DEFCON 3 TO TOP SECRET UMBRA -
SECURITY CRISIS WITH A UFO CONNECTION IN 1973
On a narrow west coast peninsula, over one thousand kilometres to
the north of the main centres of population in Western Australia,
stands an enigmatic monument to the military ethic. It is a remote
spot even for a country as vast and thinly populated as Australia.
A vast array of antennas and towers stand out in stark contrast to
the harsh natural beauty of the surrounding terrain. The facility is
divided into 3 principal sites - Areas A, B and C. Area A lies on the
northernmost tip of the peninsula. Rising to a dizzying height of 387
metres is Tower Zero -- the central structure of a vast array. Another
12 towers stand in two concentric rings around it. The towers support
"large spiderwebs of wire" -- the Very Low Frequency (VLF) antenna
array covering one thousand acres -- the largest in the world.
A few kilometres to the south is Area B. It consists of the
installation's headquarters and the High Frequency transmitter site.
Area C - the main receiver site of this secretive facility - is located 60 km
further to the south.
Collectively the 3 sites function as a window into an
extraordinary world that few of us are privy to. I refer to the vast
and often mind boggling world of military intelligence. The site is
officially called US Naval Communication Station Harold E. Holt. It is
more popularly known as North West Cape.
In the vast scheme of facilities that make up the worldwide US
intelligence gathering network, North West Cape, until recently, played
an important and acutely sensitive role. It was never very far from
the drama and controversy that pivoted around the fears of possible
nuclear war between the superpowers.
In his 1980 book, A Suitable Piece of Real Estate, Dr. Desmond
Ball, senior research fellow in the Strategic and Defence Studies
Centre at the Australian National University, wrote, "NW Cape....is
presently one of the most important links in the US global defence
network." Its main function was "to provide communication for the US
Navy's most powerful deterrent force - the nuclear powered ballistic
Dr. Ball further stated, "The National Security Agency (NSA) is
the principal US intelligence agency operating in Australia;...Compared
tp the CIA in Australia, the NSA has a much larger presence, is more
important, more secret, and closer to Australia's own intelligence
organisations." It is responsible for all "the various activities
associated with Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) - electronic
intelligence, communications intelligence, radar intelligence,
electronic counter intelligence and signal security."
The National Security Agency is one of the biggest and most
secretive organisations in today's mind boggling world of
The NSA operates at the NW Cape base, through its Naval Security
Group component. The base acted as a ground station for the Big Bird
"spy in the sky" satellites.
The North West Cape base, along with other US bases around
Australia (such as Pine Gap and Nurrungar), have long been a matter of
acute political sensitivity, specifically related to the assertion that
such sites would be prime nuclear targets during a major outbreak of
hostilies between the superpowers.
While that threat appears to have diminished in recent years, due
to the collapse of the old Soviet empire, back during October, 1973, we
staggered towards the edge of nuclear brinkmanship. NW Cape dragged
Australia into the global arena as a naive and compromised sidelines
player. Perhaps never were we so close to the brink than during those
harrowing days of the Yom Kippur Middle East war.
Richard Nixon, a US president beseiged by the domestic spectre of
Watergate, plunged into the Middle East crisis. It had the bonus of
temporarily deflecting attention away from his domestic excesses. The
threat of nuclear annihilation is always a handy little diversion from
the domestic triviality of "dirty tricks."
On October 11, 1973, five days after the Middle East War broke
out, North West Cape along with other US bases in Australia were put
on full alert.
According to Richard Hall, in his book The Secret State (1978),
this alert status was to escalate dramatically due to "an NSA
misreading of Arabic in a Syrian message to the USSR which led
Kissinger and Nixon to believe that Soviet troops might be sent to the
This fiasco climaxed early on the morning of 25 October, 1973, in
Washington. A full nuclear alert went out to all US forces. North
West Cape was used to communicate the alert to both conventional and
nuclear forces in this region. The acute security alert status "Def
Con 3" was reached. Local time at North West Cape was around early
Something else intruded into the crisis charged atmosphere over
North West Cape that evening.
At about 1915 hours, on that fateful Thursday, October 25th,
1973, Lt. Commander M_____ (USN) observed "a large black, airborne
object" at a distance of approximately 8 kilometres to the west at an
altitude estimated at 600 metres. Lt. Cmdr. M_____ was driving south
from the naval communication station towards the support township of
Exmouth, along Murat Road. The officer indicated in a written
statement that, "After about 20-25 seconds the craft accelerated at
unbelievable speed and disappeared to the north."
