Anti-Science

For a tryst in the greenery . . .

The CIA recently published a treasure trove of declassified documents on their site in compliance with the Freedom of Information Act. Normally the FoIA offers you complete Freedom of Information in name only, as actually obtaining documents from the government can be an incredible nightmare. But, these online documents are easily accessed through a search tool. So far, I’ve tried ESP, psychic, parapsychology, and UFO, with the latter being the most popular (325 hits!). Next I’ll be looking up accounts of spies!

It’s pretty entertaining reading. They’ve collected a lot of news reports from around the world of strange occurrences, like this (unclassified) report of a UFO that turned out to be St. Elmo’s Fire appearing off the side of a plane. I found a number of other reports that sounded as though they also could have been St. Elmo’s Fire, like in this report from the USSR titled AERIAL OBSERVATION OF INTENSE SOURCE OF LIGHT. To fuel the conspiracy theorists, some documents are almost completely blacked out. Take this report titled DELETED (ON ONE EVENING IN LATE SUMMER 1973, SOURCE OBSERVED AN UNIDENT IFIED). The first three pages are deleted, and then we get one paragraph telling about a person witnessing a bright green object hovering in the sky and then vanishing. The remainder of the report is deleted.

If you have some time to kill, search around and post any oddities you find! Bonus points to fans who got the title of this post without Googling.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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13 Comments

  1. I saw a UFO just the other day! I was quite excited as I normally don't have any strange experiences that other people often talk of (ghosts, spooky conincidences etc). So on Friday as I was driving to a party through the suburbs of Dublin I stopped at some lights, looked up and saw what looked vaguely like a flying saucer. It was yellow and black, didn't look at all like a plane and was floating along horizontally. I couldn't work out the distance to it, but it didn't seem that close, and I couldn't make out any details.

    Just as the traffic lights went to green it started changing colour, reminding me of the way a squid/octopus changes colour. I managed to pull the car over and get out, the ufo was getting further away, and looked more bloblike. Fortunately since becoming addicted to slacker astronomy/ astronomy cast I had a pair of 10×50 binoculars in the boot of my car. A quick look through and my ufo turned out to be a large bunch of different coloured helium balloons that had presumably floated away from some kids party.

    Disappointing in some ways, but until I had seen them through the binoculars I genuinely had *no* idea what I'd seen. But I don't know if I would've contacted the FBI (or the Gardai) about it…

  2. I love how they have huge segments of deleted stuff!

    "Sure, this information's available to you, but we're mainly just going to show you the space where the words were. No old secrets for you!"

    FoIA seems to be mainly for show, "we love you, and we're not keeping you in the dark! See? we're not, not unless you count blacked out words in documents we say you're allowed to see".

    Why release the document if it's got stuff that has to be deleted? Surely it would be better to wait until a document can be released in its entirety.

    Perhaps they're throwing these things out there to keep the conspiracy theorists busy, and thus keeping them from finding out about the real secrets.

  3. June 25, 2007 at 7:33 pm , dcarm wrote:

    I love how they have huge segments of deleted stuff!

    “Sure, this information’s available to you, but we’re mainly just going to show you the space where the words were. No old secrets for you!”

    I agree with you partly, but part of me hopes that if for whatever reason someone ever decides to release classified documents with my name and address and whatnot on 'em, they at least have the courtesy to black those out too, 'cause, you know, they are pretty much irrelevant to the rest of the information contained within.

    Since you don't know what is being blacked out, you have no reason to assume it's something important or even relevant.

    Especially considering the litigiousness of the average US citizen, I think every document released was scrutinised at least several times for – among other things – identifiable personal information, before it was deemed fit for the public.

  4. I'm with exarch.

    I'm not saying that the black marks on FOIA documents don't bother me, but nor am I of the belief that what's blacked out is terribly important. It was my impression that, in some cases, many FOIA requests pertain to specific people, issues, events, and things like that. Often, the bits of documents NOT referring to the particular people et al. requested are blacked out or omitted.

