asked.
“General Twining says he’d rather do it as a briefing, sir, for the time being, “ Admiral Hillenkoetter suggested.
“For your ears only. Then we have to have a working task group to manage this whole issue. “

Maybe the working group, whatever it was going to be called, would come up with a report analyzing the situation as soon as they reviewed what General Twining was putting under lock and key at Wright field, but nobody wanted to speculate until they knew what was there.

“Maybe you should sit down with General Twining first, “ both Forrestal and Hillenkoetter suggested. They knew that Harry Truman liked to get first hand reports from people who had seen the situation with their own eyes. FDR was corporate and knew how to digest reports. He trusted his subordinates. But Truman was different. He knew how to run a haberdashery store; if a hat didn’t fit he’d have to go back to the factory to find out why. It was the same with General Twining, who’d been at the crash sites himself. If Truman wanted answers, he’d have to see it through the eyes of someone who’d been there.
“Does he know what these SOBs are after?” Truman asked, referring to the aliens in the crashed saucer.
“That’s one of the questions we want to address, “ they said.
“How do you plan to do it?”

Forrestal and Hillenkoetter explained that they wanted the President to hear what General Twining had to say and then convene a group of military, civilian, and intelligence personnel with strong old school ties of trust for one another. In this way whatever decisions they made wouldn’t have to be memoed all over the place, thus risking the possibilities of leaks and tip-offs to the Soviets.

“We don’t want the newspapers or radio people getting their hands on any of this either, “ they told the President.
“Winchell would crucify me with this if he found out what we were doing, “ Truman was reported to have said at that meeting.

Nobody in the know liked President Truman very much, and he could appreciate it.

“It’s just like the Manhattan Project, Mr. President, “ Admiral Hillenkoetter reminded him. “It was war. We couldn’t tell anyone. This is war. Same thing. “

Then they explained that after they had convened a working group, they would task out the research of the technology while keeping it from the Soviet spy machine already operating at full bore within the government.

“We hide it from the government itself, “ the secretary explained.
“Create a whole new level of security classification just for this, “the Central Intelligence director said. “Any information we decide to release, even internally, we down grade so the people getting the information never have the security clearance that allows them all the way to the top. The only way to hide it from the Russians is to hide it from ourselves. “

But the President was still thinking about the difficulties of keeping an operation this far reaching out of the news, especially when flying saucers had become one of the hottest new items to talk about. What was he supposed to say when people ask the government about the flying disk stories? he asked, pressing for details that still had to be established. How could they research these strange creatures without the news getting out? And how could they analyze the wealth of physical material Hillenkoetter had described to him without bringing people from outside government? President Truman simply didn’t see how this government within a government camouflage idea could work without the whole thing spinning out of control. Despite Forrestal’s assurances, the president remained skeptical.

“And there’s one final point, “ Truman was said to have brought up to his Central Intelligence group director and secretary of defense. It was a question so basic that its apparent naivete belied an ominous threat that it suggested was just over the horizon. “Do we ever tell the American people what really happened?” There was silence.

Don’t ask me how I know. My old friend and enemy from the KGB wouldn’t tell me how he knew, and I didn’t press him. But, accept it as fact from the only source that could know, just as I did back when I was told, that neither the secretary of defense nor the director of intelligence had considered a disclosure like this as even a remote possibility.

“Well, “ President Truman said. “Do we?”

On November 7, 1944, the day FDR was elected to his fourth and final term, his chief adviser, Harry Hopkins, had described the new vice president Harry Truman as a man who couldn’t block a hat but who shouldn’t be underestimated. And James Forrestal, the man to whom he was speaking at the time, now understood what he meant as the secretary sat across from the now President Harry Truman.

This was a basic yes/no question, and although Forrestal and Hillenkoetter had a knee jerk reflex answer, “no, “ Forrestal quickly saw that it wasn’t that easy. As wartime administrators their first response was naturally to disclose nothing, abiding by the old saw that what the people don’t know, they don’t need to know. But President Truman, who had not come from a military background, had seen something neither Forrestal nor Hillenkoetter had seen. If these ships could evade our radar and land anywhere at will, what would stop them from landing in front of the White House or, for that matter, the Kremlin? Certainly not the U.S. Army Air Force.

