Malmstrom: What Really Happened in 1967?
by Richard M. Dolan
September 27, 2010
Robert Salas — the primary witness — is telling the truth.
Here’s the case.
After publishing this piece on afterdisclosure.com last week, I received a great deal of feedback, both positive and negative, from people of all opinions about what did or did not happen at Malmstrom AFB in March 1967. Of course, with a case this volatile, for which opinions are as strong as they are, this is inevitable. As some readers commented, I tried very hard to be even-handed in my treatment of the facts. Therefore, I was initially strongly disinclined to make any changes.
Still, I have decided that my initial defense of the reality of the case itself was in fact too tepid. The case, in my own opinion, is a very strong one. That is not to say that critics have nothing to point out; they do. But in my own assessment of the Malmstrom UFO event, I conclude that it was indeed “a UFO event.”
Finally, it has come to my attention that someone apparently accused me of “pulling” my article from this or that blog site. Apparently this was because I was afraid of the criticisms or some such thing. I placed my article on only one site: this one, afterdisclosure.com [Note from RMD: this was written in 2010]. If it has appeared anywhere else, it is because someone copied and pasted it there. If it was pulled from any site, it is because someone pulled it, presumably the moderators. Whatever the situation, I had nothing to do with any of that. It is beyond my physical ability, and well beyond my desire, to monitor the life of this article through the various blog sites that house it.
* * *
Over the last two years, a quiet controversy has been building in the field of UFO research. This concerns an attack on the truthfulness of what is one of the most discussed and important cases in current ufology: the 1967 Malmstrom Air Force Base UFO incident.
The case itself has been discussed countless times, including at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on September 27, 2010, and quite recently by myself. As it is always told, it involves the shut-down of (generally speaking) twenty ICBM missiles at two launch facilities while a UFO hovered above the area.
It’s never a good idea to jump into a controversy that has been brewing for so long. I truly question the wisdom of inserting myself into it. It is a debate filled by both sides with a great deal of information put forth, as well as much invective and posturing. There is tremendous emotional meaning to all parties involved. But there is also no shortage a facts and claims – a mass of data that requires care and patience and cannot be undertaken lightly.
Controversies in ufology happen all the time. Nearly every hallowed case I can think of has come under attack at one point or another. In my own view, some have turned out to be totally justified, others not so much. Amid the blizzard of the UFOWars, as we might call them, a great deal can slip under one’s personal radar.
But the implications in this instance are particularly important. This is because one person has put together a case claiming the Malmstrom event was in fact a non-event. He argues that there was no UFO over Malmstrom, and that the shut-down of the missiles (which has been documented to have occurred at one of the launch facilities) was caused by relatively mundane electrical problems.
This person is James Carlson, who happens to be the son of Captain Eric Carlson, the officer in charge of the Echo Flight at Malmstrom in 1967 – a flight that lost all ten of its Minuteman missiles on March 16, 1967 due to electrical and electronic failure.
Carlson has put together not simply another article that takes the proponents of the case to task. He has written an online book of 357 pages. In the course of his analysis, he goes much further than saying that UFOs were never part of Malmstrom event. He argues that the UFO component is pure fabrication by its main proponent, Air Force Captain Robert Salas (ret.), and was most likely created in order for Salas to stake a claim to fame and sell books. Carlson essentially repeats his statement and claim against Robert Hastings, who wrote the book UFOs and Nukes, and who has focused much of his own efforts to substantiate Salas and the Malmstrom case. So, down went the gauntlet in 2008, and the battle has raged since.
Even so, the main reason I am writing this article is because I was personally challenged to weigh in on it. The article that I recently wrote, on UFOs and Nuclear Technology, repeated the longstanding claims of Salas and Hastings – that the event was a real, bona fide UFO encounter. Telling me that I have been “had,” one of the parties involved publicly encouraged me to revisit the Malmstrom evidence. Fair enough, I thought. After all, if I am going to write about UFOs and nukes, and specifically mention the Malmstrom AFB UFO (or, “non-UFO” as the case may be) incident, then I ought to be able to do that much.
That was a few days ago. Since then I have read Carlson’s book, reviewed the various statements of Hastings and Salas, read through the transcripts of interviews with other military people who were involved, and listened to the statements offered at Monday’s National Press Club event. Even so, I know there will be much more to say about the events at Malmstrom by many parties. I harbor no illusions that this will settle the debate. Ultimately, I write this not to persuade anyone to any position. That’s foolhardy. But I owed it to myself to understand all elements of this debate and come to a personal position on this important case.
