Secret History

By Tony Brunt

A series of articles that go behind the ‘approved’ standardized histories of the twentieth century to assess the post-war impact of the UFO phenomenon.

Part Two: ‘The Price of Deceit’

A summons to attend a meeting with Russian dictator Josef Stalin struck fear and even terror into the hearts of most of his countrymen. Visitors would pass through numerous checkpoints and be searched for weapons before being shown into a plain, no-frills waiting room. A small cubbyhole before Stalin’s office door contained the last bodyguards. Initial conversation among waiting visitors usually died quickly, followed by a tense silence. One wartime visitor noticed “my neighbour wiped drops of sweat from his brow and dried his hands on a handkerchief….the receptionist called him by name, he went livid, wiped his trembling hands…picked up his file…and went with hesitant steps.” On the threshold Stalin’s secretary murmured final instructions: “Don’t get excited. Don’t think about disagreeing with anything. Comrade Stalin knows everything.”

Whether the atmosphere was still this oppressive a few years later in 1948 when Sergei Korolev was called to a meeting with his paranoiac leader is not clear. Korolev was making good progress as the leading designer in Russia’s missile programme and would soon head up the country’s whole space project. But he knew the unpredictability of the regime he served: years before he had been tortured by Stalin’s secret police and imprisoned for six years on trumped-up charges. Now he was tentatively “rehabilitated”. As Korolev recounted years later to fellow rocket scientist, Valeriy Burdakov, Stalin greeted him then took him to a room where piles of UFO-related documents were spread out on a table. Some of the information was from Soviet spies in place in New Mexico at the time of the reported flying saucer crashes. Korolev said, “Okay, I’ll collect the materials and bring them back in two days.” Stalin, imbued with the sensitivity of the documents, vetoed that idea. “No, you can’t take any of these.” Instead Korolev was ordered to work in the room for as long as he needed. Stalin offered to supply translators and any other assistance.

When he had finished his examination, Korolev told Stalin that the phenomenon was real and that UFOs did not appear to be manufactured in the United States or any other country. Stalin thanked him, and told Korolev that his opinion was shared by a number of other specialists.

This fascinating report only came to light after the fall of communism when two American TV journalists interviewed Burdakov in Moscow in 1993. Korolev’s story dovetailed neatly with the information from leaked American archival documents and other sources, which suggest that the American atomic scientists at Los Alamos, in New Mexico, were intimately involved with the post-crash analysis of the craft that came down at Roswell and Aztec, New Mexico. It is clear from the fragmentary picture that researchers have put together that leading scientists were co-opted, if only briefly, from their work on the H-bomb to give an opinion on the alien technology that had literally fallen into American hands. Korolev would surely not have ventured the bold view to Stalin that the reported UFOs were from outside Earth merely on the basis of aerial sighting reports. The purloined American documents (most likely photographic facsimiles) almost certainly dealt with the New Mexico crashes. And that makes for a juicy new ingredient in the historical debate about the deep and unresolved Soviet penetration of the early American atomic bomb programme.

History’s celebrated “fall guy” for leaking the A-bomb design to the Russians (who exploded their first nuclear device in 1949) was British physicist Klaus Fuchs. But he had returned to England by the time of the Roswell recoveries in July, 1947, and Aztec the following March. One key Soviet mole remained active in America at the time, UK diplomat Donald Maclean, First Secretary at the British Embassy, who had wide access to files at the Atomic Energy Commission, in Washington. The AEC controlled the Los Alamos installation and may have received records on the recovered craft. Maclean’s stellar security clearance arose from his position as co-secretary of the Combined Policy Committee, which handled British, American and Canadian cooperation on the atomic bomb. He visited the AEC registry 12 times between August 1947 and June 1948, often at night and always on his own.The object of Maclean’s research was most likely atom bomb and H-bomb information that he could feed to his foreign spymasters, but there is a possibility that he may have come across UFO-related material as well. More likely, however, Stalin’s most sensitive documents came directly from high-level Los Alamos sources who have never been conclusively identified. The VENONA decrypts of the late 1940s allowed the partial cracking of coded messages between Soviet diplomatic posts in America and the KGB in Moscow during the war years. These code breaks confirmed retrospectively that there had been dozens of spies who had penetrated the Manhattan Project during the war. The Korolev revelation is a strobe from left field that lights up the murky world of cold war espionage from a surprising new angle, and suggests that Russian espionage continued at Los Alamos well into the post-war period.