The officer's account further states:
7. Hovering at first, then accelerating beyond
9. No noise or exhaust.
11. Have never experienced anything like it.
At the base, Fire Captain (USN) Bill L____ also saw the
extraordinary craft. He provided the following statement:
At 1920 hrs, I was called by the POW to close the
Officers club. I proceded towards the club in the Fire Dept.
pick-up 488, when my attention was drawn to a large black
object, which at first I took to be a small cloud formation, due
west of Area 'B' [in the vicinity of Mount Athol - B.C.].
Whilst travelling towards the Officers club I couldn't help but
be attracted by this object's appearance. On alighting from
pick-up 488, I stood for several minutes and watched this black
The sky was clear & pale green-blue. No clouds were about
The object was completely stationary except for a halo around
the centre, which appeared to be either revolving or pulsating.
After watching it for approx. 4 minutes, it suddenly took off at
tremendous speed & disappeared in a northerly direction, in a
few seconds. I consider this object to have been approx. 10
metres in diameter, hovering at 300 metres over the hills due
west of the base. It was black, maybe due to looking in the
drection of the setting sun. No lights appeared on it at any
This is an extraordinary incident. When I first saw the report on
it back in 1975 I was surprised, due to its contents, that, firstly, it
had been entered onto standard RAAF Department of Defence UAS sighting
report forms, and, secondly, that it had been made available to a
researcher who had requested copies of some reports for statistical
analyses being undertaken for my research group.
With the hindsight of the knowledge of its broader implications,
which I am about to reveal, it leaves me just short of incredulous that
people outside the world of military intelligence were made privy to
I have already noted in passing the part the National Security
Agency (NSA) plays in the shadowy world of intelligence and its
significant presence at North West Cape. It occupies a position of
extraordinary significance. Therefore it was fascinating to observe
the bizarre sideshow played out when a civilian UFO group tried to
determine if the NSA had any files on UFOs.
UFO researcher, Robert Todd, received a blunt response in 1976,
namely that "the NSA does not have any interest in UFOs in any manner".
The civilian group Citizens Against UFO Secrecy (CAUS) persisted in its
enquiries under the Freedom of Information Act. During 1978, in
litigation against the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) it was
determined that they had 18 documents on UFOs that orginated from the
NSA! Access to these documents was denied on the basis that they were
exempt from disclosure on the grounds of national security.
CAUS took the NSA to court determining along the way that it held a
further 79 UFO related documents, which were similarly prevented from
release on national security grounds!
Two documents were eventually released in January, 1980, namely
"UFO's _______________ [balance of title deleted - B.C.]" and "UFO
Hypothesis and Survival Questions." It was subsequently determined
that both documents were written by the same NSA analyst. They remain
our first and only insight into NSA thinking about UFOs. For their
part, the NSA stressed that neither document represented official
policy and were unpublished draft documents retained only for
"historical reference purposes." Both documents are especially
relevant in our contemplation of the possible significance of theNorth
West Cape UFO incident.
The first NSA document was undated and heavily censored, however we
find references to "Dr. Jacques Vallee famed communications science
expert" and the intriguing term "surprise material".
Vallee was described as having studied "thousands of cases where
human beings have observed unusual phenomena. He has found that the
human response to such observation is predictable and graphically
depictable. Whether the person's psychological structure is being
assaulted by the unusual and shocking brutality of a murder or the
strangeness of a UFO sighting, the effect is the same.... The degree of
strangeness of the phenomena dictates how many people the mind is
willing and able to tell the event to. A mildly unusual or shocking
event will be told to many people. A very shocking event of high
strangeness will be told to few people or pratically none at all.
Occasionally the event is so shockingly unusual that it isn't even
reported to the person's conscious mind but is buried in the
unconscious of the person where it is only accessible to hypnosis..."
Jacques Vallee is of course well known as a UFO researcher and the
concepts described in the classified NSA document are detailed in his
1975 book The Invisible College.