    Also, as I understand it it, there are still segments that (generally) are best left secret for the government and for us. These sections deal with things like law enforcement procedures, names and addresses (as mentioned byexarch), information gathering techniques, sources, and also a bunch of legal/governmental doublespeak. These things comprise the 'trade secrets' of the government, if you will.

    Now, the anti-big-government part of my brain says "Let it all out! Give 'em no more authority than they need!", but looking at it rationally I know that there are almost certainly going to be situations where the actions of the FBI, CIA, or whoever actually do benefit a large number of people, and it'd be best for their secrets to remain secrets. Also, it's not as if exposing their methods would STOP any abuses or keep them from doing their job. It'd just make it harder and likely more unpleasant for those being investigated.

    Either way, I no longer believe (as I used to as a child) that the blacked out parts conceal ET's address or the secret technologies he and his ilk have gifted us. "To Serve Man," indeed!

  5. I love how UFO is one of the most searched terms along with Bay of Pigs, Iran, and WMD-related stuff.

    I like the UFO report from Lithuania: near the village of Nemezis, a spherical object about 20-30 meters above the ground was "pulsing" and alternately expanding and shrinking. They also heard a sort of electronic crackle. When the police advanced toward it, it rose and rapidly took off. They surveyed the area, the background radiation and recorded the sound, which was still heard even after the UFO took off. They also noticed that the high grass was flattened below the area where the object had hovered. The police dogs were quiet. Lithuanian scientists had no opinion on the matter.

    The police commissioner said that the two officers who had observed the shining object are "psychologically healthy people, normal people, not noted for crankiness."

    I think I'd be more inclined to believe cranky people!

    There's amusing stuff in there: near Moscow a UFO was determined to be "the combustion of a large amout of grass." The story being a sensational way to perk up a slow summer news season.

    Descriptions are fun too: the groups of objects looked like "pineapple platelets, but 6 m long; the other group like "huge, triangular milk cartons"; and the third group like "upside down basins."

    <a href="http://www.foia.cia.gov/search.asp?pageNumber=1&freqReqRecord=undefined&refinedText=undefined&freqSearchText=undefined&txtSearch=unidentified+flying+object&exactPhrase=undefined&allWords=undefined&anyWords=undefined&withoutWords=undefined&documentNumber=undefined&startCreatedMonth=&startCreatedDay=&startCreatedYear=&endCreatedMonth=&endCreatedDay=&endCreatedYear=0&startReleasedMonth=&startReleasedDay=&startReleasedYear=&endReleasedMonth=&endReleasedDay=&endReleasedYear=0&sortOrder=DESC&quot; rel="nofollow">The first three pages of these search results have a bunch of interesting stuff such as the USSR:Media Report Multitude of UFO Sightings.

  6. Melusine:

    That bit about the non-cranky police officers nearly made my spit out my Fanta…what a strange thing to specify! Did they go on to say "The officers were not known to be tetchy, only cried when teething, and typically went to sleep quickly and without fuss after being put down for nappy-poos."

  7. I motion that we refer to the woo-woo people of the world as cranky from now on. How great would that be."Oh I am not going to listen to you now – you are just a bit too cranky to deal with". It works on so many levels!

  8. I agree with you, Exarch and Expatria, I do. I agree that it's probably all inane and/or irrelevant stuff you and I don't really care about. But it's the perfect breeding ground for conspiracy theorists and theories to come up which stem from not knowing what's under there.

    I understand the importance of protecting Personally Identifiable Data, and support that part of the deletion. But how information is gathered is relevant to the quality of said information. I agree that there are things that are best to be left secrets, but if a document contains information about a secret, then don't release it as it is still "classified". (and that classification is a big bastardisation of the English language anyway, but that's another topic)

    So: no claims there's actually much in the way important data there, but it'd be nice to make the skeptic's life easier by reducing the number of different conspiracies out there.

    oh! and yes! refer to the cranks as cranky! I like it!

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