6 strange sightings from the CIA's declassified UFO files

Previously on DVICE, we examined once-secret FBI documents from the Bureau's investigations into freaky, unexplained phenomena. These glimpses into the real-life X-Files were made public via various Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) requests and subsequently posted for all to peruse on the agency's online "Vault".

As it turns out, the FBI isn't the only government body with a history of investigating mysterious activity. FoIA-liberated documents from the Central Intelligence Agency show how America's stealthy strike force has had a keen interest in strange "aerial phenomena" from all around the world.

We're talking UFOs!

On the CIA's version of The Vault (the less sexily-titled "Electronic Reading Room"), you can find more than 240 publicly available documents related to "unidentified flying objects" spanning more than 50 years. The documents are a mixture of first-hand accounts from field agents as well as summaries of press coverage of strange, unexplained events.

There's a lot of material to sort through and — unawesomely — as far as we can tell, there's no specific mention of phone-seeking ETs, killer xenomorphs or crashed alien spaceships. However, the memos do reveal a global post-Roswell paranoia regarding "flying saucers" — all taking place in the context of a Cold War technological-arms race. Here, we present some highlights from more than five decades of America's super secret spy agency's investigations into the worldwide UFO phenomenon.

(Quick note: the quoted texts are directly transcribed from often poorly transferred scans. We did our best to be faithful to the original documents, which we have provided snippets of and links to. If you think you have better interpretations, drop a line in the comments.)




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1. "Flying Saucers" (July 1st, 1952)

Recent information has surfaced that both the U.S. and Soviet governments fancied an interest in faking an alien invasion as a means to induce mass-hysteria in the enemy à la Orson Welles' chaotic War of the Worlds broadcast from 1938.

At least one inter-agency communication from the early 1950s acknowledges the potential disruptive power of a faked alien invasion in both "offensive and defensive" contexts (keeping in mind, the Roswell UFO incident occurred only a few years prior and was followed by a flurry of "flying saucer" sightings around the world).

The following memo was sent from then-director of the CIA, Walter Bedell Smith to the unnamed director of the "Psychological Strategy Board."

I am today transmitting to the National Security Council a proposal… in which it is concluded that the problems connected with unidentified flying objects appear to have implications for psychological warfare as well as for intelligence and operations…

I suggest that we discuss at an early board meeting the possible offensive or defensive utilization of these phenomena for psychological warfare purposes.

Just keep that particular quote in mind when perusing the websites of self-anointed Ufologists.

See the CIA's report here: PDF




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2. "Report of Unusual Flying Objects" (January 6th, 1956)

The post-Roswell UFO paranoia evidently spread far beyond U.S. and Soviet borders. We found records of a somewhat odd request that came to the attention of the U.S. government from a name-redacted source in the Belgian Congo (today, the Democratic Republic of Congo). The unspecified party makes a request for a "short, compact 60x telescope" to be used in a new UFO observation group [sic]:

"As you Americans do not want to tell us what the so stupidly called 'flying saucers' are, and above all, what they want (and this may be very important in the future), I need your excellent telescope for myself and my observation group which I am just creating.

"The UFO (Unidentified Flying Objects) are [unintelligible] more and more over this country, and going perhaps to the very nature of this land and its beautiful nights [or "rights?"], we here look more often in the sky than the busy Americans."

No word if the gentleman in question ever received his telescope.

See the CIA's report here: PDF




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3. "Report of Unusual Flying Object Sightings and Attendant Scientific Activity" (April 17th, 1956)

Another international incident from the 1950s was preserved in a letter from the niece of a name-redacted CIA contact. The contact's niece is writing from Soviet-controlled Hungary and seems to illustrate how the "flying saucer" phenomenon had also taken hold on the other side of the iron curtain. The letter is a "free translation" into English by someone who seems to have some direct knowledge that these particular aerial occurrences were actually some form of early Soviet missile or rocket tests.

In November 1955 I received a letter from my niece in Budapest. This letter contained the following interesting item "[free translation]":

"The so-called flying saucers (rockets) "[sic]" for several weeks kept the people in a nervous state. These very fast speeding flyers kept scientific groups very busy. I'm sure you heard already from the papers, 12 thousand km per hour was estimated on these flyers."

Though not specifically mentioned in the document, the timing would have been about right for the Soviet intercontinental tests of the R-7 rocket. That rocket was designed to fall apart into various stages while in flight, which may have been similar to the ground view of the above drawings.

