The Great Soviet UFO Coverup
- The Great Soviet UFO Coverup
By James E. Oberg
(First published in the MUFON UFO Journal, OCTOBER 1982
Copyright @1982, James E. Oberg, all rights reserved)
Web Version Published with the Author's Permission
FROM THE EDITOR (RICHARD HALL) Jim Oberg's article on false UFOs in the
Soviet Union is an important contribution to IFO lore, and contains a number
of lessons for UFOlogists. I would go even further and suggest that any
phenomena displaying the following features should be viewed with suspicion:
slow or majestic" traversing of the sky oberved from a wide geographical
area, smoke trails or streamers, fiery appearance and abrupt disappearance
after 10-15 seconds, and "cloud" masses or rings spreading out in angular
size. In all probability, these are caused by rocket/missile launchings,
satellite re-entries, fireball meteors (larger and longer lasting than
briefly visible "shooting stars"), or atmospheric tests involving release of
chemical vapors. It is vitally important to screen out such IFOs and not
clutter up the "data base" with them.
Russia has its UFOs, too - but with a difference. It has government
coverups, too, and that is a central part of the difference. Cossacks in the
Ukrainian countryside and sophisticated Muscovites on big city streets have
stared in awe at UFO formations passing overhead. Russian astronomers at
mountaintop observatories have gazed in wonder at half-mile-wide crescent
UFOs which silently glide across the sky. Flying along the Volga River, a
commercial airliner was buzzed and circled by a UFO; the plane's engines
stalled and it glided downwards, until the UFO departed and the engines
restarted. Thousands of people in western port cities have run in panic as a
"jellyfish UFO" swept over the docks, sending down shafts of light which
broke windows and paving stones. Over the Arctic Ocean, the crew of an
llyushin airliner watched a blindingly bright UFO emit beams of light and
drop cone-shaped projectiles.
Similar UFO reports have come in from around the globe. The difference
between these UFOs and ones seen in other countries is that in these cases
the Soviet government secretly knows exactly what happened. Moscow knows
where the UFOs came from, who launched them, how they were propelled, and
why they were traveling through Soviet skies. It knows all this -- and
refuses to publicly admit it. It is probably the greatest UFO coverup in
UFOlogy in the Soviet Union has had its ups and downs, and it has been an
enigmatic source of puzzlement to Western observers. Fifteen years ago, in
1967, a major "UFO flap" coincided with semi-official interest in a public
investigation of the phenomenon. This came to an abrupt end early in 1968.
Since then, a handful of unofficial Soviet UFO researchers has continued
private investigations, without any apparent government sanction or
discouragement. A series of spectacular new UFO sightings in the northern
regions of European Russia in the 1977-1981 period seems to have set off a
renewed low-level official interest, but the government-controlled news
media continues to denounce the UFO phenomenon as nonsense.
Against this background, the publication in 1979 of an official report from
the USSR Academy of Sciences takes on remarkable significance, since it
plainly states that the officially-denounced UFOs are "real" in a
mathematically provable sense. This is exactly counter to the official
government line. Observers wondered why its publication was allowed at all.
Translated, the title of the report was "Observations of Anomalous
Atmospheric Phenomena in the USSR: A Statistical Analysis." The main author
was Dr. Lev Gindilis of the Shternberg State Astronomical Institute in
Moscow. Data processing and bookkeeping was performed by I.G. Petrovskaya
and most of the actual text was written by D.A. Menkov. Significantly, the
report was approved for official publication by Academician Nikolay
Kardashev, one of the USSR's top experts in SETI, the Search for
Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. For convenience the Soviet document can be
referred to as the "Gindilis Repbrt."
Copies of the report filtered out of the USSR along various routes (there is
no evidence that the report was ever mentioned in the popular Soviet press).
One copy, received by the French government's UFO research group, GEPAN, was
subsequently forwarded to the private Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) in
Evanston, Illinois, where Dr. J. Allen Hynek passed another cppy on to NASA
scientist Dr. Richard Haines at the Ames Research Center in California.
Haines then had it translated on a government grant, and the translated
version was then reproduced and offered for sale by CUFOS early in 1980.
Due to international copyright law, NASA later printed a warning on the
front of its file copies of the translation: "This copy is for internal use
of NASA personnel and any reference to this paper must be to the original
foreign source." Access to file copies was restricted to NASA and contractor
personnel. The first draft which Haines received did not carry this warning,
and CUFOS made no attempts to certify copyright before publishing, thus
opening themselves to the possibility of a lawsuit from the Soviet
government. But such legal action is extremely unlikely, for reasons which
will become clear shortly.
Whatever the legal status of the document, its scientific status was
allegedly very significant. Haines and Hynek, together with numerous other
leading Western UFOlogists publicly claimed that the Soviet report was the
long-sought key evidence for the proof of the reality of UFOs. It allegedly
proved that the Soviet government, no matter what public posture it took,
was really serious about genuine UFO research privately. Secondly, the
statistical analysis supposedly was yet another demonstration that the "UFO
residue" of unexplainable cases was demonstrably distinct from the majority
of explainable cases (Identifiable Flying Objects, or "IFOs") within which
the kernel of useful "true UFOs" is hopefully buried.
