MJ-12: Psychological warfare and strategic deception

“I am not suggesting that secret agents are going around the world giving these thousands of people individual suggestions to see UFOs. As we found out when we began developing the science of propaganda during the last war, you don’t need to do all that. A few well placed stories, a well-planned program publicizing sensational incidents, will do marvels” …. ‘Major Murphy’ to Jacques Vallee in Messengers of Deception.

Majestic Twelve (MJ-12) is a purported secret committee of top scientists, military and government officials managing  the capture of alien vehicles and humanoid bodies.  The terms Majestic Twelve, MJ-12 and MAJIC were introduced into the public domain when two UFO researchers, William Moore and Timothy Good separately released their copies of the documents in 1987.  The MJ-12 notion emerged from research by Bill Moore and Stanton Friedman into the so-called Roswell Incident in the late 1970s.  After interviewing a number of witnesses, Friedman and Moore strongly suspected the U.S. government had recovered a flying saucer with its occupants. If true, an organized plan of study under extreme secrecy by an elite group would have been inevitable.

The inception of the MJ-12 affair involved the onset of three documents known now as the Eisenhower Briefing Document, the Truman/Forrestal Memo and the Cutler/Twining Memorandum.  But they were only the beginning. In subsequent years, many other documents and claims were made, including the story of Bob Lazar, the SOM1-01 manual, the Timothy Cooper documents in the 1990s, the SERPO story, claims made by “Dan Burisch”, and the appearance of the  “ULTRA Top Secret” document on the Internet in 2017.  Rumors about MJ-12 began to swirl in the early 1980s and the affair has continued to the present day.

The MJ-12 legend aligns with a number of stories of recovered UFOs and sightings of alien bodies at several locations on military installations, with Wright-Patterson Air Force base being the most prominent.  If any of these events actually occurred, it is difficult to imagine such a situation without top scientists studying the problem under heavy security.  If the recovered UFO scenarios were a reality, the national policy implications would have been obvious.

Taken overall, the MJ-12 documents and stories have many problems.  Under scrutiny, the original group of papers were almost certainly not authentic. Nearly all of the documents (comprising over 2,000 pages in total from 1984 to the present) arose either anonymously or through unnamed sources.  The surreptitious and covert nature of these communications over a period of nearly forty years suggests there may be a deeper pattern involved.

Some of the MJ-12 documents refer to psychological warfare, while others point to deception. In this paper we will look at these allusions and contemplate how the appearance of the documents and related claims might themselves be forms of psychological warfare, propaganda and deception.  We will also consider how the several official pronouncements by the U.S. government concerning the UFO phenomenon might be analyzed as propaganda exercises.

Robert and Ryan Wood undertook a thorough study of all the known MJ-12 related documents during the 1990s and 2000s by visiting the U.S. National Archives. They hired a qualified document examiner (James A. Black) and conducted other research. The Woods are decidedly “pro” MJ-12, with Ryan authoring the website majesticdocuments.com.

A theory on the origin and motivation behind the MJ-12 papers came from Joseph Firmage’s “International Space Sciences Organization,” (ISSO). Firmage, a former internet entrepreneur, became interested in Majestic Twelve and assisted the Woods in their investigative efforts.  Under the moniker of ISSO, an article was published on the (now defunct) website isso.org titled “Deceptive UFO Documents – Doubt, Debate and Daunting Questions”.1 Dated November 25, 1999, no author is identified, although Firmage wrote the introduction. The article argues the MJ-12 documents (including the SOM1-01 manual and the group from Timothy Cooper in the 1990s) might be products of cold war “covert psychological warfare”. Since many foreign governments engage in various forms of deception, including forged documents, this theme was put forward as a plausible explanation for the questioned MJ-12 papers.