The Soviets’ seeming dependence on American material for the true state of play on flying saucers indicates that in 1948 they did not, at that time, have any crash recoveries of their own to provide nuts and bolts data. Why not? Highly respected American UFO researcher – and a nuclear physicist himself– Dr Stanton Friedman has commented perceptively, and with his usual droll frankness, on why New Mexico and the southern USA appear to have been the global magnet for close approaching UFOs in the early years of the flying saucer era.

‘I make one assumption about all civilisations ‘out there’: that they’re concerned about their own survival and security,” he said in an interview in 2003. “That being the case, you have to keep tabs on the primitives in the neighbourhood, but only close tabs – frequent visitations, detailed investigations – when they show signs of being able to bother you. At the end of World War II there were three signs that soon these idiot earthlings, this primitive society whose major activity is tribal warfare…would be moving out – assuming in a hundred years, which on a cosmic timescale is nothing.” These three signs, said Friedman, were nuclear weapons, V2 rockets, which America had brought back from war-ravaged Germany for testing, and powerful electronics, especially advanced radar systems. “I don’t think it’s any coincidence at all that the only place on the planet where you could check out all three of these technologies in 1947 and ’48 was south-east New Mexico.” New Mexico was the site of the first atomic bomb test; it was where V2 rockets and their upgrades were being tested, and it was the location of the latest radar systems being used to track the rockets. “I would be flabbergasted if aliens weren’t checking out the place.”

We now know from the highly credible William Hermann contacts in Summerville, South Carolina, in 1978 and 1979 that it appears the greys had been taken unawares by the new ‘lock-on’ radar in use in New Mexico in the late 1940s. Hermann’s pivotal contact of 18 March, 1978, appears to be one of the few times that the greys have spoken with an abductee on the basis of equality and a friendly exchange of information. They told him that many years before they had lost some of their craft because of interference with on-board systems from radar emissions. They said that even though the technology was, by their standards, primitive it could still be disastrous if it locked on to their machines for more than 90 seconds. That was why they were flying the sharp triangular movements that Hermann had observed and photographed near Summerville.

The Strain Starts to Show

The years 1946-1948 marked one of the most turbulent periods in American administrative history. Governmental structures which had been shaped for war-fighting were being disentangled and reconstituted to suit the conditions of peace, albeit under the dark cloud of an intensifying Cold War. The bureaucracy that had been hard-baked by the heat of global conflict into a game-winning machine was undergoing transformation. A new world was taking shape, and a busy Congress and plain talking President were squeezing the wet clay of the post-war American democracy into an interesting new architecture to sustain its existence in the years ahead. The branches of the military as well as the players in the intelligence community were involved in ferocious in-fighting and manoeuvring to ensure their survival on the best possible arrangements. Atomic energy was reassigned from military control to civilian oversight. In July, 1947, President Truman abolished the War Department and replaced it with the Department of Defense (at that time named the National Military Establishment). The air force was to be split off from the army, and all of the services were to have their own civilian boss, a Secretary, sitting in Cabinet, under the coordination of a higher-level Secretary of Defense. A new foreign-focused intelligence agency, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), was formed, replacing the wartime Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Pressure was building around the circumference of the free world from an implacable adversary bent on ideological conquest. The communist menace posed a new set of potentially lethal challenges; more unique, however, was an astonishing new threat that had arrived from the skies – aliens from outer space with an unknown agenda and technology that rendered the best defences as useless as a child’s pop-gun with a flying cork. This was the last straw for men who had fought their way through a grim war and looked forward to the relaxation of peacetime.

For those on the inside of the cover-up, with exposure to the shocking reality of alien cadavers and incomprehensible space-age componentry, the effect may well have been profoundly disorienting. John Mack, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School for many years, talked about the psychological impact of coming face to face with the deeper realities of the UFO phenomenon – the inevitable shock to worldviews and the isolation from family and friends, among other symptoms of personal trauma. Key players in the defence establishment, as well as those who had merely helped on the ground at the crash recoveries, started cracking up. The Army Counter Intelligence Corps IPU report of the Roswell recovery (which leaked to the public in July, 1995) said that several of the military police who had been involved in the recovery had suffered nervous breakdowns, and one had committed suicide. At the top of the pyramid Truman’s new Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal, began a slow descent into mental fragmentation. Truman had promoted the incisive and personable Forrestal from his position as Secretary of the Navy to top dog as a political compromise to buy the navy’s agreement to the new defence structure. Forrestal, 55 years old with a background as a highly successful New York investment banker, was catapulted into the heart of the enveloping weirdness. The CIC IPU Roswell report of 22 July, two weeks after the crash recovery, indicated that “with the pending approval of James Forrestal as new Secretary of Defense, it is certain that he will be briefed on certain aspects of the recovery.” Forrestal took office on 17 September and within a week had well and truly entered the twilight zone. On the 24th, he and Vannevar Bush met with Truman. It was to be an historic day in the annals of the hidden history of the 20th century. At that meeting Truman prevailed upon Bush to rejoin government as the military’s science and technology research chief, a role that he had filled so successfully during the war. Bush agreed, and the White House announced the appointment the next day.