But the truth is that the Gindilis Report is a ruse, possibly another Soviet
attempt to divert attention from the truth about Soviet UFOs. Someday the
Gindilis Report may be ranked with the Piltdown Man, the Cyril Burt
forgeries, the Vinland Map, and the Cardiff Giant as among the greatest
scientific deceptions ever staged. Meanwhile, its publication (and wide
acceptance) in the West serves the purpose for which it was written, so the
publishers who pirated it are hardly likely to be punished.
The key to unlocking the truth behind the Gindilis Report was found in
descriptions of three spectacular multiple witness reports from the 1967
"wave." These occurred on the evenings of July 17, September 19, and October
18. All occurred in the Ukraine/Black Sea /Volga Valley /Caucasus region of
the southwestern USSR. Curiously, the bulk of eyewitness reports showed
similar patterns: a "crescent-shaped" object proceeding on a generally west
to east path.
To skeptical investigators such as myself, one obvious solution hypothesis
was some sort of repeated technological experiment, perhaps a new-model
aircraft test or a unique type of frequently-repeated space mission. I made
a quick check of space vehicle launch records and discovered a highly
suggestive pattern. On each of the days of a mass sighting, a special type
of Soviet spacecraft test had occurred. The vehicle was called the FOBS, or
"Fractional Orbit Bombardment System" (that was the name given the program
by the Pentagon, while Moscow insisted falsely that all of the flights were
merely "scientific satellites" flown under the "Cosmos" satellite program).
Moreover, according to Western space experts, the FOBS flights involved a
single loop around Earth and a flaming plunge back into the atmosphere - and
the times and flight paths of the fiery re-entries coincided nicely with the
reported times of the three mass sightings of UFOs described in the Gindilis
For example, the September 19th event included sightings from Svatovsk (7:20
p.m.) Zimnik (7:20 p.m.), Volzhskiy (7:30 p.m.), Novooskolsk 7:40 p.m.),
Severodonetsk (about 7 p.m.), Donetsk (8:20 p.m.), Zhdanov (8:20 p.m.),
Mariinskiy (about 8 p.m.), and Roy (8 p.m.). Meanwhile, the Cosmos-178
spacecraft had blasted off from Tyuratam in Kazakhstan shortly before 6
p.m., circled the planet, and was flaming its way across the southern Soviet
skies at 7:30.
Further correlations appeared. For the May-to-October 1967 period, there
were eight FOBS flights, and seven of them appeared in the table of 1967
UFOs in the Gindilis Report. In the report, there are 56 multiple witness
cases in that time period and 44 of them correlate to the dates of FOBS
The exact FOBS missions and the approximate times of their overflights are:
Cosmos- 160, May 17 at 8:45 p.m.; Cosmos-169, July 17 at 9:30 p.m.;
Cosmos-170, July 31 at 9:30 p.m.; Cosmos-171, August 8 at 8:45 p.m.;
Cosmos-178, September 19 at 7:30 p.m.; Cosmos- 179, September 22 at 6:50
p.m. (no reports - it may have been overcast); Cosmos-183, October 18 at
6:10 p.m.; Cosmos-187, October 28 at 5:50 p.m.
This FOBS system, by the way, had in fact been publicly flaunted late in
1965 at the annual October Revolution parade (on November 7). A TASS news
agency announcer had boasted that "the column of rocket troops ended with
orbital [sic!] rockets with atomic warheads, which are capable of hitting
any aggressor unexpectedly, after making one or more orbits around the
earth." These missiles were code-named the SS-10 "Scrag" by Western military
analysts - and may have been a ruse, since when FOBS test flights began they
were atop SS-9 "Scarp" missiles. The "Scarp" itself was unveiled late in
1967 with the threat that they could "deliver to target nuclear warheads of
tremendous power. Not a single army in the world has such warheads. These
rockets can be used for intercontinental and orbital launchings."
A typical FOBS flight involved launch from the Tyuratam test range east of
the Aral Sea in Soviet Central Asia. The two-stage missile placed a two-ton
payload into a low but stable orbit 100 miles above Earth's surface. An hour
and a half later, near the cnd of its first pass around the globe, the
payload turned tail forward and fired a powerful braking engine which
deflected it out of orbit and toward the ground. In the 6 minutes before
impact onto a target zone east of the Volga River, the gradually descending
warhead crossed over Athens, Istanbul, and the northeast coast of the Black
Sea - where thousands of unsuspecting citizens were suddenly treated to a
spectacular light show in the evening sky.
Qne graphic description of such an apparition appeared in an article in
"Soviet Life" magazine in February 1968. What was really happening was that
Cosmos-171, allegedly a "scientific satellite" but actually a test
thermonuclear warhead space-to- ground delivery system, was diving into the
upper atmosphere on its way to a touchdown point east of Kapustin Yar. What
the shock wave looked like to astronomers near Kislovodsk in the Caucasus
Mountains was this:
It was shaped like an asymmetrical crescent, with its convex side turned in
the direction of its movement. Narrow, faintly luminous ribbons resembling
the condensation trail of a jet plane followed behind the horns of the
crescent. Its diameter was two-thirds that of the moon, and it was not as
bright. It was yellow with a reddish tinge. The object was flying
horizontally in the northern part of the sky, from west to east, at about 20
degrees above the horizon. A bright star of the first magnitude was moving
at a constant distance ahead of the crescent. As it moved away from the
observers, the crescent dwindled, turned into a small disk, and then
According to Zigel's account, "The mysterious object was seen by ten of the
station's scientific workers; it was also observed in Kislovodsk." Zigel's
article was about "True UFOs" and this case was featured as one of his best
unsolved apparitions on record; it was later isted in the Gindilis Report,
These cases appeared in Western UFO books of that period, too. The Caucasus
apparitions, for example, were described as flying saucers hundreds of yards
in diameter. The Soviet "giant spaceships" even rated a chapter named after
them in Donald Keyhoe's 1973 book Aliens From Space. The usually highly
regarded Keyhoe painted a scene at the Kazan Observatory (on the lower Volga
River) at twilight on July 18, 1967:
Suddenly a huge flying object appeared, moving swiftly across the sky. As it
passed the observatory its orange glow made it easily visible in the dusk.