The heavily censored NSA document also introduces us to the concept
of "surprise material". UFOs, a phenomenon publically ridiculed and
rejected by science, had been placed by the NSA analyst in the same
category as major historical threatening events. The appendix section
of this extraordinary document includes two pages of historical
examples of "Blindness to Surprise Material Causing Defect" (eg. Pearl
Harbour, the Maginot Line, and the Normandy Invasion). It is
important to note that UFOs, in this classified NSA document, are being
treated as similar to major threatening events, and not as a trivial
The second NSA document, written in 1968, bears the provocative
title "UFO Hypothesis and Survival Questions" and contained the
following intriguing points:
It is the purpose of this monograph to consider briefly some of
the human survival implications suggested by the various principal
hypotheses concerning the nature of the phenomena loosely
categorized as UFO.
1. All UFOs Are Hoaxes... If UFOs, contrary to all indications and
expectations, are indeed hoaxes - hoaxes of a world-wide dimension
- hoaxes of increasing frequency, then a human mental aberration
of alarming proportions would appear to be developing. Such an
aberration would seem to have serious implications for nations
equipped with nuclear toys - and should require immediate and
careful study by scientists.
2. All UFOs are Hallucinations... In spite of all the evidence to
the contrary, if UFOs did turn out to be largely illusionary the
psychological implications for man would certainly bring into
strong question his ability to distinguish reality from fantasy.
The negative effect on man's ability to survive in an increasingly
complex world would be considerable - making it imperative that
such a growing impairment of the human capacity for
rational judgment be subject immediate and thorough scientific
study so that the illness could be controlled before it reaches
3. All UFOs Are Natural Phenomena. If this hypothesis
is correct, the capacity of air warning systems to correctly diagnose an
attack situation is open to serious question...
4. Some UFOs Are Secret Earth Projects ... Undoubtedly
all UFOs should be carefully scrutinized to ferret out such enemy (or
"friendly") projects. Otherwise a nation faces the very strong
possibility of being intimidated by a new secret "doomsday" weapon.
5. UFOs Are Related to Intra-terrestrial Intelligence. According
to some eminent scientists closely associated with the study of
this phenomenon, this hypothesis cannot be disregarded. (The well
documented sightings over Washington DC in 1952 strongly support
this view.) This hypothesis has a number of far-reaching human
If they discover you, it is an old but hardly invalid rule of
thumb, they are your technological superiors...The "inferior" is
usually subject to physical conquest..."
6. Comment: Although this paper has hardly exhausted
the possible hypotheses related to the UFO phenomena, those
mentioned above are the principal ones presently put forward. All of
them have serious survival implications. The final answer to this mystery
will probably include more than one of the above hypotheses...
It would seem a little more of this survival attitude is called
for in dealing with the UFO problem...
Perhaps the UFO question might even make man undertake studies
which could enable him to construct a society which is more
conducive to devloping a completely human being, healthy in all
respects of mind and body and, most important, able to recognise
and adapt to real environmental situations."
We are told that these 2 NSA documents, written by the same NSA
draft documents (which) were never published, formally
issued, acted upon. or responded to by any government official or
agency. Moreover, they are not NSA/CSS [Central Security Service -
B.C.] reports and in no way reflect an official NSA/CSS position
concerning UFOs. They are subject to the provisions of the FOIA only
because they have been retained by this agency for historical reference
It puzzled me that despite the apparent fact that the NSA shreds
something of the order of 40 tonnes of documents per day, why had not
these 2 documents and all the other NSA documents found the same fate?
Although they were apparently retained for "historical reference
purposes" only, one is tempted to argue they were preserved because of
Howard Blum, a former award winning journalist for The New York
Times, identifies the author of the "surprise material" and "UFO
Hypothesis and Survival Questions" documents as Lambros D. Callimahos.
Callimahos was an= almost legendary figure within the National Security
Agency and the field of cryptology. He founded the Dundee Society - a
secret society within the NSA, which proselytised from within that UFOs
had probably already visited Earth. According to Blum, the NSA has
since 1972 been "secretly monitoring and often assessing worldwide
allegations of UFO activity." The 1973 DEFCON 3 SIGINT
episode in Australia was an extraordinary example.