At the meeting the top-secret report to Truman of five days earlier was certainly discussed. This 17-page document (which leaked in 1996) was prepared by a panel of 16 military and civilian appointees in the wake of the Roswell recoveries. It recommended an operation called Majestic Twelve as a “fully funded and operational Top Secret Research and Development intelligence gathering agency” dealing with the UFO issue. This recommendation was approved at the meeting in the Oval Office. The President then authorised Forrestal to begin funding and organising the new ad hoc group in a clear written directive that same day. A memorandum dated 24 September marked top-secret “eyes only” (which leaked in 1983) set the world on a fateful course in two succinct paragraphs: “As per our recent conversation on this matter, you are hereby authorized to proceed with all due speed and caution upon your undertaking,” Truman wrote guardedly. “Hereafter this matter shall be referred to only as Operation Majestic Twelve. It continues to be my feeling that any future considerations relative to the ultimate disposition of this matter should rest solely with the Office of the President following appropriate discussions with yourself, Dr.Bush and the Director of Central Intelligence.”

On the day of this meeting with Truman the Secretary of Defense registered a Smith & Wesson revolver with the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington. He was entering a dark place of the mind, and a handgun clearly provided comfort. If there was a gnawing undercurrent eroding Forrestal’s composure it may have been crystalised in a letter he wrote to an acquaintance three months later. “The great danger in any country is for people to believe that there is anything absolute about security,” he wrote. Security ought to be “stricken from the language”, he commented darkly, and replaced with the word “risk.” “Air power, atomic bombs, wealth – by itself none of these can give any security.” The new Defense Secretary had good reason to doubt the invincibility of his country’s armaments against elusive new intruders. It was a pessimism he wisely avoided sharing with his fellow citizens.

Forrestal was a Catholic who had to reconcile a secret new cosmology with the formal structure of his religious beliefs. In this challenge he was not alone among the ‘in crowd.’ But he was unusual, if not unique, in the degree of immersion he would undergo in this unsettling and off-beat business, a business that he could not share with friends or family – he and his wife had lived separate lives for many years – and which was being vehemently debunked to the millions of Americans that he nominally served. If the most far-fetched of scenarios could be dreamed up to search out a man’s mental weaknesses this was it: a farrago of assertions and evasions that in the years ahead, long after Forrestal was gone, would stretch and twist and double back on itself like a creature swallowing its tail. It was the dawn of a dark age in epistemology, when knowledge and anti-knowledge would cannibalise each other, when disinformation became information, lies became truth, and legerdemain became disclosure. In fairness to Forrestal and Bush it must be said, in mitigation, that they could not possibly have conceived that the cover-up would persist for the rest of the 20th century and beyond. The interminability of the arrangement that they and Truman put in place would, in time, become as astonishing as the secret being hidden. The invisible torch would pass from president to president in some private masonic elevation that followed the Oath of Office. It was a perpetual Ground Hog Day at every changing of the guard where those imprisoned on the inside could not back out of history’s most ridiculous and complicated concealment, and those imprisoned on the outside who had seen through the charade, battered in vain on the walls of an archaic paradigm.

Forrestal had other heavy burdens of office to cope with – the Berlin airlift crisis, fatal flaws in the design of his job, budget disputes, and disloyal behaviour from subordinates, most notably his Secretary of the Air Force, Stuart Symington. Symington was almost certainly in on the cover-up as well, especially after the Aztec crash recovery of March, 1948, and another in the south in July. By then the air force had been split off from the army, and important field reports would end up on Symington’s desk as well.

In the month of the Aztec crash, Forrestal’s aides started noticing that their boss was developing a range of nervous mannerisms. His mind drifted elsewhere during meetings and he lost the plot. On 7 July his department was mobilised on another secret salvage operation that was not only out of this world, but out of the United States as well. An alien disc crashed just across the border from Laredo, Texas, in the wilderness of the Nueva Leon region of Mexico. The American military bluffed the Mexicans that a rocket had gone astray and recovered the badly damaged craft whose external skin had been totally obliterated. A badly burnt alien body was body-bagged back to a growing collection of exotic cadavers in the US.

