The MJ-12 documents were a set of papers that were received in the 1980’s by several UFO researchers. The documents purported that a top secret group of military officers, scientists and government advisors had been assembled to study the remains of recovered UFOs and their occupants. The emergence of the MJ-12 issue caused a sensation in the UFO community. Scrutiny of the MJ-12 papers by analysts revealed discrepancies. The debate over the authenticity of the MJ-12 documents divides the UFO community between skeptics and believers and remains a subject of fascination and controversy to this day.
The central question in this paper is to what extent, if any, the MJ-12 documents that circulated in the 1980’s were used as bait to track Soviet spies.
According to Greg Bishop, Richard Doty, and William Moore, UFO groups and individuals were monitored and used as part of a 1980’s counterintelligence operation. By counterintelligence, we mean the identification, tracking and neutralizing of persons conveying information to foreign intelligence agencies, namely the Soviet GRU and KGB.
The principal time period covered in this paper is 1979 through 1989.
Greg Bishop is the author of the book Project Beta and has been a friend of William Moore since the 1980’s. (1) Moore is one of the principal characters in this account. This paper relies heavily on an interview Bishop gave with Paul Kimball in June of 2013 in which he details Moore’s role as a government asset. (2)
That the UFO community was targeted by the CIA is supported by documentary evidence. Bruce Maccabee, a high profile UFO researcher related that retired CIA employee Ron Pandofi informed him that the Agency was concerned in the 1970’s that Soviet intelligence was interested in exploiting UFO enthusiasts. This claim is confirmed in a history of the CIA and UFOs by National Reconnaissance Office historian Richard Haines:
“Agency analysts from the Life Science Division of OSI and OSWR officially devoted a small amount of their time to issues relating to UFOs. These included counterintelligence concerns that the Soviets and the KGB were using US citizens and UFO groups to obtain information on sensitive US weapons development programs (such as the Stealth aircraft), the vulnerability of the US air-defense network to penetration by foreign missiles mimicking UFOs, and evidence of Soviet advanced technology associated with UFO sightings.” (3)
The Reagan administration was anti-communist and particularly concerned with Soviet espionage. During the 1980’s the Cold War with the Soviet Union was still a major policy challenge. Tensions between the United States and Russia were high, and President Ronald Reagan’s priorities included significant resistance to Soviet expansionism. Russia had a track record of proficiency in espionage since the 1920’s. Cold war hawks in the U.S were acutely apprehensive of Soviet capabilities in both the military and intelligence realms, and It was within that background that a comprehensive counterintelligence program was envisioned. (4)
As Bishop relates it, the effort was an attempt to find out how many spies were really operating in the United States, (5)
William Moore was prominent in the UFO field during the 1980’s and 1990’s. He had been a high school teacher and later became the published co-author of The Philadelphia Experiment and The Roswell Incident. Moore was knowledgeable in the Russian language, and he became expert in UFO documentary research and in developing contacts within the U.S. defense establishment.
During the course of his activities in the late 1970’s, Moore became the object of recruitment by the United States Intelligence community. Moore cooperated with one or more intelligence agencies in that effort. In his book Project Beta, Bishop quoted Moore’s controller referring to “bringing some moles out of their holes”. (6)
Richard Doty was an Air Force Office of Special Investigations special agent from 1979 through 1989. He assisted in Moore’s recruitment and acted as liaison with Moore’s controllers.
The agreement was that Moore would report on the activities of UFO groups and individual investigators. In return, he would receive UFO related documents and information – material that wasn’t publicly available.
As a serious researcher, it was Moore’s intention to get to the bottom of what the U.S. government knew about UFOs. He decided to use the arrangement to delve into the arcane and convoluted intelligence world with the hope of learning the truth. In a presentation at the 1989 MUFON symposium in Las Vegas Nevada, and in his four part “UFOs and the Government” series of articles in the 1989 MUFON UFO Journal and his FOCUS newsletter, he freely admitted to such a relationship. Interestingly, he never mentioned the Soviet aspect, leaving the impression that his participation only involved the UFO subject. (7)
Intelligence agencies recruit their “assets” based on particular personality qualities of the individuals that are targeted. Prospective informers are carefully evaluated in terms of their personal situations and motivations. (8) In the case of UFO researchers in general and William Moore in particular, “inside information” served as an effective motivator. The most important “inside information” that William Moore received during this period was a film roll containing the MJ-12 documents.
