by Philip Coppens
Nothing has changed the
world of UFOs as much as the infamous MJ-12 documents,
purported to be presidential briefing papers and
evidence that the US government is covering up an
extra-terrestrial presence on Earth. Always deemed too
good to be true, is it the biggest disinformation
campaign the field has seen?
On December 11, 1984, UFO researcher and TV producer Jaime Shandera
received a brown envelope with a roll of 35 mm Tri-S black and white
film. When it was developed, the film turned out to be photos of
eight pages from a November 8, 1952 Briefing Document, prepared for
President elect Dwight D. Eisenhower concerning “Operation Majestic
It read “TOP SECRET/MAJIC EYES ONLY”.
What was Operation Majestic 12?
It claimed to be a secret operation,
begun on July 7, 1947, to
recover the wreckage of the Roswell crash,
an alleged incident which has gone down the annals of history as a
“UFO crash”. The alleged crash had allegedly led to the creation of
this operation, which was a secret gathering of experts who had been
placed in charge of secretly investigating and dictating the
methodology through which the US government would handle the
It listed as members:
Adm. Roscoe H. Hillenkoeter,
Dr. Vannevar Bush,
Secretary James Forrestal,
Gen. Nathan F. Twining,
Gen. Hoyt S. Vanderberg,
Dr. Detlev Bronk,
Dr. Jerome Hunsaker,
Mr. Sidney W. Souers,
Mr. Gordon Gray,
Dr. Donald Menzel,
Gen. Robert M. Montegue,
Dr. Lloyd V. Berkner.
All twelve MJ-12 members listed were
dead, the most recent one, Hunsaker, having died just three months
before Shandera received the documents. Hunsaker lived to the age of
98! It is clear that someone waited until they were all dead to leak
this document… or someone made sure that none of alleged members
could make any statements about their alleged involvement.
Though each of the members was a high-profile member of our society,
with UFOlogy, Dr. Donald Menzel stood out as he was a notorious
debunker of the phenomenon. His membership seemed “logical” for
those who believed that Menzel’s preaching denials of the UFO
phenomenon was part of a campaign through which the US government
officially discredited the UFO phenomenon, but secretly was not only
aware of, but possessed, evidence of extra-terrestrial artifacts.
Though Menzel was indeed a UFO skeptic,
in 1949, he reported a UFO encounter to the US Air Force. That he
did was not known for more than three decades. But if he truly was
privy to secret UFO information since 1947, Menzel would have no
reason to log a UFO report with the Air Force, seeing he had “above
top secret” access to everything about UFOs via his MJ-12
Four other members of the list had reliably documented activities
related to UFOs. Hillenkoetter was a member of NICAP and made public
statements to Congress about the UFO reality. Twining and Vandenberg
oversaw early US Air Force UFO investigations, like
Project Sign and
Project Blue Book, and made some public statements on UFOs.
Twining had previously written a famous
secret memo on September 23, 1947 (the day before Truman allegedly
set up MJ-12) stating that flying saucers were real and urged formal
investigation by multiple government organizations such as the AEC,
NACA, NEPA, Vannevar Bush’s JRDB and the Air Force Scientific
Advisory Board. This led directly to the creation of Project Sign at
the end of 1947. Finally, Berkner was on the 1953 CIA-organized
Robertson Panel that debunked the UFO phenomenon.
A major problem of the MJ-12 story is that the recipient of the
papers, Shandera, was co-operating at the time with Bill Moore, a
famous UFO investigator who had co-authored a pioneering book on
Roswell with Charles Berlitz, one of the leading lights of the
alternative field following the publication of
The Bermuda Triangle.
Ominously, in 1989, Moore confessed that he had been involved with a
government disinformation campaign directed against
in which Moore had fed his fellow UFO researcher falsified UFO
material. The question that had to be asked was whether this
material was disinformation as well, either circulated with the help
of Moore… or against Moore? For never think that you may not be an
agent in one campaign, and a victim in another.
The biggest problem was this: in February 1981, Moore had given
Bennewitz a pre-Majestic 12 document, known as the “Project Aquarius
Telex”, which was a communication from AFOSI (Air Force Office of
Special Investigations) headquarters in Washington to Kirtland AFB
office. One sentence stated,
“The official US Government policy and
results of Project Aquarius is still classified and with restricted
access to ‘MJ Twelve’.”
It was the first mention of “MJ-12” – made
in the middle of a disinformation campaign, sent to the person who
was the target of that campaign.
(Research has since established that the
National Security Agency did have a highly-classified Project
Aquarius, but that this was concerned with the tracking of
sea-launched missiles and low-flying aircraft. However, the very
fact that the creators of the MJ-12 documents knew of the existence
of a Project Aquarius, and wove it into their myth, suggests once
again that they are working within the intelligence field, e.g. AFOSI.)
