Military Hid Truth about Spy Planes Behind UFO Craze Cold War Politics Spurred Lies, CIA Reports

By 1997, New York Times News Service | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), August 3, 1997 | Go to article overview

Military Hid Truth about Spy Planes Behind UFO Craze Cold War Politics Spurred Lies, CIA Reports


1997, New York Times News Service, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


In the darkest days of the Cold War, the military lied to the American public about the true nature of many unidentified flying objects in an effort to hide its growing fleets of spy planes, a CIA study says.

The deceptions were made in the 1950s and '60s amid a wave of UFO sightings that alarmed the public and parts of official Washington.

The CIA study says the Air Force knew that most reports by citizens and aviation experts were based on fleeting glimpses of U-2 and SR-71 spy planes, which fly extremely high.

Those planes were developed in the 1950s and '60s to photograph enemy targets. From secret bases, mainly in California and Nevada, the aircraft repeatedly flew across the country and eventually overseas to bases in countries that included Britain, West Germany and Taiwan.

While commercial airliners in the 1950s flew at altitudes of up to 30,000 feet, the U-2 soared to more than 60,000 feet and the SR-71 to more than 80,000 feet, or 15 miles, nearly the edge of space.

The planes carried powerful cameras to spy on foreign military installations and sensitive electronic gear to capture radio and radar transmissions. The spy craft were developed by the intelligence agency and often flown by the Air Force.

Rather than acknowledging the existence of the top-secret flights or saying nothing about them publicly, the Air Force decided to put out false cover stories, the CIA study says. For instance, unusual observations that were actually spy flights were attributed to atmospheric phenomena like ice crystals and temperature inversions.

"Over half of all UFO reports from the late 1950s through the 1960s were accounted for by manned reconnaissance flights" over the United States, the CIA study says. "This led the Air Force to make misleading and deceptive statements to the public in order to allay public fears and to protect an extraordinarily sensitive national security project. …

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