Malmstrom: The UFO Version
Robert Hastings describes the Malmstrom event in his 2008 book, UFOs and Nukes:
"In March 1967, two spectacular events occurred outside Malmstrom AFB, Montana, which have become the best known ICBM-related UFO incidents on record. According to at least six former or retired U.S. Air Force officers, UFOs apparently disrupted the functioning of all 10 Minuteman I missiles at Echo Flight, on March 16th, and essentially repeated the feat at Oscar Flight – probably on March 24th – when at least six to eight missiles were simultaneously shut down." [Hastings, Robert, UFOs and Nukes, p. 237-238]
Since the 1990s, we have had documents released via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that describe the failure of ten ICBM missiles at the Echo Flight on March 16. There is no supporting FOIA documentation for any such failure at Oscar Flight, nor indeed for any other U.S. missile site during that year. Hastings freely acknowledges this, but states that “regardless, both to the missile launch officers who were involved in the incident have now offered on-the-record testimony to the contrary.” The Malmstrom story was first publicly “outed” in a big way by USAF Captain Robert Salas, who was stationed at Malmstrom in 1967, and said that he knew about the UFO which had disabled the Echo Flight missiles. It is not widely appreciated that the details of Salas’s account have changed over the years. It is the evolution of this change that has become a major part of Carlson’s charges – indeed, accusations – against Salas’s truthfulness. More on that in a moment. In Salas’s first extended statement on the event, presented in the January 1997 issue of the MUFON UFO Journal, he described it as follows:
“While on duty as a Deputy Missile Combat Crew Commander (DMCCC)… during the morning hours, I received a call from my NCO in charge of site security topside. He said that he and other guards had observed some unidentified flying objects in the vicinity. He said they had overlfown the LCF [Launch Control Facility] a few times before he phoned. He could only distinguish them as ‘lights’ at that time.
"I did not take this report very seriously and simply told him to keep observing them and report back if he saw anything more significant. At the time, I believed the first call to be a joke. Five or ten minutes later, I received a second call from my security NCO. This time he was much more agitated and distraught. He stated that there was a UFO hovering just outside the front gate!….
"I immediately woke my commander who had been taking his rest period and started to relate the phone conversations. Within seconds, our missiles began shutting down from “Alert” status to “No-Go” status. I recalled that most, if not all, of our missiles had shut down in rapid succession…. It was extremely rare for more than one missile to go off line for any length of time….
"Once topside, I spoke directly with the security guard about the UFOs. The only additional detail he added … was that the UFO had a red glow and appeared to be saucer-shaped…. He repeated that it had been immediately outside the front gate, hovering silently.
"When my commander and I returned to the base, we discussed the incident with our squadron commander and an Air Force Investigator from Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI). The Colonel was just as shocked about the incident as we were. Neither he, nor anyone else we talked to that day about the incident could explain it …." [Salas, Robert, Minuteman Missiles Shutdown, MUFON UFO Journal, January 1997]
A brief word on Malmstrom Air Force Base is helpful at this point. Malmstrom AFB controls a Minuteman missile complex that stretches across a huge part of central Montana. The job of operating these missiles is divided among four missile squadrons, each of which controls a certain number of Launch Control Centers (LCCs) or “flights.” The flights are designated by a letter of the alphabet: A, B, C, D, E, and so on, and each letter has a word identified with it. The main flights under consideration for the Malmstrom event are the E (Echo) Flight, the N (November) Flight, and the O (Oscar) Flight. Each of these are in the far eastern portion of the entire missile complex. The Echo Flight was and is under the direction of the 10th Missile Squadron, while the November and Oscar Flights belong to the 490th Missile Squadron. Salas was attached to the 490th Missile Squadron.
In his book, Faded Giant, Salas said that it was in the spring of 1994 that he read Timothy Good’s Above Top Secret. This book mentioned stories of UFOs over NORAD facilities in the American West, primarily North Dakota and Montana. Good himself referred to research by Raymond Fowler about a UFO being reported by above ground personnel at Malmstrom AFB “during the week of 20 March 1967.” According to that account, radar at Malmstrom even confirmed the presence of a UFO at the same time that the ten missiles became inoperative. Good also stated that this was practically identical to a story from the previous year concerning the launch control center in Great Falls, Montana. Good did not say these were confirmed UFO reports, but he saw “no reason to doubt” them. More on Fowler’s research later.
According to Salas, after reading the brief account in Good’s book, he submitted FOIA requests to the Air Force in January 1995, receiving much help in this task from UFO researcher James Klotz. As Salas wrote for the MUFON article, “after nearly a year of submitting these requests and waiting for responses, USAF declassified an incident which appeared to be the one in which I was involved.” The primary document of interest described the unexplained shut-down of ten missiles at Malmstrom’s Echo Flight and stated “the fact that no apparent reason for the loss of ten missiles can be readily identified is cause for grave concern to this headquarters.”
After receiving these documents, Salas initially said (mistakenly) that he was at Echo Flight when those missiles went down. Writing in the MUFON Journal, Salas stated: “When we received this information, I assumed that I was in the Echo capsule during this incident because the events of the incident were very similar to my recollection.”
Furthermore, he said, when he read the unit history of the 341st Strategic Missile Wing, Great Falls, Montana for 1967 (which was part of the FOIA documentation he received), it stated that:
“Rumors of Unidentified Flying Objects (UFO) around the area of Echo Flight during the time of fault were disproven. A Mobile Strike Team, which had checked all November Flight’s LFs (launch facilities) on the morning of 16 March 67, were questioned and stated that no unusual activity or sightings were observed.”
Salas went on to say that after reading that statement, he remembered something his commander had said during the incident. After they reported the incident to the command post, his commander had received a call from another LCC. The commander, later identified as Lieutenent Fred Meiwald, told Salas that ‘The same thing happened at another flight.’