Moore cultivated contacts with persons from military, intelligence and UFO research circles. As individuals, they were personally interested, and had heard or seen things that impelled them to learn more about the issue. Their level of “inside” knowledge varied. Bill Moore was impressed enough with their backgrounds to give them bird names such as “Condor”, “Pelican”, “Chickadee” etc. in order to maintain confidentiality during conversations. This group became known as “The Aviary”.
The most intriguing and mysterious Aviary member’s code name was “Falcon”. In his book Project Beta, Greg Bishop described Falcon as a high level person within the Defense Intelligence Agency who had been assigned to handle Bill Moore.(9) The identity of Falcon remained a mystery for some years, until Greg Bishop publicly revealed the name of Harry Rositzke, a retired CIA officer. Moore admitted Falcon’s name to Bishop around the year 2000. (10)
We are told that Rositzke was brought out of retirement, seemingly to assist with the counterintelligence program. Rosizke was a specialist in Soviet affairs and had a history of running agents. (11)
Moore’s knowledge of the Russian language and his UFO contacts in the Soviet Union must have been useful to elements within the intelligence sphere. He reportedly was given written communications from Russians that he read into the telephone with a presumed U.S. agency at the other end of the line. (12) In an internet interview, Richard Doty stated that Moore assisted in the U.S. successfully bringing a Soviet scientist to the west. (13)
The decade of the 1980s was associated with the development of stealth technology. The stealth aircraft F-117a and the B-2 bomber were both built under secrecy, the F-117a Nighthawk being a “black” program. Both projects required “need-to-know” compartmentation of information for workers. Although there were leaks during the late 1970s and 1980s, both ventures avoided public disclosure until 1988. The B-2 program was subject to at least two instances of espionage. (14)
Notably, the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), popularly known as “Star Wars” chronologically overlapped stealth projects during the time period of 1983 through1993. “Star Wars” ostensibly comprised weapons systems capable of intercepting and deactivating Russian missiles and satellites. (15)
Ironically, using UFO investigators to track domestic spies wouldn’t seem like the only way to go. Rather, aircraft and satellite spotting hobbyists and associated clubs would be distincly useful. Every bit as passionate as UFO enthusiasts, if not more so, airplane and satellite spotters physically travel to locations where they can view their targets. Such individuals and groups would employ sophisticated technology as well, including radios, scanners, decoders and other hardware. There were certainly a number of airplane spotting individuals and organizations during the 1980’s era, and visual satellite hobbyists have been active since the late 1950s. A cursory search on the Internet today reveals many such organizations. (16)
We can only speculate as to what bait was used to recruit aircraft and satellite spotters to be informants for U.S. Intelligence in the 1980’s.
Nevertheless, the scope of such a counterintelligence project could be quite large considering the military industrial complex with its aerospace companies, computer and electronics manufacturers, scientific and engineering communities, and the related sub-contractors. When viewed this way, the UFO groups would seem to be a small part of the whole scheme.
The Aquarius Teletype was the first document that mentioned MJ-12 and was destined to come into the possession of Paul Bennewitz, a government contractor who lived right outside the confines of Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A physicist who supplied humidity controls for Navy submarines, Bennewitz was a hard core UFO believer who had been photographing and filming aerial activity at Kirtland as well as monitoring radio and electronic signals from the base. As a result of government agencies becoming aware of his activities, Bennewitz was subjected to surveillance and manipulation in order to redirect his attention from classified programs at Kirtland. Moore provided the paper to Bennewitz in person, with the caveat that it had been altered.
According to Richard Doty the Bennewitz investigation involved not only the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, but also the National Security Agency and possibly others. Doty has stated that a Bennewitz employee had been spotted at the Soviet embassy in Mexico City. (17)
Shrewd and discerning decision makers within intelligence networks probably were aware of what UFO investigators wanted to believe: that the U.S. government was in possession of recovered UFOs and alien bodies. We should note that, when an opportunity presents itself, intelligence agencies commonly stuff an information channel with captivating but largely worthless information. In the case of UFO groups and individual believers, such an approach likely served the double purpose of directing UFO investigators away from conventional classified programs, while at the same time providing leads on Soviet spying.
From our perspective, speculation in the domain of counterintelligence is unavoidable. But we can surmise certain techniques that may have been employed.
One method is to create an intriguing document and plant it with a specific group. It’s origin is noted as it turns up at another location, and a pattern of information flow becomes evident.