It was an amazing sight - an enormous crescent-shaped craft at least eight
times larger than any known airplane. The horns of the crescent were pointed
backward, emitting jetlike exhausts... Confirmation of the giant spaceship's
existence soon came from other astronomers. The diameter of the flying
crescents were [sic!] between 500 and 600 meters (between 1640 and 1840
feet...) Several times, Soviet astronomers had reported that the huge
spaceships were preceded or flanked by smaller UFOs which kept precise
formations, matching the crescents' terrific speeds.
Keyhoe was, as it turned out, giving a severely garbled account of the
Cosmos-169 reentry, suitably embellished from his own imagination to force
the observations to conform to his own biases about "giant spaceships" and
"intelligent piloting." The embellishment may well have been subconscious
and sincere on Keyhoe's part, but the result was a clear falsification of
the actual eyewitness testimony - a demonstrably common occurrence in
popular UFO books, when published accounts can as in this case be compared
to documented prosaic stimuli.
Read Keyhoe's passage again for the subtle insertion of counterfeit clues
about how he wants the "raw evidence" to be (mis)interpreted: a "craft" with
horns "emitting exhaust," with smaller UFOs in "precise formation" (of
course, actually these were randomly scattered pieces of burning debris!).
Keyhoe (and all other Western UFOlogists) had had all the clues they needed
to solve this case, but those who used the cases in their publications chose
not merely to overlook the clues but also to distort them sufficiently to
make them almost useless to anyone else.
The Gindilis Report contained three tables listing various descriptions of
some other spectacular flaming FOBS re-entries. Although most of the
witnesses listed the motions correctly (while incorrectly giving the time,
often by more than an hour), a few imaginatively described the false "UFO''
as ~hovoring" or "curving~. One air crew, on the Voroshilovgrad-to-Volgagrad
flight number 104, insisted that the UFO had hovered and then maneuvered
around their plane (air crews are often touted as "trained observers" but in
fact they can be, as in this case, often among the least accurate observers
of UFOs; to my recollection, Dr. J. Allen Hynek has reported this finding
and this conforms to my own investigative experience.)
A more sensational aspect of this sighting was omitted by Gindilis but did
appear in the original sources: the plane's engines allegedly died and did
not start up again until after the UFO had disappeared, when the aircraft
was only half a mile high. But it was only Cosmos-178 coming home.
The significance of this FOBS/UFO correlation became clear. More than 80% of
the FOBS flights caused mass UFO sightings; almost 80% of the UFO sightings
of the period of interest in 1967 were evidently caused by FOBS space
missions; a full three quarters of the total number of UFO reports analyzed
by the Gindilis Report were from 1967! So the official Soviet statistical
study's results are hopelessly polluted by non-UFO data (i.e, the FOBS
sightings) and hence are totally worthless as information about "true UFOs"
and their reputed "stable statistical properties" - which the authors and
the Western reviewers boasted about. Computer experts have a saying:
"Garbage In, Garbage Out." The Gindilis Report by this definition is
garbage, and a lot of UFOlogists eagerly swallowed that garbage. It should
leave a bitter taste in their mouths!
Now, what might have been the real motivations of the authors of the report,
and of Gindilis in particular? Did they naively think that they were working
with genuine UFO raw data, or did they know that their data base was
hopelessly compromised but that it was better for military secrecy that
people still thought of the FOBS entries (which the Soviet government denies
ever took place) as "flying saucers"? It is easy to see that official Soviet
censors would have initially welcomed the public misidentification of the
FOBS entries. After all, officially, space systems such as the FOBS were
illegal and hence the USSR would never test them. In fact, since the FOBS
system was readily recognized in the West as an orbital H-bomb carrier best
suited for nuclear sneak attack, the less the world knew about it, the
better for Moscow's public peace posturing -- especially following the
writing of a 1967 treaty outlawing the placement of H-bombs in orbit (which
is exactly what the FOBS was designed to do). Despite the fact that Moscow
sanctimoniously signed the treaty later that year, it continued to test FOBS
vehicles (now outlawed by international law) long afterwards.
But these flaming UFO sightings in 1967 had ignited tremendous public
interest in the Soviet Union. Up until that point, the Soviet population had
been relatively insulated from the flying saucer phenomenon, which for 20
years had been exciting enthusiasts in the United States, France, South
America, Japan, and to a lesser extent elsewhere in the world. Officially,
Soviet commentators had denounced the topic as a product of capitalistic war
hysteria and money-grubbing yellow journalism. By late 1967, however, the
hundreds of thousands of new witnesses eager to make up for lost time,
official Soviet policy had changed --briefly.