“With this ‘new’ recollection,” wrote Salas in 1996, “I began to question if I was at Echo during the time of our incident since I knew I was assigned to the 490th Squadron, which did not have responsibility for Echo Flight. We did, however, occasionally, man LCCs outside our own squadron.”
Thus, Salas modified his initial account and concluded that his incident “probably” occurred at the November launch facility, not Echo. This is because the November facility had been mentioned peripherally in the documents he had received. Within a few more years, Salas stated (correctly, at last) that he had been at the Oscar Flight during the UFO event at Malmstrom.
Salas, as we shall see, has received criticism for this initial failure to remember correctly where he was at the time of the incident. Yet, it is not really all that big a deal.
His squadron, the 490th, had Kilo, Lima, Mike, November and Oscar LCFs. In private correspondence, Salas stated, “once in a while, when there was a shortage of crews for any reason, squadrons would ‘borrow’ crews from another squadron. That is why I at first entertained the possibility I was at Echo during the shutdowns.”
Late in 1967, Salas became a crew commander, after which his home site was November LCF. For nearly two years, he worked there. The fact that November was mentioned in the unit history that discussed “rumors of UFOs” prompted him to think he had been at November during the incident. The capsule interiors, moreover, all look alike.
As mentioned previously, James Carlson is the son of Eric Carlson, who was the Echo Flight Commander on March 16, 1967. The elder Carlson has always told his son that there was no UFO over the Flight on that day, and that the shut down was caused by comparatively mundane, but still tricky, electrical problems.
Reading Carlson’s online book is not always easy, whether you agree with him or not. This is a full length book that has no chapter headings or real subheadings. There are many long, convoluted sentences, often exceeding 100 words. It is also filled with insults and accusations. Without a doubt, he would have had a more effective impact had he organized his case better, written manageable sentences, and scrapped the invective, but that’s his own choice. He was clearly out to defend the honor of his father, and who is going to argue with that? The man was seriously ticked off when he wrote it, and it shows.
Having said all this, one thing that is evident about Mr. Carlson is that the man has done a great deal of homework. In addition to studying the statements of Salas and Hastings, he has gone through a great amount of Air Force and squadron histories, and he knows his electricity to a degree far beyond anything I will ever know, that is for sure.
The following statement from Carlson’s book gives a reasonable overview of his general position:
"… the entire story of UFO intervention with the nuclear missiles at Malmstrom AFB in March, 1967 did not happen, and that there were, in fact, no full-flight failures of missiles at all, with the exception of that at Echo Flight on March 16, 1967, and that those failures were the result of a comparably mediocre electrical malfunction that has proven to be very well documented, thank you very much."
Let me include what I feel are Carlson’s most salient points, not necessarily in the order he gave them. First, writes Carlson, “no witnesses whatsoever … admit to actually seeing a UFO.” I have to agree that this is important. He adds elsewhere, “to date, not even one of the security policemen has ever come forward to confirm Salas’ assertions.” Also important. Moreover, Carlson adds, Salas has never even given the names of these topside personnel. “It’s the anonymity of all of his supposed witnesses,” writes Carlson, “that protects [Salas] from being reproached as a ridiculous liar.”
Second, there is in fact no documentation indicating that a UFO ever was seen over Malmstrom in 1967. “All of the available records, written histories, and logs going back to the original incident itself,” he writes, “very clearly affirm that nothing involving UFO interference occurred throughout the course of the entire event.”
In other words, despite the claims of FOIA documentation confirming the UFO event, in fact there is no documentary support for this. The released files only describe events at Echo Flight, and only mention that the missiles went off-line with no reason given. No confirmation at all of UFOs.
Third, “UFOs were never reported by civilian or military observers on March 16, 1967 anywhere in the state of Montana.” Good point and I agree it’s worth noting.
Fourth, Carlson makes what I think is a strong argument about electronics. Let’s stay with this for a while. Now, the cause of the shutdown of the Echo Flight appears to have been an electromagnetic pulse (EMP). While EMPs are caused by nuclear explosions, Carlson points out that other things can cause them too. It can have many sources. He states that there are many “electromagnetic threats, both man-made and natural, that are injurious to military systems, creating internal electrical stresses in the form of undesired voltages, currents and signals.”
Yes, the man knows his electronics. He goes on:
"… microminiaturized, integrated circuitry was very, very new [in 1967], which meant they were untested to a greater extent than would have ordinarily been desired. Although Autonetics Division of North American Aviation did an exceptional job, really, considering the real time pressure they were then operating under, they were nonetheless unable to predict the effects of relatively minor transient voltage events on the microminiaturized circuitry over time – and the degrading of some electronic modules became an unanticipated problem as a result."
"Salas’ version of these events neglects any discussion of the findings of the Echo Flight Incident investigation, except to say that no absolute conclusions were reached. He neglects to mention that in any investigation centered on a random noise electrical event, a conclusion is always unlikely. This is because the cause is random, and cannot always be determined."