For whatever reasons, the intelligence community wanted to know what was going on with the UFO groups during the 1980s. Perhaps they needed to be aware of particular sightings or incidents. Or they may have wanted to know what chatter was taking place. This may be a reason that Richard Doty stated that U.S. intelligence employees were tasked with developing “up to four contacts” in the UFO community. (18) The motivations behind such surveillance remain obscure up to the present time.
Gaining contacts at conferences was standard procedure for Soviet operatives. KGB and GRU personnel routinely attempted to make approaches at numerous international meetings. (19) From time to time, UFO organizations such as MUFON would invite Russian UFO researchers to speak at symposiums. Maybe attendees from American military and civilian intelligence branches needed to know if any Russians were present, or if conference attendees mentioned Russian UFO activity?
Linda Howe was a freelance investigative reporter specializing in animal mutilations. She suspected that such incidents were UFO related. Howe was shown the “Carter Briefing Notes” which were identical or close to that provided to William Moore. In Moore’s case, he was induced to jump through hoops under cloak and dagger circumstances where he viewed and photographed them in a hotel room. Howe saw the document at Kirtland Air Force Base under the auspices of Richard Doty. The “Carter Briefing Notes” listed a number of alleged top secret UFO projects with their code names. The information contained in that paper later became the source of widespread rumors throughout the UFO community.
The “Eisenhower Briefing Memorandum” and the “Truman Memorandum” were received by Moore’s research associate Jaime Shandera in December 1984 on a roll of 35 millimeter camera film. Moore, along with Stanton Friedman and Jaime Shandera undertook an extensive investigation in order to determine its authenticity. Moore had not made the documents public by the spring of 1987, when he was alerted that UFO author Timothy Good was about to release them in his forthcoming book Above Top Secret: The Worldwide UFO Cover Up. Good claimed that he had come into possession of the papers from an intelligence source. This indicates that Falcon’s agreement to provide inside information to Moore was disingenuous, since Moore’s access to such exciting information was not exclusive.
The “Cutler Twining Memorandum” was retrieved from the National Archives by Moore and Shandera during the summer of 1987. It was a written instruction to General Nathan Twining concerning an “MJ-12 SSP” (Special Studies Project) meeting at the White House. Consisting of a single typewritten page, Moore and Shandera were able to find it as a result of several cryptic hints received on postcards over a period of months.
Of all the papers mentioned above, the Eisenhower Briefing Memorandum is the most famous. It created a flash of media attention in 1987 and a huge sensation in the UFO community.. The UFO world has not been quite the same since.
We are obliged to note that the documents mentioned here are questioned, in that they contain inconsistencies, errors and outright fabrications. With the exception of the Aquarius Teletype and the Carter Briefing Notes, their provenance is unknown, and no one has ever admitted to creating them.
In addition to the appearance of the MJ-12 documents themselves, a spate of rumors afflicted the UFO world. Paul Bennewitz not only surveilled Kirtland, but also composed his own take on the UFO situation. Known as “Project Beta”, Bennewitz’ views influenced conspiracy minded and gullible UFO enthusiasts. Two persons that became actively involved in spreading these rumors were John Lear and William Cooper. By the end of the 1980s, the UFO community was rife with stories of underground bases, inhumane alien experiments and even an alien invasion. If it was the aim of U.S. intelligence to influence the UFO public in its manipulation of Paul Bennewitz, it succeeded beyond expectations.
Because of the controversial nature of the MJ-12 papers and their suspicious origins, conservative UFO researchers quickly argued they were a hoax. Under scrutiny, a number of objections were raised about the Eisenhower Briefing Memorandum, the Truman Forrestal Memorandum and the Cutler Twining Memorandum. The group of items comprising Mj-12 related papers throughout this time period are enclosed in Moore’s The MJ-12 Documents, An Analytical Report. (20)
The conventional wisdom among MJ-12 believers is that the government is engaging in a long-term program to acclimate the public to the UFO reality. Intelligence outfits have a long history of forging documents, and creating documentation such as MJ-12 would be a simple matter. (21)
Although Moore was at first inclined to consider the existence of an MJ-12 committee, he complained of the time, trouble and expense that he had undergone in order to check on the veracity of the information. He eventually came to the realization that little of it was useful and that he had been played. (22) This points to some kind of intelligence agency manipulation – not only of himself, but of other active participants in the drama and of the larger UFO public.