Secondly, a nine page
presidential Executive Briefing stating “This
document was prepared by MJ-12”, was shown to another UFO
researcher, Linda Moulton Howe, who stated she saw this document on
April 9, 1983 – 18 months before Shandera found it in his letterbox.
Howe identified the man that showed it to her as Richard Doty, an AFOSI agent who had been co-operating with Moore in the
disinformation campaign direct against Bennewitz. At this moment in
time, the rat was not only smelling, it began to stink.
Furthermore, when the Aquarius telex was
shown to the Air Force, you would expect to hear a denial, claiming
the telex was a forgery. And indeed: the Air Force did claim it was
a forgery, based flaws in style and format. But then Moore admitted
that he had in fact retyped the document and added a date stamp –
providing evidence that Moore had faked the document. Later, he
claimed that it was based on an original, which as far as we are
aware of, no-one had or has ever seen. This is coincidentally the
same ploy used by Ray Santilli when he admitted that the 1995 “alien
autopsy footage” was a forgery, but only because the original
footage had become useless for public broadcasting, hence why he and
his associates had “recreated” the autopsy footage.
In short, there was little to be said in favor of MJ-12 as a genuine
smoking gun. But then, in 1985, during a visit to the National
Archives by Moore and Shandera, they claimed that they found an
unsigned carbon copy of
a memo to Gen. Nathan Twining from President
Eisenhower’s special assistant Robert Cutler. Dated July 14, 1954,
the memo’s subject was “NSC/MJ-12 Special Studies Project”. Of
course, the confirmation would have been far more impressive if it
had not come from Moore himself, even though in 1985 the world was
unaware of his double life as a disinformation agent.
Nevertheless, the stakes were high and if the documents were
genuine, it was indeed the smoking gun UFOlogy had been searching
for over the past four decades. Hence, the Fund For UFO Research (FUFOR),
headed by US Navy physicist Dr.
Bruce Maccabee, paid researcher
Stanton Friedman $16,000 to investigate the initial MJ-12 documents,
who had also received MJ-12 material – also anonymously and also on
a roll of 35mm film.
After Moore’s fall from grace and Shandera moving on to other
projects, Friedman became UFOlogy’s resident MJ-12 expert. He, and
others, quickly pointed the finger to
Richard Doty, the AFOSI agent
with whom Moore had worked together on the Bennewitz case and the
man who had shown Linda Moulton Howe the material.
“Some have assumed that Doty
provided the briefing document in the first place. Moore and
Shandera have claimed that nobody has admitted sending the
document, although the postmark on the brown envelope was
Albuquerque. It is clear from their conversations with Doty that
he knows about the document, but so far as I know, he has never
admitted sending it. I doubt that he did.”
This conclusion shows the gullibility of
UFO researchers: it looks like a fake, it was posted from the town
where the man who was involved in a disinformation campaign worked,
posted to someone who was involved in the same disinformation
campaign, at a time when the disinformation campaign was running,
with a man in charge of the disinformation campaign claiming he knew
of the document… yet UFO researchers conclude it is not part of this
disinformation campaign! Still, we can agree with Friedman that
“Whether the documents are valid or not, they must have been created
by an insider.” Indeed.
And we wholeheartedly agree with Carl Sagan’s assessment:
“Where the MJ-12 documents are most
vulnerable and suspect is exactly on the question of provenance
– the evidence miraculously dropped on a doorstep like something
out of a fairy story, perhaps ‘The Shoemaker and the Elves.’”
Leaked or “seeded” in 1984, MJ-12 did
not make an immediate impact on the UFO community. Everyone involved
had kept the documents under wraps, afraid to go public with what
could make someone an instant hero – or totally discredit one’s
credibility if proven to be false. It seemed the UFO researchers
needed some prodding in the back.
Thus, in the spring of 1987, Moore and Shandera were told that the
story of MJ-12 would come out in Europe. Leaking false stories in
the foreign press is a standard intelligence disinformation
technique and seeing Moore learned it from their AFOSI handlers… And
indeed, on May 31, 1987 the London Observer ran a story, from where
it was picked up by the news agency Reuters. The article was by
Martin Bailey but the man behind the story was musician and UFOlogist
Timothy Good. The process by which the documents emerged
in Britain makes it clear that a concerted attempt was being made to
disseminate this material to the public.
After a slow reception in the US, in
1986, the best-known British UFO writer of the time, Jenny Randles
was working on a new book about the “official” UFO cover-up.