"… The investigation determined fairly early that the weak link in the process that resulted in the flight failure was the logic coupler and it’s susceptibility to a 10 volt noise pulse. They were able to reproduce the exact same process that took down the system and resulted in the same message indicators…"
"EMP is a relatively common phenomenon, although the term has come to be associated primarily with the high-amplitude electromagnetic pulse caused by a nuclear explosion. When Salas told everyone that it could only occur as a result of a nuclear explosion or technology that wasn’t available in 1967, he was once again lying, embellishing, or whatever you want to call it, in order to convince the world that UFOs took out the weapons system at Echo Flight. And an EMP doesn’t have to be 'sent in from outside the shielded system,' as Salas asserts either, because it can be generated internally – which is exactly what happened."
There is a great deal more discussion of electronics and shielding and the problems of early integrated circuits. Feel free to wade through it all, but I would say Carlson does make a case that the Echo Flight shut-down can be explained in the manner he states.
I am not stating at this point that I believe this is definitively the case. Not yet, at least. But I do think that, regarding Echo Flight’s problems, it’s a decent argument.
Even so, this explanation is not necessarily the final word. After I published the original draft of this article, one reader pointed out the obvious fact that the missiles in the complex are separated by many miles to maximize their safety in the event of an enemy attack. Similarly, each missile is electrically, and in every way possible, independent of any of the other missiles. While circuits can fail, the odds of multiple, simultaneous failures of independent systems is miniscule. As my correspondent put it, “astronomically close to zero.”
I don’t feel confident enough in my electronics to argue the point one way or the other, but will let those with more knowledge in electronics sort (or fight) it out as they see fit.
Let’s continue, though. Because we are far from done here.
Accusations of Lying
Carlson finds it suspicious (to put it mildly) that Salas changed his story during his first few years of telling it. Salas, remember, changed his location twice, and also changed the date of his encounter from the initial choice of March 16, 1967 (obviously coinciding with the documented shut-down at Echo) to “on or around” March 24, 1967. The latter date coincides with a known UFO case that took place in Belt, Montana, roughly 300 miles away. Carlson argues that Salas did this not because of faulty memory, but because he had to make these changes or else risk being caught in his lies.
The basic scenario as Carlson sees it is this. Salas originally claimed he was at Echo because that was the only location given by the Air Force FOIA documents that turned up anything of interest. In Carlson’s opinion, Salas had to know he was never at Echo – military people may forget exact dates, but they don’t forget their assignments. Therefore, according to Carlson, Salas had to be lying.
Then, when it seemed to Salas that he was going to be found out because he never was at Echo, he changed his location to the place that seemed the best bet at the time, the November Flight – because it, too, had been mentioned briefly in the FOIA records. The problem with that switch, however, is that there now had to be not one, but two UFO encounters. One at Echo, and one at November. Then, finally, in 2000, Salas settled on Oscar Flight, which is where he actually had been assigned, but which did not turn up in any of the major documents on the March 16 incident. The UFO event then moved from November Flight to Oscar Flight.
Robert Salas: Truthful or Not?
As I mentioned, however, this is just not a credible criticism, in my view. Being fuzzy on details during the early years of telling the story does not mean he was lying. Salas adequately explained why he thought what he did in the early years of telling his account.
I have met Robert Salas on several occasions. In every dealing I have had with him, he has been a gentleman, soft-spoken, and reserved. I have never heard so much as a whiff of a bad word about him from any other person who has had personal dealings with him. I realize this isn’t proof that he is truthful about the Malmstrom incident. But he does not strike me of being the conniving and scheming sort of person. Quite the opposite. No way do I believe he lied about this event.
And for what kind of motivation? Selling books, making money, and being a rock star at UFO conferences? This is essentially what Carlson maintains. I have been to many UFO conferences. Usually, I enjoy them, mostly because I meet and talk with like-minded people, many of whom are truly fascinating. No doubt Bob Salas enjoys this aspect of it, too. But, money? Sorry. Ufology has never attracted money, and being an author almost never does, either. I don’t know Salas’s book sales, but I would bet they are not all that high.
Of course the rejoinder could be that even though Salas has not gotten rich from ufology, perhaps he had hoped to when he concocted his story. I suppose one could argue that, but I still don’t see it. Moreover, Bob Salas to my knowledge has not ever done anything to capitalize financially on his situation. Nothing that I can see, anyway. He doesn’t strike me as energetically working at self-promotion. Speaking at the National Press Club might sell a few books, but not that many.
Other Witnesses: Fred Meiwald
Still, despite my positive feelings about Bob Salas, if the Malmstrom case were only to hinge on his veracity, I would be suspicious. But there are other people involved in this story, and their positions are of obvious importance. Do they corroborate Salas, or not?
Let’s first discuss Fred Meiwald. Meiwald was Salas’s superior officer in the underground station during the incident. They were 60 feet under the ground, and Meiwald was on rest duty at the time; that is, he was asleep. Salas claimed to have woken him during the UFO incident and the two of them watched the missiles go offline.
