New Philip Klass Letter Found
October 18, 2005
by Richard M. Dolan
Last month I had the opportunity and privilege to speak at the Toronto Exopolitics Conference, organized by Michael Bird and Victor Viggiani, and which also featured speakers Stanton Friedman and Stephen Bassett (Paola Harris, slated to speak also, unfortunately was ill). The conference headliner was former Canadian Minister of Defence, Paul Hellyer, whose comments on the reality of UFOs have justly received the lion’s share of media attention.
Prior to the conference, I had spent 3 days at the Canadian National Archives in Ottawa, doing UFO research. Most of my time was spent going through records of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who received reports from civilians and typically forwarded these to the Herzberg Institute of Physics at the National Research Council in Ottawa.
As was the case when UFO files in the U.S. were handled by Project Blue Book, UFO reports in Canada had long been treated as an unwelcome bastard child. No one wanted the reports, but the astronomers at the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics were stuck with the job of receiving them.
On the final day of my research trip, I was racing against time to go through the last folders I had requested. These were files from Records Group 77, Accession 1990-1991/073, but which had been placed in an Interim Box along with some other files I requested. This is because, as I was informed, not all the records in these folders had been fully cleared, but the ones in the Interim Box were cleared and could be reviewed by me.
The Klass Letter was in the very last folder I reviewed. I had been expecting to see yet more RCMP reports, or the occasional letter mailed by a Canadian UFO witness to the NRC, in the hope that someone would cogitate over their sighting. Instead, nearly by itself in the folder was this letter, along with two brief internal NRC memos generated as a result. Unlike every other record I reviewed that week at the National Archives, this letter was not designated by a formal file number. Frankly, I wondered if the letter was placed in there by mistake, since it was unlike everything I had looked at.
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Philip Klass, who died in August 2005, was for decades the single most prominent UFO debunker in the world. He was also the most effective, at least in relation to his ability at working the media and influencing the academic community. He wrote several books on the topic, and was a senior avionics editor for many years at Aviation Week and Space Technology.
The letter was dated August 15, 1980, and addressed to Dr. A. G. McNamara of the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics. It was unsolicited, and is a straightforward character smear of Stanton Friedman, who was at the time in the process of moving to Canada. According to Klass, Friedman was a “full-time UFO lecturer (of the ‘snake-oil salesman’ variety).” He was moving to Canada “to become its chief UFO Guru.” Friedman was “quite a showman” whose lectures were “so filled with half-truths and falsehoods that it would take me several hours to offer a rebuttal. And like wrestling with an octopus, when you manage to pin down one leg, the other seven are still thrashing about.”
The letter disparages Friedman’s professional credentials as a nuclear physicist, twice refers to Friedman’s “mountainous ego,” and calls him “something of an outcast” within the UFO “movement.” All in all, a nasty and underhanded little letter. Better yet, Klass enclosed a “White Paper” he prepared on Friedman “that illustrates the man’s modus-operandi and his distortion of facts.” (This White Paper was not included in the material I saw at the archives.)
But why send the letter at all? Klass said he wanted to warn the good people at NRC that Friedman would now in all likelihood be directing his focus on them. “I can assure you,” Klass wrote, “that you and your associates will be publicly accused of a UFO Coverup (or ‘Cosmic Coverup,’ as he is prone to say) that ‘dwarfs the Watergate scandal.’” Also, “to alert you to deal cautiously with him knowing he is inclined to distort the facts and exploit any ambiguity in your statements.”
The final statement is nice: “Please treat this letter in confidence, sharing it with appropriate associates as you see fit.” In other words, tell as many people as you can, but behind Friedman’s back, please.
I found it ironic that Klass twice mentioned Friedman’s “mountainous ego.” Klass evidently felt he had no such ego problems, despite the chutzpah of such unsolicited character assassination. While he and Friedman had frequently debated publicly, their relations for years had been at least professional and cordial.
[As an aside, I will mention that I never knew Klass personally, nor had I ever seen his signature before. But I have spent about 30 years doing amateur graphology (e.g. handwriting analysis). It’s been a longtime hobby of mine, and I have a small graphological library to which I occasionally refer. Klass’s signature is very partially cut off at the bottom, but you can still make it out fairly well. One thing I noticed about it is the extremely wide "P" in his first name, as well as the very wide loops of his letter "l". Any graphologist will tell you this is a typical sign of writers who are personally vain and conceited. Mountainous ego, indeed.]