In Moscow, a group of UFO enthusiasts organized a private study committee.
The chief mover evidently was Feliks Zigel, an astronomy professor at the
Moscow Aviation Institute. A retired general, Porfiny Stolyarov, was chosen
chairman, and it is by that name ("the Stolyarov Committee") that the group
is known. After a series of very successful public meetings, the group was
invited to appear on Moscow National Television on November 10. There, they
invited watchers nationwide to send in reports of UFO sightings for
scientific analysis. It is primarily from that body of reports that 10 years
later the Gindilis team selected 256 most typical for analysis.
So by late 1967 the Soviet government was faced with the uncomfortable
prospect of its citizens scanning the skies and reporting all strange lights
they saw -- and all with official approval. Yet many of these lights were
being caused by activities Moscow did not want to acknowledge. What started
out as an ill-considered but apparently harmless pandering to public
curiosity now must have seemed to be getting out of control.
It wasn't just the FOBS spaceshots that needed coverups. The top secret new
military satellite center at Plesetsk north of Moscow had opened the year
before for polar-orbit spy satellites. Sooner or later, one was bound to be
launched in twilight when its sunlit rocket exhaust plumes would standout
like a torch in the sky. With the sanctioned UFO mania sweeping the USSR,
such reports were bound to be published widely, betraying strong hints about
the hitherto concealed existence of the military space center.
And that is exactly what happened on December 3, three weeks after the
televised UFO appeal. The Cosmos-194 Vostok-class spy satellite blasted off
from Plesetsk at 3 p.m. local time, shortly before sunset. As it rocketed
northeastwards along the Arctic coastline, its contrails were visible to
eyewitnesses in the wintry night below. It became (and to this day remains)
another great Russian UFO; it is known as the "Kamennyy UFO" since it was
spotted from an aircraft on route from "Mys Kamennyy" (Cape Stoney) in the
New Siberian Islands to Moscow.
A graphic account of the "UFO" was given by American UFOlogist William L.
Moore (author of The Roswell Incident) in his study, "Red Skies: A History
of UFOs in Russia" (UFO Report, June 1980), based on casebooks compiled by
Zigel. Wrote Moore:
Among the most interesting 1967 casesl is a curious multiple sighting on
December 3, of an unknown object near Cape Kamennyy in the Soviet Arctic. At
3:04p.m. several crewmen and passengers of an IL-18 aircraft on a test
flight for the State Scientific Institute of Civil Aviation sighted an
intensely bright object approaching them in the night sky at an altitude of
2,800 feet (in this far northern latitude, night comes in midafternoon in
At first those aboard the IL-18 thought this object was an aircraft with
landing lights on, but as the flight commander maneuvered and the object
followed, it soon became apparent that it was not an aircraft. As the object
approached above and to the left of the IL-18, the powerful beams of light
emanating from the object illuminated the entire horizon. In addition,
several cones of light seemed to descend from the object to the ground.
"When it practically came up to us, it was quickly extinguished in 3 seconds
and these bright cones continued to shine independently for several more
seconds and then were extinguished slowly".
All during this observation and for another 10 minutes until the object
disappeared into the distance, radio contact was maintained with the
dispatcher services for both Cape Kamennyy and Vorkuta, both of which could
also see the mysterious object but were unable to identify it.
Many typical symptoms of airborne UFO testimony can be identified in this
account. The air crew incorrectly thought the "UFO" was following their
maneuvers and approaching very close (Cosmos-194 was doing neither). The
"beams of light" were characteristic of such Plesetsk launchings and would
be seen again and again by witnesses of similiar launchings in the future.
The descending cones of light were almost certainly the four jettisoned
first stage strap-on boosters trailing smoke; the sudden fade-out of the
main light may have been the cutoff of its engines, or more likely when it
flew into Earth's shadow a hundred miles up.
(The location of the aircraft during the UFO encounter can be estimated by
the fact that it was about 4 hours out of Moscow on its flight back from Mys
Kamennyy. The IL-18 has a cruising speed of about 380 m.p.h. and assuming it
was on a great circle route that would put it not far from Vorkuta and a bit
north of the Cosmos-194 launch trajectory.)
Ironically, Moore boasted that "Zigel's reports tend to be limited to those
UFO cases that have managed to withstand the most rigorous scientific
investigation" -- but a simple comparison of the time and flight path of the
"Kamennyy UFO" with the launch time and trajectory of Cosmos-194 (data was
published a few months later in numerous international space magazines) was
never done,, neither by Zigel nor by Moore, nor even by the Gindilis team,
which listed the "Kamennyy UFO" as one of the most spectacular multiple
witness "true UFOs" of the year.
For Soviet security organs, the Kamennyy UFO reports (which were widely
published soon afterwards) were highly undesirable. First their secret FOBS
tests and now their secret Plesetsk spaceport were being compromised by the
naive UFO enthusiasm sweeping the country.
The last straw must have been in February 1968 when Zigel published his UFO
article containing a precise technical description (albeit unrecognized as
such) of the officially nonexistent FOBS warhead re-entry masquerading as a
flying saucer. Censors may have realized that such details could easily
serve to draw unwanted attention to the FOBS flights.
