Saturday, March 31, 2012

James E McDonald on "cover-up" vs "foul-up."

Hi all,

Recent blog readers will have noticed that I have posted a number of items about the late James E McDonald and his work on the UFO phenomenon. I hadn't know very much about his work until I read Annn Druffel's book "Firestorm" (click here.)  I am now deeply impressed by McDonald's work ethic; his research skills, and his determination to pursue all leads in cases. I was therefore intrigued  to read what his views were on "cover-up" versus "foul-up."


Some UFO researchers argue that world governments have ( and continue to do so) covered up their knowledge of the UFO phenomenon. Others, suggest that governments have fouled up their investigations. What were McDonald's views?

On page 61 of "Firestorm", we read that following McDonald's visit to Project Blue Book (click here for their archives) , McDonald "...bluntly told them that the observations in Blue Book files and the whole picture of UFO activity strongly indicated a non-terrestrial origin. "You've been involved in a foul-up," he informed them."

On this same visit, McDonald spoke to General Cruickshank (click here) , the commander of the Foreign Technology Division of the Air Force. "He told Cruickshank about the cover-up vs. foul-up controversy, and indicated that the absurd explanations that had been given to stunning observations by thoroughly credible observers tended to feed the cover-up hypothesis. Crucikshank replied, quite convincingly that there was no cover-up at FTD." (p.62.)


On a flight together, during September 1968, Hynek (click here) and McDonald "...discussed the controversial "cover-up" hypothesis. McDonald was continuing to think that government inaction on UFOs was the result of a "grand foul-up" rather than a true cover-up and so expressed this to Hynek. He found that the astronomer shared his opinion. In all of his writings, including his journals, McDonald never seemed to seriously think that there was any government "silence group" deliberately covering up information about UFOs, although he conceded that there seemed to be localized cover-ups of specific cases." (p.80.)

There is a footnote (number 46) on page 80 which reads "There is some evidence to think that McDonald, shortly before his death, was beginning to find evidence of an official cover-up. See, for example, Fowler Raymond E, Casebook of a UFO Investigator. Engelwood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice-Hall. 1981 hardcover pp50-51." (click here.)

Later, Hynek would never admit to McDonald that his 20 year's AF consultancy - in which he'd participated fully in explaining away excellent cases - contributed  to the Air Force UFO "foul-up" and to the scientific establishment's neglect of the UFO question." (p.83.)

Second Blue Book visit:

In June 1966, McDonald again visited Project Blue Book. There he met three military officers who were conducting a review of Blue Book's operations. "Over coffee on the patio, McDonald pressed the issue with the trio about the importance of the UFO question and the "foul-up" in which the Air Force was engaged." (p.138.)

Donald Menzel:

"Dr Donald Menzel, a prominent astrophysicist who had written widely on the subject of UFOs. Menzel was more than a scientific critic; he took up the cudgel against McDonald in a slashing manner..." (p.162.)

"McDonald felt that Menzel had contributed to, and perhaps had even created, the "grand foul-up." (p.164.) (click here.)

The Drury film:

When in Australia in 1967, McDonald met with Thomas C Drury, who had taken a movie film of an object in the sky over Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea in August 1953 (click here). (Druffel incorrectly states the date as August 1957 on page 174.) The film went to the Royal Australian Air Force and then to the USA. Claims were later made that a part of the film went missing. (click here.)

"Judging from incidents like these, it had become clear to most UFO researchers that some group in government, or in the Air Force itself, was hiding the best UFO data as it surfaced. But even Drury's experience failed to convince McDonald of a cover-up, for he was seeking incontrovertible and scientifically verifiable proof." (p.179.)

Sydney talk 1967:

"At a packed meeting of the Sydney UFO Investigation Centre at Strathfield, he reviewed his research to that date and emphasised, that the USAF had "fouled-up" a complex subject by neglecting to treat it seriously." (p.187.)


McDonald "...was invited to speak on UFOs at the Research lab of United Aircraft Corporation..." (p.265.) He "...outlined several classic cases, explained in detail why Blue  Book's and Menzel's explanations did not wash and addressed the "grand foul-up vs. cover-up" question." (p.268.)

The Heflin photographs:

In 1965 Rex Heflin took a series of photographs (click here) which intrigued McDonald. Heflin's photograph number four struck him as  similar to a series of photographs taken by  a man named Stofko.