Ryan Wood published a rebuttal of the above mentioned article (presumably in the year 2000).2 He argued no plausible gain would have been accomplished by the U.S. government in issuing such spurious documents in the hope they would somehow mislead a foreign power, namely the Soviet Union. In his rebuttal, Wood lists a set of criteria in order for such a covert effort to be effective. None of his criteria were met. (Wood neglects to consider if such documents were proffered for a covert purpose, the objective could have been to attract foreign agents for the purpose of monitoring and tracking.)

In 1950, U.S. policy makers were extremely concerned with the prospect of Stalin overrunning western Europe. A series of events including The “Long Telegram” by George Kennan (“Containment”), Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech in March of 1946, and the Berlin blockade in 1948 led to far-reaching thinking by senior U.S. officials on measures to counter Soviet aggression. A military strategy was not enough, and psychological techniques took on increasing importance. The Psychological Strategy Board (PSB) was formed in 1950. The State Department originally proposed the PSB fall under its purview, but President Truman placed it under the National Security Council in a secret directive in April of 1951.3

Psychological warfare is the application of propaganda for specific purposes. The United States began using propaganda during World War I, and seriously studied and applied principles of propaganda and deception during World War II. The lessons learned during the war were not forgotten, and propaganda and strategic deception have retained a place in the U.S. arsenal of tools and weapons up to the present day. Psychological warfare is normally applied during wartime, but similar concepts in the form of advertising, media attention and “perception management” can be pointed to civilian populations and groups in peacetime as well. These applications can be both long-term (strategic) and short term (tactical). In order for propaganda and deception to be effective, planners must have a thorough understanding of a target group’s mentality. The messages can then be imparted through a number of channels including leaflets, radio and many others.4

In wartime, a government targets enemy troops and civilians while maintaining morale in both its own military and home population. During peacetime, the conventions of psychological operations are utilized in executing both domestic and foreign policies. Media activity during Vietnam and other U.S. wars provide many examples. While over the cold war era long-term strategic precepts were carried out, specific tactics could have been directed toward smaller domestic groups. Whether these doctrines might have been practiced during the term of the modern UFO period is a subject of our discussion.

For our purposes, we will define propaganda as information deliberately spread in order to achieve one or more specific goals. Propaganda and psychological operations overlap with public relations, advertising, civil affairs, crisis management and public information programs.  These efforts are sometimes termed “perception management” and “strategic influence”.

Propaganda can come in three forms: white, grey and black.  White propaganda originates from the source it claims; grey propaganda doesn’t identify its source; and black propaganda misleads about the source it comes from.  Generally, we consider white propaganda to be overt, while grey and black propaganda are covert and deceptive.

Deception applied during war (hot or cold) comprises the creation of impressions concerning intentions and capabilities.  These can be positive, as in falsely creating the image of something that doesn’t exist, or negative by concealing a reality.

(Please see Appendix 1 for a timeline of U.S. psychological warfare programs up to 2003)

In Anachronism, James Carrion argues World War II deception planners brought forward their knowledge and skills learned in World War II. Many of the most expert “deceivers” during the war were British, and taught their craft to the apprentice Americans. U.S. deception planners learned quickly. Near the end of the war, senior policymakers were getting wise to Soviet espionage. Cryptographers and analysts focused on cracking the Soviet code books by cleverly inducing the Russians to communicate with Moscow. These messages sometimes included anglicized words which did not translate into the Russian language. Because the Soviets had duplicated their one-time code pads, the British and Americans made progress in deciphering the Russian code books. Carrion cites examples in May and June of 1947 referring to newspaper articles about a weapon comparable to the atom bomb developed in New Zealand. These articles may have played roles in the scheme to manipulate the Soviets.5,6

The Ghost Rocket phenomenon began in Sweden in May of 1946 with reports peaking in July of that year. The objects were mysterious and they appeared to self-destruct resulting in little to no physical remains found. The consensus seemed to be they were German V-1 weapons fired from Peenemunde, Germany as well as from Estonia.7 Carrion theorizes the Ghost Rocket reports were hyped in the U.S. media by the “Rosetta”8 deception group (U.S. and British psychological warfare and deception planners) in order to generate Soviet diplomatic cable traffic for the purpose of deciphering Soviet code books as mentioned above. (“Ghost Rockets” have been studied and documented extensively by UFO historian Jan Aldrich.)