So a few weeks later a new Soviet UFO policy was abruptly unveiled: no more
published reports of UFOs (FOBS or Plesetsk or otherwise) since it was all
"nonsense." But in fact, just the opposite must have been the anxiety
gnawing at Soviet news censors: too much sensible UFO discussions might
really expose the FOBS explanations or the Plesetsk activity. The Stolyarov
Committee was disbanded and Zigel was told to drop the topic of UFOs. So the
lid was clamped down and the FOBS/UFO connection went unrecognized in the
public literature for 15 years.
It would be strange if nobody at all in the West noticed the connection
between the Soviet FOBS spacecraft tests and UFOs. In fact, many classified
intelligence analysts (with the CIA, DIA, or NSA) probably did make the
connection, and thus were able to extract valuable technical intelligence
data about FOBS weapon performance from "UFO reports" published so
innocently by Zigel and other Soviet flying saucer buffs of the brief
1967-68 UFO wave. Such top secret analyses were even more useful insofar as
Soviet military counterintelligence agencies were unaware of them -- the old
spy's trick of "We know, but they don't know we know, and we know that they
don't know we know...." (And if the Soviets found out, they would cut off
any further flo",,s of similarly useful information.)
This plausible scenario provides one reasonable explanation of why the U.S.
government really should~ be interested in UFO reports, precisely because
they are not "true UFOs" but instead are something else of much greater
interest to the agencies in question. Furthermore, the results of these "UFO
studies" would necessarily have to remain highly classified. Thus, no "true
UFOs" need to be involved to explain government secrecy about some UFO
reports it has been interested in.
That interpretation is supported by a remarkable NSA document obtained by
UFO researchers via the Freedom of Information Act. Written in 1968, the
anonymous document discusses various angles of the UFO problem and possible
hypotheses to explain it. "Many responsible military officers have developed
a mental 'blind spot' to objects which appear to have the characteristics of
UFOs," the paper perceptively warned (such a 'blind spot' is precisely the
thing which the Soviets hoped to exploit by painting their space tests as
UFOs). One of five explanations for UFOs was that "Some UFOs are secret
Earth projects," and in that case, "Undoubtedly, all UFOs should be
carefully scrutinized to ferret out such enemy projects."
Analysts who followed this valuable advice may well have been able to
"ferret out" the secrets behind the 1967 Soviet UFO wave, but if they did,
no such records have yet been declassified. (Meanwhile, this particular NSA
document has been identified as a totally unofficial study paper written
unsolicited, by an NSA employee with a private interest in UFOs - and hence
it evidently had absolutely no influence on NSA policy towards the UFO
Did Gindilis know the truth behind the bulk of his raw UFO data from Zigel
(data which, by the way, have been shown to be quite accurate due to their
high correlation with confirmable visual stimuli such as the FOBS entries)?
That question remains unanswered but there are several arguments for both
points of view, innocence or deception.
In December 1981 a group of American astronomers went to Tallinn, Estonia,
in the Soviet Union, fora major conference on SETI (despite the lack of
official U.S. government sponsorship). There, the Americans were surprised
and dismayed to see how popular the UFO topic was among major Soviet
scientific workers. "The Tallinn conference was plagued with them," noted
one attendee privately. "It was interesting," he went on (off the record),
"that the senior Soviet scientists seemed to accept this as a normal
occurrence at such a meeting. In fact, some of the papers from serious
scientists referred to UFOs in quite an accepting way.. .There is no
official attempt to suppress reports of UFOs."
Referring to the infamous "Petrozavodsk Jellyfish UFO" of September 20, 1977
(shown conclusively by my research to have been caused by a pre -dawn
launching of the space spy satellite Cosmos-955 from the secret Plesetsk
space center), the American continued: "Several of the UFO fans approached
us to discuss this event. It is clearly known widely and is clearly in the
minds of Soviet UFO buffs the 'smoking gun' which proves the reality of
This must be entirely to the liking of Moscow's military security
specialists and news censors, who wish to hide the very existence of the
Plesetsk rocket center -- and the popular notion that the apparition was a
"flying saucer" obviously takes the heat off the true explanation, that it
was a secret military space launch (which Moscow claims it never carries
(This Petrozavodsk UFO of 1977, a decade after the FOBS blitz, marked a new
phase in Soviet UFO consciousness. Ten years after the isolated first
sighting of a Plesetsk launching, it was the start of a series of twilight
satellite launchings from Plesetsk which were widely observed in Moscow and
surrounding densely-populated regions of central Russia -- and were
misperceived as giant flying saucers. Other similar events occurred on June
14, 1980 and May 15, 1981. But it was the popular and widely publicized
Petrozavodsk case alone which probably instigated both the Gindilis Report
and a wider Soviet public awareness which prepared the way for subsequent
"UFO attacks" set off merely by sunlit rocket contrails in the sky.)
As to Gindilis, those who know him classify him as "obviously a very slick
operator" with important political functions. He is reportedly a very astute
and shrewd careerist scientific bureaucrat, these same Western observers
On the other hand, the treatment of the 1967 UFO cases in the Gindilis
Report (in sections written by Menkov) has all the appearance of genuine
bafflement over their unique characteristics -- and a deliberate coverup
might be expected to gloss over these unique features, not highlight them.