Druffel, on page 315, writes in part of his investigation "For perhaps the first time, McDonald seems to be saying that the government might be seriously involved in the UFO problem, to a greater extent than his "grand foul-up" theory allowed for. "


"As the spring of 1969 drew near, McDonald continued sorting out the cover-up controversy in his mind...We all along debated the cover-up vs. foul-up theory," says Dick Hall, who shared, in part, McDonald's skepticism regarding a widespread "conspiracy." He did acknowledge that some of the things we came up with shook his faith a little bit."

"At times McDonald conceded that particular situations into which he'd stumbled didn't really fit his foul-up theory, but were more like a cover-up. He'd found cases where the documentation had vanished." (p.361.)

Back to 1968:

One story which puzzled McDonald was that of a man named Dewey who had met an Air Force officer in 1956 or 1957. This man claimed that the Air Force officer had told him he was in charge of UFOs for the Air Force, had secured the collaboration of foreign nations and knew UFOs were extraterrestrial.

In a letter to his wife, McDonald wrote "If there's accuracy in what [Dewey's] told us, if, as late as 1957 or so, USAF really was still engaged in an extensive UFO investigation behind the scened, and was enjoying the cooperation of foreign air intelligence groups...then maybe Don Keyhoe's long-standing insistence on grand cover-up is correct..." (p.366.0

However, McDonald never located this Air Force officer. "He tended to regard the inability to track down Crawford as evidence which strengthened the "foul-up" hypothesis rather than the "grand conspiracy," but his mind remained open." (p.366.)

Secret group?

Some UFO researchers have postulated that a "secret group" somewhere, monitors the UFO phenomenon. "McDonald found it hard to accept that a question as  serious as the UFO problem was being furtively studied by a "secret group" of scientists in the Air Force, as Don Keyhoe and NICAP hypothesized." (p.380.)

"One of the reasons he remained unconvinced of an official "cover-up" was his own experience concerning the Manhattan Project. Contrary to the prevalent opinion that the project which developed the atomic bomb was kept strictly secret, he wrote in his "cover-up vs. foul-up" file, "Most of the scientists around the country knew about [the Manhattan Project] early on." (p.380.)


"He discussed the cover-up vs. foul-up puzzle with any colleague he thought could throw any light on it." (p.381.)


"At the Santa Monica IEEF briefing, McDonald had made a statement which hints that he was re-considering the logic of an Air Force "cover-up"..."Maybe the Air Force felt, 'Maybe we can get a hunk of the technology ourselves and use it to military advantage' he said. This brought his thinking closer to most of his UFO colleagues, who theorized that one of the reasons for a "cover-up" was that the government hoped to unlock the secrets of UFO propulsion before any potential enemy could figure it out." (pp579-480.)

My comments:

Druffel provides an excellent review of McDonald's thinking on this important aspect of the UFO phenomenon. My own research into documentation held by Australian government departments on the UFO subject, indicates to me that they were engaged in a "foul-up" rather than a "cover-up." (click here and here.)

1 comment:

  1. McDonald was sensibly in favour of 'foul-up' over 'cover-up' but also allowed for the possibility that accumulating mini-cover-ups were part of the problem.

    Where you mention his seminar in front of United Aircraft Research Laboratories, 1968 - his exact comments were:

    'In another one of the few valuable UFO books, Mort Young prefers the “grand conspiracy” hypothesis. He states that “the government is trying to keep flying saucers out of the realm of serious, public discussion.” He presents a number of cases which, I agree, constitute a form of cover-up. Where I would disagree with Young is in his equating the sum of many such cover-ups to a “grand conspiracy.” I remain on record as regarding them as just a lot of little cover-ups of the type that can become all too common in a military milieu, especially when a highly visible official position would be embarrassed by a policy of candor.'

    I wonder if this position was subtle diplomacy? His references to 'extra-terrestrial' origins drew heavy criticism so perhaps he saw the sense in avoiding allegations of 'cover-ups?' Keyhoe was an earlier example of coming unstuck by claiming ET and silence groups.

    You can read the paper at this link >

    If you think about it - who is comparable to McDonald in approach or even the audiences he spoke to? For a few exciting years, he had the attention of scientists in industry. Maybe Sturrock was close, but it's hard to point to anyone since with the connections and credibility.


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