The period of the 1980’s were just the beginning of a pattern of questioned documents and claims appearing through 2017. Although a discussion of these items is beyond the scope of this paper, we are left with the question: If the original MJ-12 set were related to counterintelligence efforts, are the same techniques being used up to the present day?
We are reminded of the games intelligence agencies play in the following reference:
“For example, the published stories about our Star Wars programme were replete with misinformation and forced the Russians to expose their sleeper agents inside the American government by ordering them to make a desperate attempt to find out what the US was doing. But we could not risk exposure of the administration’s role and take the chance of another McCarthy period. So there were no prosecutions. We dried up and eliminated their access and left the spies withering on the vine … Nobody on the Joint Chiefs of Staff ever believed we were going to build Star Wars, but if we could convince the Russians that we could survive a first strike, we win the game.” (23)
UFO researchers like to think that they are being watched. Although they may have grounds to suspect such, the reasons may be completely different from what they want to believe.
(An audio version of this paper is available at youtu.be/UGViujWgX0I )
- Greg Bishop, Project Beta: The Story of Paul Bennewitz, National Security, and the Creation of a Modern UFO Myth (New York: Simon and Schuster Inc., 2005)
- “Birds of a Feather, The Other Side of Truth With Paul Kimball – Ep. 1.6: Greg Bishop”. YouTube, uploaded by Paul Kimball, 4 June 2013, https://youtu.be/5IMW3KUp_EA
- Gerald K. Haines, “CIA’s Role In The Study of UFOs, 1947-1990”, Central Intelligence Agency, CIA, 4 Apr. 2007, (Last update: 27 Jun. 2008), Accessed 9 Sept. 2020 https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/97unclass/ufo.html
- John Barron, KGB Today: The Hidden Hand (New York, Readers Digest Press. 1983), pp. 204-219
- Kimball, Op. Cit.
- Bishop, Op. Cit., p.110
- William L. Moore, “UFOs & The U.S. Government: Part I”, MUFON UFO Journal, November 1989; William L. Moore, “UFOs & the U.S. Government: Part II”, MUFON UFO Journal, December 1989; William L. Moore, “UFOs And The Government: Part 3”, FOCUS Newsletter, 1989; William L. Moore, “UFOs And The Government: Part 4”, FOCUS Newsletter, 1990.
- Barron, Op. Cit. p.99,109,111
- Bishop, Op. Cit. p.64
- Kimball Op. Cit.
- Harry Rositzke, The CIA’s Secret Operations – Espionage, Counterespionage, and Covert Action (New York: Reader’s Digest Press, 1977)
- Bishop, Op. Cit. p. 70
- Cameron Brauer, Host, “Richard Doty 2.0 – Doty is back and nothing is off limits.” My Alien Life, 20 Nov. 2019 https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/cameron-brauer/my-alien-life/e/65425868 ; www.myalienlifepodcast.com
- “Northrup Grumman B-2 Spirit.”, Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 15 Aug. 2020; Accessed 9 Sept. 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northrop_Grumman_B-2_Spirit; “Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk.”, Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 05 Sept.; Accessed 9 Sept. 2020 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_F-117_Nighthawk
- “Strategic Defense Initiative.”, Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Aug. 2020; Accessed 9 Sept. 2020, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strategic_Defense_Initiative
- “Aircraft Spotting.”,Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 14 Aug. 2020; Accessed 9 Sept. 2020 https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aircraft_spotting
- Cameron Brauer, Host, “Richard Doty Special Agent And Air Force Counterintelligence Officer Part 2.” My Alien Life, 19 Jul. 2019 https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/cameron-brauer/my-alien-life/e/62689853
- Jimmy Church, Host, “Breaking: Richard Doty Surprise Call to Fade to Black”. YouTube, uploaded by Fade to Black Radio, 2 Feb. 2018, https://youtu.be/7cj_hhQ63lo
- Barron, Op. Cit., p. 220
- William Moore, The MJ-12 Documents An Analytical Report (Burbank, CA: The Fair Witness Project, 1990)
- Barron, Op. Cit. pp. 256-260
- Kimball, Op. Cit.
- Wikipedia, Op. Cit. “Strategic Defense Initiative”, Reference 87; Hersh, Seymour M. (January 24, 2019). “The Vice President’s Men”. London Review of Books. LRB Limited. Retrieved January 18, 2019
- The “Cutler Twining Memo” was discovered by William Moore and Jaime Shandera at the National Archives in July 1985, not 1987.
© Thomas M. Whitmore; All Rights Reserved
Last updated 10/28/2020