For example, Menkov wrote that "In 1967, there was increased activity" in
the Northern Caucasus Donbass, and the Rostov region" -- and those areas are
right along the ground track of returning FOBS warheads. "The 1967
distribution is clearly asymmetrical," he continued. "Movement in an
easterly direction is prevalent." Additionally, "A considerable fraction of
the usually extremely rare crescent-like objects should be noted; this is
associated with the peculiarities of 1967, which makes the main contribution
to the sample under consideration," noted Menkov.
"Crescent-shaped objects ..usually move quite rapidly through the sky,"
Menkov continued. "They frequently are accompanied by one or more starlike
objects (JEO: burning fragments of the retro-rocket package). ..In the
summer of 1967, they were observed quite frequently over the southern parts
of European USSR....(and) these objects represent an appreciable fraction of
the study sample." But with all these obvious (in hindsight) clues staring
them in the face, neither the Gindilis team nor any Western UFO experts
followed up on them.
It should be obvious by now that this "crescent" UFO apparition is a tipoff
that such "UFOs" are almost certainly the shock waves associated with Soviet
space vehicles, ones which the government does not want its citizens or the
world to recognize.
Menkov also tried to explain why there were so many cases in the data base
from 1967 alone. "The sharp increase in number evidently is associated with
a Central Television appearance, in which the UFO phenomenon was discussed
and reporting observations of similar phenomena was suggested. Similarly, a
sharp drop in the number of reports after 1968 evidently is associated with
critical statements in the central press (Pravda, 29 February 1968), in
which the UFO problem was classified as unscientific."
Actually, of course, the 1967 wave began and ended with the FOBS flurry.
After eight launches that spring, summer, and fall, the program was cut way
back; after October 28, there were no new flights until the following April
(and that was a rare pre-dawn test), then an evening flight in Qctober, then
one a year later in September 1969, and finally two more in 1970.
One may speculate that the dusk/dawn re-entry times for the FOBS test were
designed to allow optical tracking of the warhead descent trajectories.
Probably no consideration was given to the consequence that hundreds of
thousands of people would also see the fireballs, and that the tests would
give birth to the greatest UFO flap in Russian history - a UFO flap which
would still be resounding 15 years later with the official blessing of the
Soviet Academy of Sciences.
Admittedly, the notion that the Soviet government is deliberately
manipulating public UFO enthusiasm in order to cover up certain types of
military space activity is a bizarre one. It also may credit Moscow
propagandists with more finesse than they have demonstrated in the past. But
such a tactic is not unprecedented.
A good example of how the official Soviet press blatantly exploits the
popular appeal of pseudo-scientific topics is the case of the "ancient
astronauts." This is the theory, once popular in the West but subsequently
discredited, that visitors from other planets formerly meddled in the
development of ancient civilizations on Earth and taught early societies
many of the secrets of agriculture, medicine, astronomy, and technology.
That theory continues to retain respectability and official sanction in the
government-controlled Soviet media, as renowned scientists and authors
speculate on the significance of ancient rock carvings, prehistoric
Janpanese 'spacesuit' statues, Chinese myths, and miscellaneous artifacts.
The utility of this belief in the official anti-religious crusade should be
obvious: the notion that ancient religions were founded on ignorant
misperceptions of extraterrestrial cosmonauts can be (and is) widely used to
discredit church activity today. The fact that most scientists reject such
theories as absurd, distorted, or even fabricated does not hinder their
usefulness to cynical pro-atheism propagandists in the Soviet news industry.
Whatever the manipulation being attempted in Moscow, a separate problem
concerns Western UFO experts left holding the bag of the discredited
Gindilis Report. Might something usable be salvaged from the wreckage of
It may be argued that the Gindilis Report can be "rescued" simply by
eliminating all of the 1967 cases, thus purging the remaining data of the
FOBS contamination. In fact, this tactic was used in the report itself when
the west-to-east directionality so overwhelmed the motion statistics that
the authors did separate studies for "all cases" and "all non-1967 cases"
(which turned out to have a purely random directionality without the FOBS
But this hope is futile. The FOBS contamination is. symptomatic of a worse
flaw which permeates the report: all manner of technological activity.
(aircraft operations, balloons, space missions in general) will successfully
masquerade as UFOs in the USSR. They cannot do so as easily in the U.S.
because information is generally available (as CUFOS investigations have
shown); they cannot avoid doing so in the USSR because required information
is routinely embargoed.
A good example of this problem is a non-FOBS "UFO" seen from a Soviet
astronomical observatory in the Caucasus Mountains (the description is from
Zigel's article in "Soviet Life"): "...a strange formation (was seen)
against a clear starry sky at 2:50 a.m. A white cloud appeared in the
northeast at an elevation of about 20 degrees. Its diameter was twice as
long as that of the moon but its nose was several times less bright. The
cloud itself had a dense milky-white color, with a rosy-red nucleus clearly
discernible near its northern end. The cloud expanded and grew paler. A few
minutes later the white cloud dispersed completely, but the reddish nucleus
This is obviously consistent with a view of a distant missile launching. In
fact, the witness was looking directly toward the Kapustin Yar rocket range;
if the UFO had been right over the range, at the given angular elevation it
would have been about a hundred miles up, an entirely reasonable value for
vertical rocket probes frequently launched from Kapustin Yar.
