Unexplained Phenomenon Files from the FBI's Vault
Unexplained Phenomenon Files from the FBI’s Vault

Unexplained Phenomenon Files from the FBI’s Vault

Larry Holzwarth - September 22, 2021

Unexplained Phenomenon Files from the FBI’s Vault
Vice Admiral Roscoe Hillenkoetter, the first Director of the CIA and a director of NICAP. US Navy

18. The National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP)

In October, 1956, a group of ufologists, many of them high-ranking retired military officers, formed the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP). Retired US Marine Major Donald Keyhoe became director of NICAP in 1957. Another prominent name which appeared on the organizations board of directors was retired Vice Admiral Roscoe Hillenkoetter. The Admiral had previously served as the first head of the CIA. Despite the group’s name, which lent it the appearance of being a government agency, it was entirely privately funded. Operating funds came from the membership fees, donations, and subscriptions to published magazines. Speaking fees from appearances added to the budget, but the group was often starved for cash in the 1950s. It became known to the FBI early in its existence. In 1957 the FBI received a handwritten letter, from a gentleman questioning NICAP’s legitimacy.

The letter also asked for confirmation of the information promulgated by NICAP in a lecture presented in Florida two years earlier. While the content of the lecture is not present in the file, NICAP throughout the 1950s and early 1960s routinely published content claiming the USAF and other agencies were withholding UFO information from the public. The FBI replied to their queries stating that the information in its files, “…is confidential and available for official use only”. It did not address the issue of NICAP’s standing. It is the first of a long string of correspondence in the FBI’s files addressing the issues raised by NICAP. Most of them regard the FBI participating in UFO investigations, both with and separate from the Air Force, as well as participating in efforts to keep the results of the investigations secret. By 1958 Donald Keyhoe was a frequent subject of discussion within internal FBI memoranda.

Unexplained Phenomenon Files from the FBI’s Vault
Hoover did not believe NICAP deserved prosecution nor investigation, but the FBI maintained a file on the group. FBI

19. The Air Force suggested using an arcane law to shut down NICAP

In 1960, a federal law was enacted to prevent debt collectors and private investigators from using names for their businesses which presented them as being official agencies of the US Government. That year a woman was arrested by the FBI for operating a debt collection agency under the name of the National Deposit System. Reports of the arrest appeared in the newspapers. In August, 1960, J. Edgar Hoover received a letter from the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force which cited the arrest and the law. The Air Force also pointed out that NICAP had been using a name which implied government association for “several years”. It also asked Hoover if the same law could be used to, “…curtail the activities of this organization”. The Air Force enclosed a newspaper clipping describing the arrest of the debt collector, and hinted a similar action against NICAP was desirable.

Hoover replied a week later. His letter informed the Air Force that the law under which it desired FBI action against NICAP did not apply. Hoover’s reply pointed out the law was limited to skip-tracers and debt collectors. In an added note, the FBI acknowledged correspondence with NICAP, usually in response to the latter’s persistent requests for information, and that it had received no complaints regarding the organization which warranted an investigation. In another matter involving NICAP, a correspondent asked the FBI directly if NICAP was a communist organization by affiliation or funding. Hoover replied in March, 1961, “This bureau has conducted no investigation of the organization about which you inquired”. The accusation, even just implied, of communism was a red flag for J. Edgar Hoover, but in the case of NICAP he exhibited little interest in following it up.

Unexplained Phenomenon Files from the FBI’s Vault
UFOs have become an industry throughout the Western world, though most have been debunked as hoaxes, misidentified aircraft, or natural phenomena. Wikimedia

20. The FBI’s Unexplained Phenomenon files are mostly bureaucratic give and take

Throughout the Unexplained Phenomenon files there is a noted absence of unexplained phenomena. Instead, there is a wealth of correspondence and internal documentation describing the bureau’s action or inaction regarding the requests of others. Despite files regarding UFOs making up the bulk of the vault’s contents, the FBI repeatedly states in its records that it does not investigate UFOs. Such activities were entirely the responsibility of the United States Air Force. But the FBI definitely hovered around those investigations, meticulously documenting what they learned from observation, informants, and even the press. J. Edgar Hoover expressed interest in press reports on several occasions, directing his agents to obtain further information and clarification. Often the requests were over articles about UFO sightings, or lectures on the subject given by ufologists.

Hoover’s interest in the activities of all branches of the US government and its supporting contractors is well-documented. It was an obsession. He wanted any scrap of information known by any other branch or agency of the government to be known to the FBI, no matter how small. The result is an unexplained phenomenon file which describes the known activities of other investigators, but very little content of unexplained phenomena. The long flirtation with ESP, mental telepathy, and other parapsychology is just one example. Hoover wanted to know what the CIA and military intelligence were up to, without sharing with them what his beloved bureau was doing in the same fields. As in nearly all things, his highest consideration appears to be protecting his bureau from potential public scorn. For most of his life he succeeded in that mission.

Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“To this day, cattle mutilations of 1970s shrouded in mystery”. Tyler Riggs, HJNews. May 3, 2008

“Unidentified Flying Objects and Air Force Project Blue Book”. USAF Fact Sheet. Online

“USAF and the UFOs”. John T. Correll, Air Force Magazine. June 1, 2011

“Project BLUE BOOK – Unidentified Flying Objects”. National Archives. Online

“The Paroptic Illusion, William Foos, Jules Romains, and the US Army”. Stacy Horn, Unbelievable. September 4, 2013. Online

“Secrets of the military’s investigations into ESP revealed!” Dina Temple-Raston, The Washington Post. June 2, 2017

“The secret life of J. Edgar Hoover”. Anthony Summers, The Guardian. December 31, 2011

“ESP: Inside the government’s secret program of psychic spies”. CBS News Report. March 18, 2018. Online

“September 24, 1947: MJ-12 – We Are Not Alone…Or Are We?” Article, Wired. September 24, 2007. Online

“Of Flying Saucers and Fraud: The Silas M. Newton Story”. Chris Root, Denver Public Library. July 16, 2021

“National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena”. Article, Encyclopedia.com. Online

“FBI Records: The Vault Unexplained Phenomenon”. FBI.gov. Online

“FBI ‘flying saucers’ NM memo bureau’s most viewed”. Russell Contreras, Associated Press. March 29, 2013

“FBI destroyed thousands of UFO reports, 1949 memo reveals”. Ian Sample, The Guardian. April 11, 2011