Salas conducted a taped telephone interview with Meiwald during the summer of 1996. This interview makes it clear that Meiwald did support Salas’s contention about a UFO over the Oscar Flight. When I wrote the original version of this article, I had indicated that it was “frustrating that the audio files Hastings said he would provide don’t work, but there is a transcription.” In fact, these files have since been sent to me by Mr. Salas and Frank Warren, who manages the UFO Chronicles website. The audio files are definitely compelling to listen to.
Still, the interview is suggestive that Meiwald did support Salas’s contention about a UFO over the Oscar Flight. It’s frustrating that the audio files Hastings said he would provide don’t work, but there is a transcription. Some of the good people at Reality Uncovered seem to think the whole interview is fraudulent. While I don’t agree with this opinion, I do wholeheartedly agree that listening to the conversation would be very helpful, and we would all like to see those audio links fixed.
According to the transcript, however, although Meiwald told Salas he did not remember anything happening at Echo Flight, he said “I just remember [laughs] our side of it.” That is, the events at Oscar Flight.
In the conversation, Salas then went through the basic UFO sequence. It certainly seems to me that Meiwald agrees with it. Here is the transcript.
RS: Yeah, alright, here’s the sequence I remember: I remember receiving a call first and the security guard said, “I’ve seen some UFOs up here flying around,” and I said, “Ah, forget it.” I, uh, didn’t believe him. I kinda hung up on him. And then, a little while later—I don’t know how long it was, maybe five, ten minutes, maybe longer—they called back and the guy sounded real scared and said there was one just outside the front gate. And, uh, he also said, I recall, that one of the other guards had gotten injured in some way. I don’t think it was from the UFO; I think it was from, uh, trying to climb the fence or something like that. Uh, and then I hung up, or he hung up because he had to go—his guard got injured—and then I, I believe you were either getting up or I woke you up—and then some of our missiles started shutting down. Is that right?
FM: Uh huh.
RS: Is that about how you remember it?
FM: Right. We had security alarms and, uh—
FM: —and problems at a couple of the, uh, sites.Unless one argues that the transcript is faked, I do not see how else to interpret that. Was Meiwald just being polite, trying to get Salas off the phone? I don’t see that, either. He agrees to the UFOs being seen, agrees to the security alarms and “problems” at some of the missile sites.
It gets more interesting, though.
RS: [Were there] any reports from the field about UFOs?
FM: I remember that two guards that we had had gone out to one of the sites and finally got back scared to death and we had to relieve them of duty.
RS: Yeah. Oh, you mean our guards?!
RS: Oh, I didn’t know that.
FM: Yeah, a roving patrol type—
RS: Oh I see—
FM: —and had gone out to one of the sites, uh, the LFs, and on the way back they lost radio contact and we ended up having to send them back to the base early—I’m not sure what happened but I don’t think they ever returned to, uh, guard duty.
RS: What were they scared about?
FM: Oh, they had seen these, some crazy things and—
RS: Oh they did?!
FM: Yeah, and—
RS: And they reported that to you?
FM: They reported it to the topside guy (the Flight Security Controller or head guard)—
RS: Oh, the topside guy. That’s right. Okay, okay. Okay, well, interesting, don’t you think?
FM: Yeah! [Both laugh]
This is very strong corroborative testimony, in my view. Meiwald added details to the event that Salas had not known of. Hastings also includes a copy of a letter dated October 1, 1996, from Meiwald to Salas. The letter further corroborates Salas’s version of events, noting the frightened security guards and the UFO account. There is one problem in the letter when Meiwald states that “I recall us being at the Oscar LCF.” During that time, however Salas was stating that he was “Probably [at] November Flight,” which according to Carlson he maintained for several more years. I don’t know why Salas would do this. Did he not read Meiwald’s statement carefully, or did he just think Meiwald was wrong?
At this point, Meiwald’s testimony has to be considered important. It would be nice if he could be interviewed again.
Other Witnesses: Robert Jamison
Robert Jamison, who was an Air Force Lieutenant at the time, assigned to Oscar Flight at Malmstrom, also has recently given testimony. Here is what Hastings says about Jamison:
Jamison says that his, and other targeting teams, were explicitly briefed about a UFO-connection with the incident before going into the field, thereby corroborating the essence of Salas’ report.
Jamison has also inadvertently provided the date of the incident by reporting that a UFO had landed in a canyon near Belt, Montana the same night. It is known that the landing took place on the evening of March 24, 1967, because it was reported in the Great Falls Tribune the following day. Bob Salas initially believed that the Echo Flight incident and his own event had occurred on the same day because, after the Oscar missiles went down, his commander Fred Meiwald had called the base command post and was told that “the same thing happened at another flight.” Salas long believed that the other incident had occurred only hours earlier; now we know that it had actually been eight days earlier. So, slowly but surely, the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place.
At the National Press Club on September 27, Jamison discussed his connection to the Malmstrom UFO incident. He was a Minuteman I missile targeting officer (Combat Targeting Team Commander) at the time. Jamison said that he helped to re-start the stricken missiles at Oscar Flight, where Robert Salas was on alert duty at the time of the full-flight shutdown. He added that, before he and his team went out, they were explicitly briefed about a UFO connection to the incident. This seems to corroborate Salas’ report of a UFO being seen as it hovered over the Oscar Launch Control Facility at the time of the malfunctions.
