The Great Soviet UFO Coverup

Oberg, James E.: Mufon UFO Journal, octobre 1982

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 history.

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 Report."

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 copy 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 Report.

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 flights!

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, too.

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 December).

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 question.)

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 décembre 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 UFOs."

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 out).

(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 believe.

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 cases).

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 remained."

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 mai 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 unjustified.

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.