In The Roswell Deception, James Carrion applies the strategic deception theory forward to the UFO problem. Based on numerous declassified sources, combined Navy, Army and British cryptologic analysts and deception planners planted articles in newspapers hinting the U.S. had flying saucer technology. The purpose was to prompt Soviet residents in major American cities to send coded messages to Moscow containing anglicized words (“gardening”).9 As Soviet code books were gradually decrypted, such words provided clues that enabled U.S. authorities to trace Russian agents. These agents could either be turned into double-agents, or could be fed plausible but false information. Through judicious use of cooperative journalists, editors and publishers, certain stories could go “viral”, causing Russian authorities to take notice.10 Carrion speculates that the Roswell incident was just such a ruse.

It is important to note not only were psychological operations being executed from World War II on, but extensive academic research in“mass communication studies” was conducted, especially during the mid-1950s. The United States had become one of the world’s two superpowers and controlling elites within government, industry and academia were gravely concerned about how to manage communication strategies vis a vis the Soviet bloc. Western Europe as well as particular third world countries had high priority as well. Certain non-profit contractors were funded directly through the government, while other studies were supported by private sources such as the Carnegie Corporation and the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations. There is reason to suspect some of the money from covert originators such as the CIA was laundered through these private organizations.11

An Air Force effort known as Project Revere studied the effect of leaflet dropping and the spreading of information in several western states:

Project Revere scientists dropped millions of leaflets containing civil defense propaganda or commercial advertising from U.S. Air Force planes over selected cities and towns in Washington state, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Alabama. They then surveyed the target populations to create a relatively detailed record of the diffusion of the sample message among residents. The air force sponsorship of the program was regarded as classified at the time and was not acknowledged in Dodd’s early report on the project in Public Opinion Quarterly. Later accounts by Dodd, DeFleur, and others were more frank, however. The air force invested about a “third of a million 1950s dollars” in the effort … making it one of the largest single investments in communication studies from the end of World War II through the mid-1950s. This medium was an important part of U.S. Air Force propaganda efforts in the Korean conflict, in CIA propaganda in Eastern Europe, and in U.S. nuclear war-fighting strategy during the 1950s, but it had no substantial ‘civilian’ application whatsoever.12

Psychological warfare was a concern of the so-called Robertson Panel, which met for several days in January 1953. After a spate of UFO sighting activity in July of 1952, President Truman requested CIA director and alleged MJ-12 member General Walter Bedell Smith look into how the USAF was handling the UFO issue. Smith immediately ordered the CIA Deputy Director of Intelligence to organize a study group within the CIA Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI). Smith was given a briefing on the UFO issue in August 1952, which included concerns about psychological warfare, public gullibility, problems in radar identification, possible Soviet exploitation of UFOs, and public panic.13,14

It’s well known in UFO circles the Robertson Panel Report dismissed the overall UFO controversy as a collection of misidentifications and misunderstandings. The panel’s recommendations were principally: 1) Creation of a training program for military personnel to better understand how misidentifications occur, 2) (that) “…national security agencies take immediate steps to strip the Unidentified Flying Objects of the special status they have been given…”, 3) A public education program, 4) Debunking efforts, and 5) Monitoring of civilian UFO study groups.15,16

UFO historian Brad Sparks remarked the CIA Office of Scientific Intelligence as well as the Battelle Institute were “played” by the Air Force in rushing through the Robertson Panel event.17 It’s important to note General Samford in 1952 desired the government rely on hard data from satellites and other instruments rather than on anecdotal reports. Blue Book would serve as a public relations effort until such satellite tracking could be accessed. According to Sparks, the termination of Blue Book in 1970 happened concurrently with satellite infrared systems becoming operational. This may be more than a coincidence.18