Like everybody else who has discussed the case in public, Jamison did not see a UFO. But at the Press Club, he said that he had been told at the time that a UFO had been seen over the towns of Lewiston and Roy, Montana – the center of Oscar Flight’s location. He stated further that he received verification that “all of Oscar Flight went down.” This has not been included in any FOIA documentation, of course.
At the National Press Club, Jamison described a special debriefing in which an NCO said to him:
"Look, we have a problem. We have UFOs in the area. They’ve been messing with our missile sites. There are certain procedures we want you to do if you should see one out in the field. And he proceeded to tell me what to do. And if we’re out on the road, [and] we see a UFO, we do not go to the launcher but instead to the nearest launch control facility, also we call job control and let them know what we’re doing."
Jamison said that his team restarted 3 or 4 missiles. He also stated that there had been partial shutdowns of another Flight during the following week, indicating that this too was UFO related, and that he restarted two of those missiles.
Other Witnesses: Walter Figel
Walter Figel is an interesting part of this case. In 1967, he was assigned to the Echo Flight, so did not work with Salas, who was at Oscar. Moreover, he was under a separate command structure. Still, Figel was interviewed by both Salas (1996) and Hastings (2008). He later issued a statement to James Carlson, which appeared to be a retraction of his earlier statements.
Hasting’s article says that Salas had a phone interview with Figel (who later retired as an Air Force Colonel) on August 11, 1996. Figel said that on March 16, maintenance crews were already working on two of the ten sites. We have already seen that Carlson gives a reason for this: that the leading-edge electronics of the missile systems had many problems. Perhaps this was so.
Yet, according to the transcript of 1996, Figel told Salas that “when the first [missile] went down … I talked to the security [team] out there, they reported this UFO hovering over the site.” Figel was not then nor is now a believer in UFOs. He told Salas that his reply to the men was “yeah, right. What have you guys been drinking out there?”
But no matter what Figel thought, he then confirmed to Salas that he sent strike teams to “both of the sites that had been occupied.”
Figel continued that he did not tell the strike teams anything about a UFO. He only told them to get within a mile of the site and call back in on the VHF telephone. And yet, according to Figel’s statement in 1996, both teams, along with two maintenance crews, and two security troops on-site, all reporting a UFO.
That seems quite specific and clear.
In his 2008 interview with Hastings, Figel elaborated a little, stating that the missiles had been due for routine maintenance, and that there was nothing wrong with them.
Now here is where things get more interesting. During this interview, Figel pressed more distinctly the possibility that the entire UFO business was some sort of joke or gag. According to the transcript:
Figel: And the guy says, “We got a Channel 9 No-Go. It must be a UFO hovering over the site. I think I see one here.” [I said,] “Yeah, right, whatever. What were you drinking?” And he tried to convince me of something and I said, well, I basically, you know, didn’t believe him. [Laughs] I said, you know, we have to get somebody to look at this [No-Go]. [A short time later] one of the Strike Teams that went out, one of the two, claimed that they saw something over the site.As Figel told it this time to Hastings, the UFO element could indeed be read as a joke. “We got a Channel 9 No-Go. It must be a UFO hovering over the site. I think I see one here.”
However, a couple of things. First of all, this is Figel telling the story four decades after the fact. As both sides of this debate are well aware, stories change over time. Figel didn’t change any of the basic facts in his 2008 interview, but did change the tone. Even so, despite telling Hastings that he “basically” did not believe the story, he acknowledged sending two strike teams out, and then acknowledged that they did report “something over the site.”
Let’s consider this scenario as a joke. Several of America’s Minuteman missiles go down, which in fact was described in one of our key documents as a matter of “grave concern.” Even making room for the fact that young servicemen were fond of pranks and UFO jokes, is this really a time to play out an extended UFO prank? Really?
One of the critics of Hastings and Salas at Reality Uncovered wrote: “one thing is for certain – Robert Hastings and Robert Salas sure don’t want anyone to know what Walter Figel is now saying.” Indeed, Figel issued a very strong rebuke to Salas in a 2010 correspondence with Carlson. This is reproduced more fully at Reality Uncovered, but the core of it is:
"Bob Salas was never associated with any shutdown of any missiles at any time in any flight and you can take that to the bank. Just think about this for a split second. He is a person wrapped up in UFOs to the Nth degree. Yet he could not remember he was not at Echo. Then he thought he was at November – wrong again. Then he thought he was at Oscar – wrong again.
"… There is no record about anything happening at November or Oscar except in people’s minds that are flawed beyond imagination. Salas has created events out of the thin air and can’t get the facts straight even then. My best friend to this day was the flight commander of the 10th SMS at the time. He and I have discussed this silly assertion in the past couple of years – he thinks it is all madeup nonsense for sure.
"… I have always maintained that I do not nor have I ever believed that UFOs exist in any form at any place at any time. I have never seen one or reported that I have seen one. I have always maintained that they had nothing to do with the shutdown of Echo flight in Montana."
A very strong statement. However, it did not address just why Figel said what he did to Salas in 1996. It was suggested at Reality Uncovered that maybe the ground crew was joking, or maybe Figel was giving Hastings and Salas what they wanted to hear.