“Coincidentally”, she was approached by an anonymous “deep throat”
contact who offered her a collection of documents detailing the US
government’s clandestine activity relating to UFOs – a smoking gun
that could make her into the Woodward & Bernstein of the UFO
community, the person who cracked the UFO conspiracy. However, like
her American colleagues, Randles showed caution in accepting the
material, and the informant broke contact. When the MJ-12 documents
were released a year later, Randles realized that the material that
she had been offered was part of these papers.
Within weeks of the abortive attempt to pass the documents to
Randles, Timothy Good – who was also working on a book about the UFO
conspiracy, Above Top Secret (1987) – was offered another part of
the MJ-12 material. Unlike Randles, Good accepted, and this led to
the article in The Observer in May 1987. The article then persuaded
the American researchers to finally release their documents. Another
modern myth had been created and the goal of a three year long
disinformation campaign had finally bore fruit.
Good went on to write a series of international bestsellers about
contact between aliens and world governments, which raised the
public profile of UFOs and extraterrestrials and opened the way for
other mainstream books on the subject. The result has been a greater
acceptance of the Contact Scenario in Britain and the belief in
What is less known, is that in later years, more MJ-12 documents
were “disseminated”. In late 1992, three new MJ-12 documents were
received by Timothy Cooper… who would later end up writing a book
with Richard Doty. In his discussion of these documents, even
Friedman admits that these papers are reproductions, retyped and
slightly changed versions of old memos or letters. In short:
forgeries, in which a “standard” classified memo is altered to make
it appear as if it originated from the fictional MJ-12 group,
whereby references to aliens and UFOs have been inserted in the
In March 1994, Don Berliner, a member of
the board of FUFOR, received another MJ-12 document. It was once
again on a roll of film, this time mailed from Wisconsin. It
purported to be the “Majestic 12 Group Special Operations Manual:
Extra-terrestrial Entities and Technology, Recovery and Disposal,
dated April 1954.”
Indeed, FUFOR, under the leadership of Maccabee, was the “UFO
authority” that had adopted the documents and through Friedman
promoted them. A former US Navy physicist, Dr. Bruce Maccabee is a
leading and influential advocate of the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis
and the Contact Scenario. Maccabee became prominent in the UFO field
in the mid 1970s, and his rise was due to his claim that he had
evidence that the CIA were withholding thousands of files relating
to UFOs – a claim that has greatly encouraged the belief in a
cover-up and, by extension, that there is something to be covered
While supporting many of the more
sensational UFO cases, Maccabee has also used his influence to
down-play evidence that supports a more conventional explanation.
For example, when the declassified CIA documents relating to the use
of UFOs as a cover for spy-plane sightings were released in 1997, he
argued vociferously – and successfully – that these were of no
significance. Maccabee worked closely with William Moore, for
example on the alleged UFO landing near Kirtland AFB in 1980 – using
information supplied by Sergeant Richard Doty.
When Moore made his confession in 1989, he stated that four other
very prominent American UFO researchers were also working for AFOSI,
but refused to name them. In 1993, fellow UFO researchers discovered
that Maccabee maintained closer links with the CIA than he had
publicly revealed. When challenged, he admitted that, since 1979, he
indeed had regularly briefed the CIA at their Langley, Virginia
headquarters on developments in the UFO field, but denied that his
involvement went any deeper than that. What Maccabee failed to
explain is why he kept this secret for 14 years.
It is ironic that a leading member of an organization that is
pledged to challenge official secrecy about UFOs – and one of the
main proponents of the idea that the CIA are withholding thousands
of documents on the subject – should have such a long-standing,
secret relationship with that very agency. Maccabee’s reassurances
failed to convince many, including his close friend and fellow FUFOR
board member, Richard Hall.
But if anyone should be seen as “Mister MJ-12”, it is Richard Doty.
When Doty approached Moore, the latter stated that his reason for
cooperating with AFOSI was the promise that, in return for passing
that agency information about his fellow researchers and for
disseminating disinformation to throw certain researchers off the
track, he would be given privileged information about the US
government’s knowledge of UFOs. Somewhat naively, Moore accepted
this story – although the evidence is that the information that he
was given, and on which he based his books, was the actual
disinformation. It was Doty who told Moore that a live
extraterrestrial had been captured after another crash in New
Mexico, and had lived until 1952. Since then, a series of other
extraterrestrials had allegedly been sent as “ambassadors”.
Doty also spoke of a treaty between the
US government and the aliens. It was Doty who showed Linda Moulton
Howe the “classified document” in 1983. Like Shandera, Howe was
contacted by Doty and Jerry Miller, a former researcher on Project
Blue Book, in 1982 after she had made a TV documentary on “cattle
mutilations” that argued in favor of a link with UFOs.