Given the cold war era, it is not difficult to imagine a program controlling the public perception of the UFO phenomenon. As mentioned previously, policy makers within the CIA, the Air Force and the National Security Council pressed initiatives to drain UFOs of their mystique. This was easily done through a system of filters: media outlets sourcing their assumptions about flying saucers from contacts in the Pentagon and from major academic institutions. If any “pro” UFO scientists or prominent individuals were courageous enough to speak out, “flak” groups could conveniently discredit the parties through major media channels.

CIA contacts have been associated with the fate of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP). Donald Keyhoe, a well known UFO author, ran the organization from the 1950s through the end of the 1960s. Along the way, a person by the name of Colonel Joseph Bryan approached Keyhoe, and requested copies of sighting reports. Keyhoe was suspicious of Bryan at the time, but later relented after Bryan expressed pro-UFO sentiments, and put Bryan on NICAP’s board. By the 1960’s, NICAP had developed a reputation of having government connected people on its board such as former CIA director and alleged MJ-12 member Rear Admiral Roscoe Hillenkoetter. Bryan’s background led to suspicion among UFO historians.19

Colonel Joseph Bryan III came from an upper crust family in Virginia, served with distinction in World War II, and did a stint in the CIA’s Office of Policy Coordination, psychological warfare office from 1949 to 1953. He served in all three branches of the military (Army, Navy, Air Force) and was promoted to colonel in the Air Force Reserve. Bryan was a writer and a journalist in the 1950’s and authored a number of books and articles. He was on the NICAP board during the ‘60s as NICAP declined under Keyhoe’s leadership. Keyhoe’s incompetence led to his ouster from his position in December 1969. The sequence of the Condon report findings, along with the Air Force’s exit from the public UFO scene presented an interesting coincidence with the termination of Keyhoe’s tenure and subsequent decline of NICAP.20,21,22

By the early 1990s the MJ-12 controversy was in full swing and Jacques Vallee published Revelations – Alien Contact and Human Deception. The book is a long argument for what Vallee terms “Deception Theory”, being a sequence of odd instances giving the impression of alien contact while ultimately making no logical sense.These instances included the MJ-12 milieu, along with the outlandish claims of John Lear, Bill Cooper and Robert Lazar. As examples of his theory, Vallee detailed the Cergy-Pontoise affair in France, the UMMO hoax in western Europe, the Rendlesham Forest USAF incident, and the Teesdale and APEN hoaxes in Britain. Combined with the MJ-12 shenanigans, Vallee theorizes the UFO world is being manipulated by government psychological warfare and deception experts for unknown reasons.23

This author reviewed all of the documents linked on the majesticdocuments.com website (majesticdocuments.com) as well as his own copy of the “Carter Briefing Document”. Of these, ten items were found having direct or indirect references to psychological warfare or strategic deception. Here are several examples:

In Twining’s “White Hot Report” from September 1947, it is suggested:

“we should make a preempted use of these objects for the purpose of psychological warfare once the true nature of these objects are known and understood.”

The Majestic Twelve Project, Annual Report states under Annex B:

“MAJCOM-1 with the assistance of the Panel persuades the president to establish the Psychological Strategy Board on 4 April 1951.”

The alleged “Majestic Twelve Project, Annual Report” in 1952 goes into some detail under “Government Policy of Control and Denial:

One of the most difficult aspects of controlling the perception in the public’s mind of government attempts of denial and ignorance – is actual control of the press. Until a clear intent is established with diplomatic relations firmly in hand, it is the recommendation of the President’s Special Panel with concurrence from MAJESTIC TWELVE, that a policy of strict denial of the events surfacing from Roswell N.M., and any other incident of such caliber, be enforced. A inter-active program of controlled releases to the media, in such fashion to discredit any civilian investigation, be instituted in accordance with the provisions of the National Security Act.