But here is the rub: Soviet missile launching information is generally never
published, so confirmation of the hypothesis is congenitally impossible. A
simple phone call would have identified the IFO in the US; the lack of such
data in the USSR should not be considered sufficient evidence to prove the
true UFO nature of this and similar accounts.
Another example of the inherent impossibility of adequately investigating
all Soviet UFO reports is the Kamchatka incident of July 25, 1957.
Reportedly, air defense units opened fire with anti.aircraft guns at a fleet
of fast-moving UFOs. This case has been widely published in the West and
even appeared in a book reportedly used at the Air Force Academy.
The summer of 1957 was marked by the first flight tests of Russian SS-6
intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) from the Tyuratam rocket center
east of the Aral Sea. It is known that the flight path was aimed right
toward the Kamchatka peninsula, with planned warhead splashdown in the
Pacific just offshore. A major missile tracking site was built at
Petropavlovsk. Range from Tyuratam was 4,100 miles.
Initial launch attempts are known to have been made in mid-June and there
were some failures. But by August 17, Moscow was able to announce this
successful testing of an ICBM.
A reasonable hypothesis for the Kamchatka UFOs is that they were caused by
the reentry of one of the test warheads and associated booster fragments.
The witnesses were certainly in the right spot to witness such a phenomenon
Yet without official records of such a test occurring on July 25 (assuming
that the date is accurate) a positive identification will never be possible.
Soviet records are presumably inaccessible forever; U.S. records are
probably incomplete and are still mired in security regulations anyway.
Under these circumstances, can the Kamchatka incident really be considered a
"true UFO"? Obviously not. A reasonable approach would be to realize that
the location, general date, and eyewitness descriptions are entirely
consistent with the ICBM explanation. Further, to establish the "true UFO"
nature of the event, a UFO proponent should be required to demonstrate why
it could not have been an ICBM reentry -- clearly an impossible task.
Therefore, UFO skeptics could be entirely justified in assigning a "probable
ICBM reentry" solution to this case even without precise records. It most
definitely cannot be considered a "true UFO" when the burden of proof is
The most ironic part of this [Gindilis/FOBS report] fraud -- and perhaps it
someday will be recognized as the "Piltdown Hoax" of UFOlogy -- is the
eagerness with which Western UFO enthusiasts embraced the official Soviet
conclusion: that UFOs were real and by implication FOBS flights and the
military Plesetsk space center were not real! This is exactly what the Earl
of Clancarty told the British House of Lords during a UFO debate on January
18, 1979: "In July, August, September and October 1967, giant space ships
were seen over various parts of the USSR by astronomers and other
witnesses" --but the spaceships, claimed the longtime UFO enthusiast (better
known as Brinsley LePoer Trench), were not Soviet but extraterrestrial.
Leading UFOlogist Dr. James McDonald, a much more respected and diligent
researcher, also told a congressional symposium in 1968, while describing
one of the 1967 FOBS entries, "Clearly, satellites and meteors can be ruled
Out. The astronomers' observation cannot be readily explained in any
conventional terms" (JEO: it did indeed have a conventional explanation: it
was Cosmos-171, a satellite, reentering the atmosphere like a meteor - but
McDonald may be forgiven since that explanation was not "readily" available
unless someone compared all the FOBS missions to all the Soviet 1967
"crescent UFOs," which nobody, not even the ace aerospace sleuths at
Auiation Week, ever did). The Moscow coverup had gone a long way to achieve
such a blessing in the United States House of Representatives and in
Britain's House of Lords!
In light of these findings about the true nature of the Gindilis report, it
may be instructive to review how the document was originally described by
other leading Western UFOlogists when it was first published in 1980.
The May 1980 CUFOS Associate Newsletter (Volume 1 Number 1) carried an
article by Dr. Hynek entitled "Yes, Virginia, There Are UFOs in Russia."
Therein he inaccurately described the document as a "a study of 256 UFO
reports from which the IFOs (Identified Flying Objects) have been
eliminated" -- which is pure wishful thinking, unsupported even by claims in
the Soviet text. A few months later, Hynek modified his assertion to read,
"The objects in the Soviet data were carefully selected with presumably most
of the IFOs excluded... These had presumably been eliminated before the
study proper began." Hynek's presumption in this regard was totally
In his own introduction to the pirated English-language edition published by
CUFOS, Dr. Richard Haines particularly stressed the importance of the Soviet
study: "It should prove to become a standard reference on the library
shelves of those who seek to identify the core identity of the anomalous
atmospheric phenomena" - but in the two years following its publication,
there is no evidence that even a single Western UFOlogist was ever really
interested in finding the "core identity" (instead, they concentrated on the
more attractive "statistical results").
The UFOs in the Soviet study were nearly all genuine, Haines insisted: there
was a "lack of evidence for the reports being based on hallucinations or
other misperceptions.. .The reports represent currently unknown phenomena,
being completely different in nature in an 'overwhelming majority of cases'
from known atmospheric optics effects or technical experiments in the
atmosphere." As for the proportion of IFOs (such as hallucinations or false
reports), "their percentage is small, so that they have little effect on the
statistical properties of the sample under consideration." But as has been
shown, these "false reports" actually must comprise an absolute majority of
the cases and they thus clearly overwhelm the parameters of any "true UFO"
residue. Haines had absolutely no justification for making the sanguine
assertions which he placed in his foreword.