During 1948 Forrestal’s anxieties worsened. Mired in this dream-like ambiguity he began believing that he was being followed and his phone tapped. His butler noticed that whenever the doorbell rang he would go to the window and peer out secretly. By the time Truman was returned to power in the election of November 1948, Forrestal’s phobias were top of the agenda in the Washington gossip mill. His breakdown and growing differences with Truman led to the President easing him out of office the following March as part of a clean-out of key figures in the old administration. On 29 March, Forrestal was honoured at a farewell ceremony at the House of Representatives, where he made three brief but gracious speeches. He seemed to be in good shape that day. After the reception Stuart Symington, who had retained his position as Air Force Secretary, asked if he could ride back to the Pentagon in the same car. “There is something I want to talk to you about,” he told his former boss. No one knows what was discussed, but back at the Pentagon a short time later an aide found Forrestal sitting at his desk staring at the wall. His mind seemed to be far away. When the aide had roused him from his deep state, Forrestal looked at him and responded, “You are a loyal fellow.” He repeated that statement several times over the next few hours. By evening Forrestal’s condition had worsened and he was talking suicide. That night he was flown to Florida for an enforced rest with friends. After landing at the airport he greeted Robert Lovett with the statement, “Bob, they’re after me.” Four days later Forrestal was flown back to Washington and admitted to Bethesda Naval Hospital for treatment. Seven weeks later, early in the morning of 22 May he died after falling from a 16th floor window at the hospital. The cause of death was ruled to be suicide, despite some strange circumstances surrounding his 2 a.m. plunge.

On Forrestal’s ill-fated last day at the Pentagon, after his ride with Symington, he had left the building in the early evening to return home to Georgetown. As he stood in the garage he was bewildered to realise that he no longer had access to a government limousine. An aide arranged for Vannevar Bush’s chauffeur to take him home. Bush was working late that night at the Pentagon in his role as chairman of the Research and Development Board. But despite the hours he was putting in, Bush’s own mental condition had gone through a difficult passage as well.

Early in 1948, possibly around the time of the Aztec UFO crash, he began to develop headaches. Bush had not had time to swoop in on the hurriedly executed July, 1947, Roswell recoveries (a largely intact craft and a second debris field many miles away). The Aztec, New Mexico, retrieval in the last week of March appeared to be the first on-site operation of its type that Bush attended. With his usual organisational skill the 58-year-old had pulled together a top-class scientific team in record time to attend the crash site. Here, atop a mesa in an isolated canyon 12 miles from the small town of Aztec, Bush and his people inspected the crashed disc and supervised the disposal of a large number of alien bodies.

Bush was the son of a Protestant minister but had followed a more practical life path as an engineer, academic and consummate science administrator. Now perhaps, after his return to Washington from this mind-bending experience, life’s larger questions, which had been bread and butter to the father he worshipped, began to obtrude into his own rational world. Certainly, the man had numerous frustrations in his new job at the Pentagon, and these weighed upon him heavily. It was also a time when a new generation was taking over. Bush’s biographer, Gregg Pascal Zachary, has made these points clearly in analysing his subject’s weariness and depression. But, as with Forrestal, it is fair to speculate that the pressure of a double life might have contributed to a deepening mood. He and Forrestal were, after all, two of the architects of arguably the most remarkable conspiracy that had ever been put in place.

Deception and the deep inner solitude of a common phantasm were part of the cryptic curriculum vitae that they shared. It was a double life not just in the sense of living with the mother of all secrets but in a far more active sense, where the nature of reality itself was being denied with energy, where modernity’s Primary Fact was being withheld from the great unwashed for their own good, and even dumped on. Paternalism and imperiousness came easily to Bush, judging from his biography, so the wartime strictures of secrecy were routine. But this new policy of hide-and-deny was suppression and PR flimflam on an epochal scale. It was a sign of the hermetic seal placed around the awesome secret – and the deep internalisation that it required of its practitioners – that no sign of its footprints in history were uncovered by Zachary in his researches in the early 1990s. Not a single line in official archives or personal records, not a word out of place in any interview with scores of friends, family and contemporaries indicated that Bush had any connection with the wonderful and wacky world of flying saucers. The historiography of the 20th century was being subverted by government fiat.