See the CIA's report here: PDF




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4. "Unexplained Traveling Bright Light Seen in the Sky" (October 27th, 1958)

As you might imagine, the Agency was especially interested in reports of unexplained aerial phenomenon over Russian airspace. We found one such account of an odd event witnessed "near Leningrad." The report was written by an undisclosed native English-speaking contact who is told by his "guides" that a mysterious phenomenon in the skies was "probably a flying saucer."

About 10 PM on the night of 10 Jul 58, while enroute from Leningrad to Moscow by train, we saw a bright light in the air which was trailed by a long tail of black smoke. It was much too bright for a plane. It may have been five to 15 miles distant and was under ten thousand feet above ground.

We inquired of our guides what it was but got only a [unintelligible] reply that it was probably a flying saucer. The guide was 'Ivanov' who had been with a party of which I was a member on a previous trip. Whether he knew what it was could not be determined.

Without fuller context, it's difficult to tell if there's a wink-wink or any implied sarcasm in the Russian guide's comments. Was it an underhanded way of letting the U.S. know "we've got missiles, bitches" or "yeah — it's nothing. Now go to sleep. Too much vodka." Could go either way.

See the CIA's report here: PDF




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5. "Sighting of Unusual Object" (December 16, 1960)

We aren't told who this 1960 ominously, yet straightforwardly-titled memo is made out to, but it is from the "chief" of some government body's "Detroit Office." It references the Air Force's investigation in the previous decade's widespread reports of flying discs and other assorted UFO reports, and also how that interest may have waned.

It starts out politely enough "If the USAF [United States Air Force] is still interested in unidentified objects in the sky they may be interested in the following report given to us by [several lines redacted]." It goes on to quote a first-hand account written by an unidentified individual somewhere near "the Detroit River" along with a number of his or her students.

At about 6:54 pm Wednesday 14 December 1960… I looked out to the left (about due east) and saw an object that looked like a meteor except that it was extremely large and almost like a disc, not like a point of light. It was a greenish light (just off white), but green and quite visible to me…

It eventually burned out before it got to the ground. The thing which astonished me about it was that it is not the meteorite season and it was much bigger than anything I had ever seen. It was definitely incandescent, and of a very high temperature…

Despite the "disk" shape of the object, the viewer goes to some lengths to differentiate this viewing from the typical UFO hysteria.

This was not flying saucer stuff. I say that only in the sense that I have worked all my life with high temperatures. I am a doctor here in dynamics and physics and I know a high temperature when I see it. That's why I would say the object was way up in temperature. I thought it might be related to some part of a missile or something similar. It was going at a high velocity and had to in order to reach the temperature it was at.

See the CIA's report here: PDF




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6. "Photo Analysis of UFO Photography" (February 17, 1967)

Once again, we aren't provided with much information on this memo made out to the director of the National Photographic Interpretation Center (since rolled into the Department of Defense, but works in conjunction with U.S. intelligence agencies). The memo presents analysis of a UFO captured in a series of photographs "supplied by the Aerial Phenomena Office" located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, OH.

The memo does include some high-contrast Xerox-quality replications of the original images, which you can find here in PDF form, but according to the analysis, the originals weren't much more impressive. They were described as "less than optimum and were considered poor for measural and photo analysis."

In closing, the memo states:

This office cannot shed any light on the authenticity of this alleged UFO from this photo analysis. There is no definite evidence that this photography is a hoax. On the other hand, for one to assume that this object is a UFO is equally dangerous. There are too many unanswered questions to label the probable cause of this sighting as anything but undeterminable.

So there you go: it was definitely maybe an alien spacecraft.

See the CIA's report here: PDF




Once the document dump get into the 70s, the (publicly-available) files generally skew away from actual investigations and towards summations of press reports mentioning strange phenomenon and correspondence with civilians. By the time Reagan is in office, the agency seems to stop caring about alien invasions altogether.

So, if you have a free moment and want to flex your Mulder muscles, take look at your UFO-investigating tax dollars at work. If you find anything else of interest that the memo-redactors may have missed, please drop some knowledge in the comments.

Truth it till it hurts.

The information, snippets and images in this article have been released into the public domain by the Central Intelligence Agency. Nothing about this article has been approved or endorsed by the CIA.