Hynek in turn again enthusiastically embraced the report at the Smithsonian
UFO Symposium in Washington, D.C., in September 1980, where he stressed the
qualifications and scientific credentials of the witnesses: "Forty two
percent were made by scientific workers and engineers, and an amazing seven
and a half percent were made by astronomers. ...It becomes very much harder,
in fact from my personal viewpoint, impossible, to find a trivial solution
for all UFO reports, which of course is the contention of the skeptics, if
one weighs and considers the caliber of some of the witnesses."
In light of the realization that the most spectacular misperceptions of the
FOBS pseudo-UFOs came from astronomers at the Kazan and Kislovodsk
Observatories, Hynek's assertion is exposed as unjustified at best and
self-delusion at worst. "Impossible" is what Hynek considered it to be for
the Gindilis data to have trivial solutions - but most of it did so have.
(This point is worth pursuing a bit farther since it apparently is one of
Hynek's most controversial and questionable attitudes towards UFOs. Later he
said, "It was actually the nature and character of many of the witnesses I
personally worked with over many years that finally caused me to change my
mind about UFOs. As a scientist I resisted the evidence and felt impelled to
seek a normal explanation at all costs." But with the Gindilis data, Hynek
evidently concluded that the qualifications of the witnesses -- fellow
astronomers in particular! -- relieved him of the resoonsibility to seek
just such normal explanations (that is, to be a scientist). It was
"impossible" for them to be mistaken - but they were, and he was, too. He
did not have to wax so enthusiastic over the unverified cases, but he did,
and now must face the consequences.)
An article jointly authored by Hynek and Haines appeared in the Journal of
UFO Studies, volume II (1980). It stressed the "similarity of results" of
the Soviet statistical study with other Western studies. Despite the
concentration of 1967 cases (JEO: i.e., mostly IFOs!), "The essential
agreement of the Soviet study with those made in other countries shows that
this does not seem to have introduced a temporal bias." However, it turns
out that this conclusion proved exactly the opposite of what Hynek and
Haines throught it proved, to wit, that a statistically manipulated
collection of IFO cases (which actually comprise the heart of the Gindilis
Report) gives numerical results absolutely indistinguishable from similar
manipulations of allegedly true-UFO cases. Ergo, the class of UFOs and the
class of IFOs are really statistically indistinguishable, a conclusion which
skeptics (and Allan Hendry) have been asserting all along.
Naively, Hynek and Haines interpret the significance of the Soviet study as
proving mathematically that UFOs are real, or that "A heretofore
unrecognized (by science) phenomenon exists and is worthy of serious study,"
in their own words. "The conclusions of the Condon Report," they continued,
" are thus totally reversed and the UFO phenomenon at one stroke becomes a
legitimate subject for serious scientific attention. It is a great blow to
the bastion of ridicule which has heretofore been so effective a barrier to
the exercise of proper scientific curiosity in this area." Brave words
indeed - and as we have seen, once the true nature of the Gindilis Report is
revealed, absolutely baseless words as well.
Sadly, the only truly ridiculous aspect of this whole affair is the
touchingly naive but tragically misplaced trust exhibited by Hynek and
Haines in the faulty keystone assumption that the Soviet data had been
carefully and honestly "scrubbed," an assumption which conveniently relieved
them of any responsibility to critically examine the data themselves (they
clearly did not, nor did anyone else in the UFOlogical community).
"It seems incredible that the curiosity of the scientific fraternity has not
been aroused," they complain, in a closing paragraph bordering dangerously
on satire -- since after all, they themselves exhibited no such curiosity
about the true nature of even the meager raw data presented in the paper,
but chose instead to innocently misrepresent it for what it was not. Their
unintentionally ironic closing quotation was from LaPlace: "The harder it is
to acknowledge the existence of phenomena, the more we are obligated to
investigate them with increasing care."
This is an obligation at which Hynek and Haines, together with the rest of
the Western UFOlogical fraternity, have themselves miserably failed in
regard to the Gindilis Report. Once again the intuitive skepticism of
"Establishment Science" toward the scientific validity of UFO studies has
proven entirely justified; once again, the self-styled UFOlogists have
proven to be their own worst enemies in their struggle to validate their
long-sought scientific credentials.
Meanwhile in Moscow the coverup continues with each new Plesetsk launch seen
(but not recognized) by thousands of ordinary citizens. This coverup is
aided unwittingly by UFO buffs around the world who have accepted the
masquerade (provided both by private UFOlogists such as Zigel, by official
publications such as the Gindilis Report, and by the endorsements of such
data by Keyhoe, McDonald, Clancarty, Hynek, Haines, Moore, and other leading
Western UFO experts) that these great Russian UFO cases cannot be explained
in terms of any terrestrial activities -especially not in terms of Soviet
military space activities.
The sordid truth is that most of the greatest Russian UFO stories of the
past two decades really can be confidently explained by documented Soviet
military space shots. Conveniently for Moscow's high-pitched propaganda
campaign against American military space activities, public awareness of its
own far-busier activities has been safely sidetracked.
UFOs from outer space over Russia? Soviet propagandists in Moscow smile
encouragingly, "Sure, that's what they must be - space vehicles from some
other civilization, but certainly not ours." And the greatest UFO coverup in
history goes on.
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