It was a sign of Bush’s balanced personality and chipper home life that the dip in his spirits was not as deep as that plumbed by Forrestal. Did he attend the Mexico crash in July? We don’t know. What we do know is that Majestic Twelve had only so many fingers to plug the dike. When was the whole thing going to give way? When was one of these flawed contraptions going to crash at the Super Bowl? But there was no levity to be salvaged from the crisis. Bush suffered sleepless nights. He seemed to live on his nerves. In September, 1948, even Forrestal, far gone in his own tragic journey, noticed Bush’s state. He commented to an acquaintance that Bush was displaying “a certain amount of nervous and physical instability. I mean, not his mind,” said Forrestal, “but just he’s drawn pretty fine, I think.” Bush’s anxiety reached such levels that he thought he might have Parkinson’s disease or a brain tumour. He underwent tests and X-rays but nothing untoward showed up. As an act of therapy, he headed off on a fishing trip in the Montana wilderness with a friend, Caryl Haskins, and a professional guide. The three wended their way on horseback along trails and streams, fishing by day and pitching tents at night. Haskins noticed that his companion stayed quiet for long periods. Staring at the flickering campfire under a canopy of stars, Bush seemed to prefer the silence. Perhaps, like his doomed colleague at the Pentagon, he was inhabiting his own zone of ambiguity, but unlike Forrestal he was coming to terms with it.

Here we have, at the dawn of modern history’s most notorious collusion against freedom of information and knowledge, two men who appeared to pay the price for their deceitful obscurantism. Successive generations of the world’s citizens have paid another price for their long enduring handiwork – lives of blithe and unwitting provincialism, parked away in a corner of a far-flung galaxy, quietly, steadily destroying the planet they stand on for want of a wider, humbler paradigm.


(The next instalment of Secret History will be posted in May, 2009.)


Stalin’s waiting room: “Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar,” Simon Sebag Montefiore, London, 2003, pp. 386-387, quoting from “Stalin and his Generals,” NY, 1969, S.Bialer (ed).

The testimony of Sergei Korolev via Valeriy Burdakov was obtained in an interview with Burdakov by George Knapp and Bryan Gresh in March, 1993. Recounted in UFO Magazine, Quest Publications, UK, Jan/Feb 1996, “Beyond the Wall”, Graham W.Birdsall.

Maclean visits the AEC 12 times: “The Atom Bomb Spies,” H.Montgomery Hyde, Sphere Books, London, 1980, p.138.

Stanton Friedman statement on New Mexico UFO activity: per video “Aztec 1948”, Redstar Films, directed by Paul Kimball, 2004. Contact

Comments to William Hermann during abduction, relating to radar and craft crashes: Ref. “UFO Contact from Reticulum,” Wendelle Stevens, privately published, Tucson AZ, 1981, pp.139, 152; also “UFO Contact from Reticulum (Supplemental Report),” Stevens, 1989, p.155.

The Strain Starts To Show

John Mack on psychological impacts: “Abduction: Human Encounters With Aliens,” John E.Mack, Simon & Schuster, London, 1995, p.397.

Army Counter Intelligence Corps IPU unit report: “The Majestic Documents” (ed. Robert M.Wood & Ryan S.Wood), Wood & Wood Enterprises, 1998, Calif., pp.27-33. Viewable at

Truman prevails upon Bush to take research job: “Endless Frontier: Vannevar Bush, Engineer of the American Century,” Gregg Pascal Zachary, The Free Press, NY, 1997, p.335.

Top-secret 17-page report to president: “The Majestic Documents”, pp.44-81.

24 September Truman memo to Forrestal: “The Majestic Documents”, p.83.

Forrestal registers Smith & Wesson revolver on 24 Sept.: “James Forrestal, A Study of Personality, Politics and Policy,” Arnold A.Rogow, Macmillan, NY, 1963, p.282.

Forrestal letter to acquaintance on security: Rogow, p.283, quoting letter to Hanson Baldwin, 2 Jan. 1948.

Forrestal’s nervous mannerisms noted in March 1948: Rogow, p.306; Belief in being followed and phone tapped, pp.306-307; Butler’s comments, p.307.

Mexico crash recovery near Laredo, Texas: Many sources including “UFO Crash at Aztec: A Well Kept Secret,” William Steinman & Wendelle C. Stevens, privately published, Arizona, 1986, pp.350-352, 402-422.

Circumstances surrounding Forrestal’s HOR farewell 29 March, last day at Pentagon, and subsequent death: Rogow pp.1-18.

Bush’s headaches begin in early 1948: Zachary, p.341.

Bush pulls together team for Aztec crash recovery: Steinman & Stevens, pp.27-50.

No evidence found for Bush connection with UFOs in archival research and interviews by biographer Zachary: Communication by Zachary to writer, 27 Feb., 2009.

Forrestal comments on Bush’s nervous instability: Comment to John McCone quoted in Rogow p.343.

Bush’s sleepless nights and nerves problem: Zachary, p.341; Montana fishing trip with Haskins, p.343.

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