“So what do we say when they land, “ I’m told that Truman continued, “and create more panic in the streets than if we’d disclosed what we think we know now?”
“But we really don’t know anything, “ the director of intelligence said. “Not a thing until we analyze what we’ve retrieved. “
But both the secretary of defense and director of intelligence agreed with President Truman that he was right to be skeptical, especially on his final point about disclosure.
“So can we postpone coming to any conclusions at least until after you’ve meet with General Twining?”
Admiral Hillenkoetter asked. “I think he’ll provide some of the answers we’re all looking for. “

While Adm. Roscoe Hillenkoetter and James Forrestal were briefing President Truman on their plan for the working group, Gen. Nathan P. Twining was completing his preliminary analysis of the reports and material sent to Wright Field. Almost immediately, he dispatched the remains of the aliens to the Bethesda Naval Hospital and the Walter Reed Army Hospital for further analysis by the two military services.


The aircraft itself remained at Wright Field but, as he would promise in his memo to the Army Air Forces command, General Twining was preparing to distribute the material from the wreckage among the different military and civilian bureaus for further evaluation. He’d already been cautioned by Admiral Hillenkoetter that new security classifications had been put in place regarding the Roswell intelligence package. No one within the military other than names he would receive from the President himself had the full security clearance to learn the complete story. about Roswell that Twining would deliver to the President and other members of a working group.

Within three months after he’d been dispatched to New Mexico to learn what had happened at Roswell, General Twining met with President Truman, as Hillenkoetter and Forrestal had suggested, and explained exactly what he believed the army had pulled out of the desert. It was almost beyond comprehension, he described to the President, nothing that could have come from this planet. If the Russians were working on something like this, it was so secret that not even their own military commanders knew anything about it, and the United States would have to establish a crash program just to prepare a defense. So it was Twining’s assessment that what they found outside of Roswell was, in his words, “not of this earth. “

Now President Truman had heard it, he told Forestall after Twining had left for Ohio, “directly from the horse’s mouth, “ and he was convinced. This was bigger than the Manhattan Project and required that it be managed on a larger scale and obviously for a longer period.


The group proposed by Forrestal and Hillenkoetter had to consider what they were really managing and for how long. Were they only trying to keep one secret - that an extraterrestrial alien spaceship crashed at Roswell - or were they hiding what would quickly become the largest military R&D undertaking in history, the management of what would become America’s relationship with extraterrestrials?

General Twining had made it clear in his preliminary analysis that they were investigating the whole phenomenon of flying disks, including Roswell and any other encounter that happened to take place. These were hostile entities, the general said, who, if they were on a peaceful mission, would have not avoided contact by taking evasive maneuvers even as they penetrated our airspace and observed our most secret military installations.


They had a technology vastly superior to ours, which we had to study and exploit in case they turned more aggressive. If we were forced to fight a war in outer space, we would have to understand the nature of the enemy better, especially if it came to preparing the American people for an enemy they had to face. So investigate first, he suggested, but prepare for the day when the whole undertaking would have to be disclosed.

This, Truman could understand. He had trusted Twining to manage this potential crisis from the moment Forrestal had alerted him that the crash had taken place. And Twining had done a brilliant job. He kept the lid on the story and brought back everything that he could under one roof.


He understood as Twining described to him the strangeness of the spacecraft that seemed to have no engines, no fuel, nor any apparent methods of propulsion, yet out flew our fastest fighters; the odd childlike creatures who were inside and how one of them was killed by a gunshot; the way you could see daylight through the inside of the craft even though the sun had not yet risen; the swatches of metallic fabric that they couldn’t burn or melt; thin beams of light that you couldn’t see until they hit an object and then burned right through it, and on and on; more questions than answers. It would take years to find these answers, Twining had said, and it was beyond the immediate capacity of our military to do anything about it. This will take a lot of man power, the general said, and most of the work will have to be done in secret.

General Twining showed photographs of these alien beings and autopsy reports that suggested they were too human; they had to be related to our species in some way. They were obviously intelligent and able to communicate, witnesses at the scene had reported, by some sort of thought projection unlike any mental telepathy you’d see at a carnival show. We didn’t know whether they came from a planet like Mars in our own solar system or from some galaxy we could barely see with our strongest telescopes. But they possessed a military technology whose edges we could understand and exploit, even if only for self defense against the Soviets. But by studying what these extraterrestrials had we might be able to build a defense system against them as well.

At the very least, Twining had suggested, the crescent shaped craft looked so uncomfortably like the German Horten wings our flyers had seen at the end of the war that he had to suspect the Germans had bumped into something we didn’t know about. And his conversations with Wernher von Braun and Willy Ley at Alamogordo in the days after the crash confirmed this. They didn’t want to be thought of as but intimated that there was a deeper story about what the Germans had engineered.