Also from the majesticdocuments.com website we have the “S-Aircraft Drawing and Memo by Thomas Cantwheel” received in 1996 by Timothy Cooper:

Efforts to conceal the true nature of flight operations were successful in that the AF devised a cover intelligence project called Blue Book. Project Blue Book, as a cover project, was controlled by the CIA to protect AF test flight operations from speculation by the public, and convince the Soviets that USAF had no aircraft capable of flight characteristics and maneuvers as observed and reported to Blue Book and the USAF UFO program. In 1958, Project UFO and Moon Dust were activated when USA Interplanetary Phenomenon unit operation ceased and CIC responsibility for UFO security was transferred to US AFOSI.

(Please see Appendix 2 for a list of MJ-12 documents mentioning psychological warfare).

Several references to unmanned aerial vehicles mimicking UFOs are made at several points in Vallee’s Revelations. These claims link with assertions by William Moore and Richard Doty.24,25. According to Vallee, these types of craft can serve as military reconnaissance drones.26 If combined with mind altering effects such as microwave radiation, observers can be left with confusion and memory lapses, with impressions of UFO experiences. In other words, some alleged UFO incidents may have been staged. The reasons for such incidents were obscure. (Vallee provides these hints without giving specific references or supporting material.)

Vallee supports his “Strategic Deception” theory by noting Britain and the United States extensively employed deceptive strategies and tactics during World War II, and have presumably carried such techniques forward. The capabilities of modern technologies such as radio, microwaves, drugs, and aircraft provide the means to create deceptions playing on the public’s mind. One possibility is some “UFOs” might be attempts by governments to affect public perceptions for opaque reasons. Another is a private group (possibly international) could be doing so. Occult groups are surreptitiously employed in espionage or counterintelligence efforts27, and such activities may in turn overlap with UFO contactee groups and even civilian UFO study groups.28,29

The notion some UFO sightings and experiences are artificial has been around since the modern UFO era began in 1947. Leon Davidson plainly implicated the CIA created UFO radar returns in his 1960 article ECM+CIA=UFO – or how to cause a radar sighting.30 Jacques Vallee in Messengers of Deception explored flying saucer cults. According to Vallee, UFO cults are basically religious in nature – they address gaps between declining conventional religious beliefs and the answers to life’s questions science does not supply. He speculates UFOs are a form of media affecting peoples’ perception and outlook on reality, while not necessarily being of extraterrestrial origin. Nevertheless, UFO contactees look to friendly spacemen to solve humankind’s problems and to create utopian conditions on Earth. Vallee saw the growth and development of UFO religious sects as dangerous because they could be subject to manipulation by third parties.

The UFO community has always had barriers in obtaining awareness and credibility with the “establishment”.  These hurdles are outlined in Herman and Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent – The Political Economy of the Mass Media.  Their book details the framework of a system of “filters” by which most, if not all national priorities are communicated.31,32

So, we can view the sequence of communications regarding UFOs since World War II in terms of propaganda. The government in one form or another has a track record of making official pronouncements and providing reports on UFOs.  Since the sources for these reports are known, they can plainly be considered white propaganda (with perhaps a few shades of grey). (Please see Appendix 3 for a list of these publications).

The MJ-12 documents however, should be regarded as black propaganda.  Most all of them have no provenance, and many include misinformation. To this day, we do not know the motivations or purposes for these documents.

For full references please use source link below


By Tom Whitmore / UFO Researcher

Long time MUFON board member Tom Whitmore has been following the UFO scene since the 1960s. Active in the UFO field since 1990, Tom focuses on the ‘History of the MJ-12 Controversy’ by researching secondary and archival sources.

(Source: uapresearch.com; May 7, 2021; https://tinyurl.com/yh5pj9bm)
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