Sure, why not. On the other hand, it seems just as possible that Figel told Salas the truth in 1996, and decided to backpedal at full speed. I don’t know, and maybe no one other than Walter Fiegel knows for certain.
Other Witnesses: Eric Carlson
Captain Eric Carlson – father of James – was the other launch officer at Echo on March 16, 1967. He has been extremely consistent in his statements on the matter that there was no UFO over Echo Flight, nor was he aware of any other such reports concerning any other Flight at Malmstrom. Not much else is needed to say. He has denied anything UFO-related ever occurred there.
Statement from Raymond Fowler
During my examination this case, I searched through my library for a copy of Raymond Fowler’s Casebook of a UFO Reseacher: A Personal Memoir. I did so because this was the source of Timothy Good’s statements on Malmstrom, and it had been Good’s book that triggered Bob Salas to make himself public. I wanted to know what information Fowler had, and how did he get it?
Well, I had read that book some years ago, but it had not been my personal copy, and damned if I could find one in my house. I called a few local friends: no luck. Local libraries: nothing. I decided to go to the source and emailed Ray Fowler himself. He graciously wrote back and gave me much more than I had hoped.
Here is what Raymond Fowler wrote to me, minus a tiny portion that mentions other names which are not germane to this discussion:
"I worked for Sylvania Electric Systems (Then changed to GTE Government Systems) for 25 years. I worked on the Minuteman program for Twenty years. Sylvania was responsible for building, testing and shipping the Minuteman Ground Electric Systems equipment to Malmstrom and Grand Forks AFBs. In 1966 and 1967, I was responsible for tracking the testing, deliveries, movements, etc. for this equipment. I was involved on a near daily communicating by phone and at Sylvania with all major contractors in-house and on-site. During this time, I began to hear about UFO sightings taking place on these SAC bases and of course enquired about them with these on-site contractors. I heard that a flight of missiles had shut down at Malmstrom during one of the incidents. I was curious to find out more so I had the in-house representative for Boeing (Gene Whittington) call the Assistant Base Manager at Malmstrom to ask him about the shut-down. I was with him when he phoned. He had a very short conversation, hung up the phone and glared at me saying that he was told that it was a “hot potato” and that he was not ever to ask about it again. He was not too happy with me for asking him to make the phone call. My phone calls about UFOs dried up….
"I then left that particular job and became involved with Program Planning and Development and developed a new Cost Schedule Performance program for all contracts. However, because of my prior experience with Minuteman, I was made the in-house representative for the Minuteman Program. During this time I met two Launch Control Officers. One visited Sylvania as part of an orientation. I was introduced to him by our contract administrator named Irwin Saltzman. Irwin joked that I was interested in UFOs. The LCF officer surprised us both by stating that his LCF had been affected by a UFO. It turned out to be the August 25, 1966 incident that Hynek wrote about in the Saturday Evening Post, December 1966.
"Still later, I became acquainted with another LCF officer that had joined Sylvania after his discharge. When the subject of UFOs came up one day during our conversation, he amazed me by stating that one time all of his flight of missiles went down. He nervously laughed when he continued that the personnel topside were sighting UFOs. I cannot remember his name and think that mostly likely he did not want his name to be used.
"In 1973, the Christian Science Monitor interviewed me about some local UFO sightings. When the reporter, Stephen Webbe found out that I worked on Minuteman, he asked me questions about the missile. I casually mentioned that there was a UFO/Minuteman connection. This led to my telling him about what I had heard about UFOs affecting the capability of the missiles. Most of the interview was about local sightings so I got a big surprise when I returned to work shortly after. I found that SAC (Captain Rick Fuller) had called to complain about a headline story in the Christian Science Monitor about Minuteman being affected by UFOs. Then, one of the persons working for me happened to be in the Industrial Relations manager’s office and heard him talking about me on the telephone. It turned out to be the UFO officer at the Pentagon – Colonel Colman.
"I was chewed out by the Department Manager and the Vice President and General Manager was also upset. I was told that there were very unhappy with me if I had used my position at Sylvania to obtain this information. The said that if this were so that the Air Force threatened to send an official letter of displeasure to my file. I immediately thought of Doctor Hynek’s article about the incident and said that UFOs affecting minuteman information was in the public domain. Hynek sent me some material and I brought it to the manager. No letter of displeasure was sent. If it had been sent, I could have lost my clearance which would have seriously affected by job.
"In the meantime, Stephen Webbe was told by the Air force that the missiles had gone down due to a local power failure!!! I told Stephen that this was absurd and impossible. The missiles had back-up generators and acid (later Lithium built by Sylvania) batteries to keep the missiles operational. I don’t think that the good colonel was happy when Stephen got back to him. But, the admission that a flight of missiles did go down was very interesting.
"I HOPE THAT THE ABOVE IS HELPFUL, I’VE GLANCED THROUGH OTHER OF MY BOOKS AND FIND BITS AND PIECES OF WHAT I HAD HEARD FROM PHONE CALLS FROM ON-SITE. IF I HAD KNOWN THAT LCF OFFICERS WERE GOING TO GO PUBLIC LATER ON, I WOULD HAVE BEEN MORE CAREFUL DOCUMENTING SUCH INFORMATION."