No, the similarity between the Horten wing and the craft they had pulled out of the arroyo was no accident. We always wondered how the Germans were able to incorporate such advanced technology into their weapons development in so short a time and during the Great Depression. Did they have help? Maybe we were now as lucky as the Germans and broke off a piece of this technology for ourselves. With an acceleration capability and maneuverability we’d never seen before, this craft would keep American aircraft engineers busy for years just incorporating what they could see into immediate designs.

The issue of security was paramount, but so were questions of disclosure, the President reminded him. This thing was too big to hide and getting bigger all the time while reporters were just like dogs on a scent. So just putting a higher security classification on it and threatening anybody who came too close wasn’t enough to hide a secret this big. You couldn’t prevent leaks, and eventually it would all have to come out anyway. General Twining should think about that before the group made any final decisions, the President advised.


By the middle of September it was obvious to every member of President Truman’s working group, which included the following:

  • Central Intelligence Director Adm. Roscoe Hillenkoetter

  • Secretary of Defense James Forrestal

  • Lt. Gen. Nathan Twining of the AAF and then USAF Air Materiel Command

  • Professor Donald Menzel, Harvard astronomer and Naval Intelligence cryptography expert

  • Vannevar Bush, Joint Research and Development Board Chairman

  • Detlev Bronk, Chairman of the National Research Council and biologist who would ultimately be named to the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics

  • Gen. Robert Montague, who was General Twining’s classmate at West Point, Commandant of Fort Bliss with operational control over the command at White Sands

  • Gordon Gray, President Truman’s Secretary of the Army and chairman of the CIA’s Psychological Strategy Board

  • Sidney Souers, Director of the National Security Council

  • Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg, Central Intelligence Group Director prior to Roscoe Hillenkoetter and then USAF Chief of Staff in 1948

  • Jerome Hunsaker, aircraft engineer and Director of the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics

  • Lloyd Berkner, member of the Joint Research and Development Board

Unless this group established a long term plan for protecting and developing the Roswell project, the secrets would soon leak out. I understand that it was General Twining who pointed out to the group that, in fact, the story had already leaked out. It was leaked, he said, hours after the crash and then retracted. In fact, people were still talking about it in New Mexico, but after the army’s weather balloon story, the national newspapers were treating the flying disk reports as the delusions of people who had seen too many Buck Rogers movies. The national press was already doing the committee’s work.


What was really needed, Twining suggested, was a method for gathering the information about continuing UFO activity - especially crashes, high probability sightings by pilots or the military, or actual physical encounters with individuals - and surreptitiously filtering that information to the group while coming up with practical explanations that would turn unidentified flying disks into completely identifiable and explainable phenomena.

Under the cover of explaining away all the flying disk activity, the appropriate agencies represented by members of the working group would be free to research the real flying disk phenomenon as they deemed appropriate. But through it all, Twining stressed, there had to be a way of maintaining full deniability of the flying disk phenomenon while actually preparing the public for a disclosure by gradually desensitizing them to the potential terror of confronting a more powerful biological entity from a different world. It would have to be, General Twining suggested, at the same time both the greatest cover-up and greatest public relations program ever undertaken.

The group agreed that these were the requirements of the endeavor they would undertake. They would form nothing less than a government within the government, sustaining itself from presidential administration to presidential administration regardless of whatever political party took power, and ruthlessly guarding their secrets while evaluating every new bit of information on flying saucers they received. But at the same time, they would allow disclosure of some of the most farfetched information, whether true or not, because it would help create a climate of public attitude that would be able to accept the existence of extraterrestrial life without a general sense of panic.

“It will be, “ General Twining said, “a case where the cover-up is the disclosure and the disclosure is the coverup. Deny everything, but let the public sentiment take its course. Let skepticism do our work for us until the truth becomes common acceptance. “

Meanwhile, the group agreed to establish an information gathering project, ultimately named Blue Book and managed explicitly by the air force, which would serve public relations purposes by allowing individuals to file reports on flying disk sightings. While the Blue Book field officers attributed commonplace explanations to the reported sightings, the entire project was a mechanism to acquire photographic records of flying saucer activity for evaluation and research. The most intriguing sightings that had the highest probability of being truly unidentified objects would be bumped upstairs to the working group for dissemination to the authorized agencies carrying on the research. For my purposes, when I entered the Pentagon, the general category of all flying disk phenomena research and evaluation was referred to simply as “foreign technology. “


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