Philip J. Klass, circa 1990
Ultimately, I interpret this letter less as a well-meaning warning than as a direct attempt at fear mongering, aimed at scientists who were already uncomfortable with receiving UFO reports. And this was exactly the effect he achieved, judging by the internal memo it generated.
Ten days after Klass’s letter, a memo from J. L. Locke to W. A. Cumming and P. J. Choquette at the NRC mentioned the letter and worried that “we can ill afford the publicity [Friedman] will generate for us.” The next statement speaks volumes about how these men thought of UFOs:
“Since there is no science in the subject of UFO’s perhaps we should think again about the possibility of turning the so-called ‘UFO file’ over to some body with no responsibility for the conduct of scientific research.”
One can’t help but think about the thousands of Canadian citizens who reported UFOs to the RCMP in the hopes that someone might be able to make sense of it all, or at least hoping somehow to advance the general cause of human knowledge. Oh, well. Instead, it looks as though no one was doing anything more than filing them away. This is a pity, since many reports that were sent to the NRC were truly quite interesting, seemingly very clearly observed, and intelligently described.
The National Research Council wasn’t able to unload entirely its UFO responsibilities. However, it was able to divest itself of most of the UFO files it had been holding. Apparently directly as a result of Klass’s letter, the decision was made that, as of January 1, 1981, any UFO file more than a year old (with names appropriately removed) was to be turned over to the Archives Branch of Public Archives of Canada. Incidentally, I was a bit startled to see the name “R. W. Dolan” at the top of the relevant document. I don’t know who this person was.
What Klass did here was impressive. He created a bogeyman for a group of easily frightened scientists and enabled them to unload at least some of their connection with the topic of UFOs. Seen in the broader context of his career, this was his typical modus operandi.
For example, Klass had done a similar thing years before against scientist James McDonald, which I recounted in my book, UFOs and the National Security State. In 1968, McDonald had received funding from the Office of Naval Research to conduct atmospheric and cloud research in Australia. McDonald was one of the leading atmospheric physicists in the world, but was also prominent in the field of UFO research. By December of 1968, Klass learned of McDonald’s research money, courtesy of Robert Low (number two man of the infamous Condon Committee at the University of Colorado). Klass launched a letter writing campaign to bureaucrats at ONR, asking who had been responsible for funding this; moreover, he inquired, who would be funding McDonald’s upcoming trip to Europe? Klass clearly was trying to intimidate ONR – as senior editor of Aviation Week, he was in a position to do so. ONR, for its part, replied that it was satisfied with McDonald’s work, and indeed had no objection to his UFO research. Still, ONR did discontinue future funding for McDonald.
Another Klassic incident, to be mentioned in my next book, had to do with a UFO symposium which took place at the University of Nebraska on November 11 and 12, 1983 – organized by the MUFON State Director for Nebraska, Ray Boeche. Klass had learned about the event three months in advance, and immediately placed telephone calls to the Conference Coordinator, Russ Free and the Director of Conferences at the University, Robert Mortensen. Essentially, Klass wanted to know why a prestigious university would sponsor such a conference. Apparently, he was so obnoxious that the two administrators contacted MUFON International Director Walt Andrus. Moreover, the University’s Assistant to the Chancellor, Dr. John K. Yost, actually started an investigation. The reason, in part, was that Klass had said there was a political agenda to the conference. In the words of Mortensen, “Mr. Klass has a personal feeling that the nature of this conference seriously questions the integrity of the United States government. He feels that there is no scientific evidence to support the claims of the presenters and indicated that these organizations, by publicly questioning the government, lend support to the Communist movement.”
That’s right. The communist movement. At any event, the conference took place as scheduled.
Thus, this most recently discovered letter is simply one more bit of evidence relating to the “legacy” of Philip J. Klass. Anyone who has surveyed the man’s life and career should understand by now that any such so-called legacy of his has nothing to do with his analysis of the UFO phenomenon, which was always shallow and politically motivated. Rather, it will be for his underhanded, sleazy, behind-the-scenes efforts to intimidate academically and scientifically qualified institutions – as well as mainstream U.S. media – away from the study of UFOs. This is work, moreover, that strongly appears to have been done on behalf of elements of the United States intelligence community. That fact may not yet be proven to the satisfaction of everyone, but the ducks are certainly lining up.