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The Great Soviet UFO Coverup

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  • Jeroen Kumeling
    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)
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 4, 1999
      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
      suddenly vanished.

      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
      this hoax?

      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
      that summer.

      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
      properly allocated.

      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.


      Go to The UFO Skeptic's Page
      Jeroen Kumeling
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