Doty promised Howe film footage of the
aliens which, needless to say, failed to materialize.
As is well-known, documentary makers are
out to get sensational angles, in which whether or not the story is
factual, is often of secondary importance. The MJ-12 papers were, of
course, the “right stuff” to dangle in front of television
producers’ noses. And Doty did precisely that. It seems, however,
that none took the bait and instead, three years later, the British
waters were tested, where the search for a person who would go
public with the documents was successful.
In the 1980s, Doty had focused on television documentary makers in
his efforts to spread the word of the MJ-12 documents. In the 1990s,
UFOs went mainstream, largely with the help of Hollywood and “The
X-Files”. The similar “Dark Skies” was a somewhat popular but not
long-lived series about MJ-12, showing the success of MJ-12 within
the context of Hollywood and television. But what is perhaps less
known is that Doty resigned from the Air Force… to become a
consultant for “The X Files” and Spielberg’s “Taken”, probably the
most notorious fictional promotions of MJ-12 and a government
conspiracy aimed to keep the “alien truth” hidden.
Hollywood helped cement the idea of a
government UFO cover-up and the existence of MJ-12, whereas within
the UFO community, the MJ-12 documents remained extremely
controversial. Remarkably, books that promoted the idea of a
government UFO cover-up were able to win massive contracts, whereas
dissenting voices, or more technical analyses such as Friedman’s
review of the MJ-12 papers, received a much smaller distribution.
there was a massive UFO cover-up in place, why did “the government”
allow so many books arguing for this cover-up to be published?
were they not debunked, for many contained errors, exaggerations and
often plain lies?
In 2005, Robert Collins and Richard Doty wrote “Exempt from
Disclosure”, with additional material provided by Timothy Cooper. In
the book, Doty claims to be part of the group within the US
government that wanted the existence of aliens and aliens in the
captivity of the US government to become known. Unfortunately, the
book – though a collection of writings is perhaps a better word –
reads more like disinformation.
The spine of the book is of course
MJ-12. Doty has woven together a string of various UFO reports into
a theory that makes “sense”, but only to a UFO believer. It involves
crashes such as Socorro, Roswell, etc., each of whom has
individually been shown to be exaggerated, erroneous or false. As to
the evidence they present for their claims? “Contact us or my
Still, amongst the sadder highlights of the book is the inclusion of
Carl Sagan as a member of MJ-12 (no doubt for making disparaging
comments about the documents).
There is this jewel:
“The Hebrew Bible was confirmed as the long
sought after key to understanding extraterrestrial UFO sightings,
and this information was shared with the Vatican as early as 1949.”
Or that JFK was briefed on MJ-12 too, but that he wanted disclosure.
DCI Allen Dulles and CIA’s Counter-Intelligence officer James
Angleton were unwilling to co-operate, as allegedly Kennedy was
going to share UFO data with the Russians. In short, the book is –
willfully or “coincidentally – following the lines of well-practiced
disinformation: state a fact, then speculate, then add on a lie.
And it is either Doty and Collins’ style
of writing, but this sequence is repeated ad infinitum if not
nauseam throughout the book. On example is the statement that the
atomic build-up was to prepare against an alien attack, which is the
“conclusion” of a previous sequence. Then they add: “Of course, this
decision coincided with the Soviet build up” of atomic weapons, to
make it seems as if that the American build-up of atomic weapons at
a time of Soviet escalation was actually coincidental, rather than
the true cause.
Amongst the “evidence” presented is Doty stating that his uncle Ed
Doty was a fellow UFO investigator for the military too and that he
and Richard spoke about UFOs and their knowledge of visiting aliens
and more. You might think that Ed Doty would confirm this is true,
but when asked, as written down in the book, Ed Doty actually
denies, in the friendliest of ways, so even his uncle is not
acknowledging what his nephew is saying!
The book also includes classic statements that the aliens
specifically like strawberry ice cream, but specifically that they
communicated with the aliens in sign language – as if sign language
is a universally understood language, rather than a purely human and
rather recent fabricated mechanism to aide human communication. No
alien would be expected to “know” or “understand” sign language upon
their arrival on Earth.
It has left the MJ-12 documents as one of the best-known and most
important “leaked” documents, documents which are widely believed by
many, largely through Hollywood – and Doty’s – efforts, as genuine
and evidence of the US government’s fifty year long successful
cover-up of extra-terrestrial life on this planet.
In truth, it is a disinformation
campaign, largely carried out by one man… but no doubt not acting
alone… with someone pulling the strings further up the chain of
command. The central question that should really trouble the UFO
community, if not the US population as a whole: who within the US
government wants to portray that government as possessing “aliens on
And if it is not a lone individual, then
that group might be the “real” Majestic 12.