So one idea we can put to rest is that the entire UFO connection was created by Robert Salas in the mid-1990s. Fowler wrote about it in his 1981 book, and indeed had been aware of it shortly after it happened. Moreover, I was surprised to learn that Mr. Fowler was not only familiar with the Minuteman program, but had twenty years of experience with it.
It is also useful to point out, as Hastings and other researchers have done many times, that the UFO event at Malmstrom is not the only alleged event of UFOs affecting our nuclear technology. Fowler himself referred to a publicized case concerning Minot Air Force base on August 25, 1966, which J. Allen Hynek had reported in an article in the Saturday Evening Post. Others have also discussed this case, including Mr. Hastings and myself.
It is worth noting that an LCF officer from Minot told Fowler that “his LCF had been affected by a UFO.”
Regarding Malstrom itself, this statment by Fowler bears repeating:
"During this time, I began to hear about UFO sightings taking place on these SAC bases and of course enquired about them with these on-site contractors. I heard that a flight of missiles had shut down at Malmstrom during one of the incidents. I was curious to find out more so I had the in-house representative for Boeing (Gene Whittington) call the Assistant Base Manager at Malmstrom to ask him about the shut-down. I was with him when he phoned. He had a very short conversation, hung up the phone and glared at me saying that he was told that it was a 'hot potato' and that he was not ever to ask about it again. He was not too happy with me for asking him to make the phone call. My phone calls about UFOs dried up."
Now, it might be that critics of the UFO scenario still might interpret Mr. Fowler’s remarks as supporting their position. If you read it carefully, this statement does not explicitly tie the Malmstrom shut-down to a UFO. The fact that the shut-down was a ‘hot potato’ might be due to the fact that USAF missiles had gone off line. Still, the call was made in the context of a UFO connection, and that connection seemed very suggestive to Fowler. For good reason, I would say.
And the final remark of Fowler’s is worth repeating as well:
"Still later, I became acquainted with another LCF officer that had joined Sylvania after his discharge. When the subject of UFOs came up one day during our conversation, he amazed me by stating that one time all of his flight of missiles went down. He nervously laughed when he continued that the personnel topside were sighting UFOs."
In this case, we do not know where this LCF officer had been assigned. It surely seems like Malmstrom, although who knows. Yet here we are again, with a story of topside personnel seeing UFOs when a flight of missiles goes down.
No, these stories were not concocted by Mr. Salas out of thin air. If they are grossly mistaken, that is one thing. If they are somehow an extreme misinterpretation of an extended prank made while a flight of missiles went down, then this is a prank that has had a very long shelf life.
Declassified U.S. government documents do not explicitly support the scenario that a UFO hovered over any of Malmstrom’s Flights in 1967. Moreover, I will say that what happened at the Echo Flight is not a 100 percent certain thing. Hastings and Salas have argued that this was a UFO-related event. All I can say about that is, I believe this is probably the case. However, without fully credited documentary evidence, one can still argue that this was not a UFO event, despite one declassified document confirming that the missiles there did go off line.
What is surprising, when I come down to it, is that I am more persuaded by the evidence supporting a UFO incursion over the Oscar Flight. No, there are no direct witnesses who have come forward and there are no government documents. But there are enough people willing to talk about their connection to it that I believe it probably happened as they have told it.
Furthermore, since I believe Bob Salas is truthful – despite some early mistakes in his telling of the story – I have no reason to doubt him when he said he heard of the same thing at another location, indicating that there may well indeed have been a UFO over Echo.
No doubt my own examination of this case will not please the critics, but I sincerely thank them for bringing it to my attention. I hope that they understand that, whatever I have said, I have done so in a spirit of discovery and collegiality.
I want to add that when I began looking into the allegations, I did not do so with a preconceived conclusion in mind. I tried very hard to let reason, not emotion, be my guide. I admit that the allegations about Salas disturbed me, but I was determined not to let that guide my own analysis. There is no use investing yourself in a bad case. Everyone makes mistakes at one point or another. No one is immune to that fate, and the best solution is simply to prevent yourself from becoming emotionally attached to any conclusion. Therefore, when we learn new information, we can always modify our position.
At this stage, I remain of the opinion that there was indeed one or more UFO events connected with the shut-down of missiles at Malmstrom Air Force Base. The case is not the slam-dunk that many of us had assumed, but I believe it is stronger than the critics have argued. And I certainly am not persuaded that key promoters of the case are liars.
Sorting out precise dates and sequences years after the fact is always going to be messy. It has happened many times and will continue to happen. Added to this is the fact that the U.S. Air Force, as well as every segment of the U.S. defense and intelligence establishment, has never cooperated on the release of UFO-related information — for reasons that one may defend or attack. In such a situation, it is not realistic to expect claimants of a case to provide the smoking gun that skeptics demand.
Having said that, it remains the responsibility of claimants to UFO encounters to provide the best case they possibly can. There are no excuses for sloppiness. The phenomenon is already difficult enough to study.