During 1982, a US District Court ruled that the NSA did not have
to accede to a Freedom of Information Act request to supply a civilian
group - Citizens Against UFO Secrecy (CAUS) - with hundreds of UFO
documents in its possession. The ruling stated that the release of the
documents "could seriously jeopardise the work of the agency and the
security of the United States." With regard to the balance between
public interest about UFOs and the NSA's need for secrecy, the court
further ruled that "public interest in disclosure is far outweighed by
the sensitive nature of the materials and the obvious effect on
national security their release may well entail." The court judge only
had access to a 21 page in-camera affidavit presented by NSA's Office
of Policy chief. He was never made privy to the original document
covered by the affidavit, which itself was classified "TOP SECRET
______" - "TOP SECRET UMBRA", I assume - meaning that the information
was of the highest SIGINT sensitivity. UFO researchers were only
allowed to see a heavily censored version of the affidavit, indeed out
of the 582 lines present, 412 were either totally or partially blacked
The classified NSA affidavit did state that the UFO material was
related to intercepted communications of foreign governments or SIGINT
operations and therefore were properly classified. A date appears in
the heavily censored report:
NSA - originated reports -
Thirty-eight documents are the direct product of NSA SIGINT
operations and one document describes classified SIGINT activities.
These documents can be further described as follows:
"b. One record is a 1973 report which _________________________
The rest of the 5 line paragraph is censored. Given the SIGINT based
coincidence with the UFO presence over North West Cape during a nuclear
alert on October 25th, 1973, it seems reasonable to suspect that the
censored paragraph refers to this event. The final telling point was
that the Australian= Whitlam Labour government was not even promptly
informed of the DEFCON 3 nuclear status, emanating from Australian
soil. This led Whitlam to say the US bases in Australia were no longer
sacrosanct, a position that had him completely at odds with the US
intelligence community. All this and a provocative UFO report in the
middle of it!
1978 AND THE RAAF
The RAAF were not prepared for 1978. When the year had ended some
30 incidences remained classed as "unknowns" giving a % unknowns of
25.4%. The year before although lower in actual numbers of as reports
also yielded a similar figure, namely 24.0%. Previous years had been as
low as 3.0% and had been at 2.1% and in 1972 up till then had been at
an all time high of 12.6%. It is therefore not surprising that the
Department of Defence ceased publishing the annual Summaries with the
appearance of Summary No.9 for the year 1977.
The disappearance of Frederick Valentich while flying a Cessna
across Bass Strait on October 21st,1978, dominated the year. 1978 was
still an extraordinary year based on the holdings in the official RAAF
files. Some of the highlights were an extraordinary phenomenon seen in
a cane field east of Mandurana, Queensland, for 3 hours on December
6th; a UFO sighting by crew on HMAS Adroit on April 11th; an apparent
"electromagnetic" case north of Goulburn, NSW, on October 22nd, which
left the car speed indicator broken; a "daylight disc" seen near
Laverton Air Force base on December 27th; a very close encounter
between a "mini-bus" like UFO and a taxi driver in Wavell Heights,
Aspley, Queensland, on October 10th, 1978 ; and a large disc shaped UFO
with "portholes", one of which allegedly had a shadow or silhouette
behind it, at Heathcoate Road, near Menai, NSW, on October 29th.
By way of example, on April 11th, 1978, crew of HMAS Adroit
operating out of Darwin, observed at 1123171K in position 1205 south
12954 East, a UFO bearing 285 degrees and appearing to "rise and hover
and sink to the horizon several times before finally disappearing
beyond the horizon. This object appeared very large and bathed with
bright red lights and at one stage appeared to close (on) the ship...
The light also appeared at one stage to flicker on and off. This
phenomenon lasted several minutes..." The Royal Australian Naval
officer reporting the sighting stated, "There is no possibility that
(this) sighting was the moon setting and I believe (it) to have (been)
caused by a UFO." The event is officially listed as "unknown".
It was the extraordinary disappearance of pilot Frederick
Valentich over Bass Strait on October 21st, 1978, that thrust the
subject of UFOs into the news headlines around the world. The
Valentich mystery has endured as an insoluble enigma. The crux of the
mystery is just what happened to the young pilot and his 182 Cessna
light aircraft - VH - DSJ (Delta Sierra Juliet) - during that October
evening. The circumstances behind the total disappearance of both
pilot and plane have since been elevated into one of the premier
mysteries of aviation and for many one of the most intriguing elements
of the UFO phenomenon.
The fact that the mystery has lasted so long is a direct result
of the incredible aspects at the heart of the affair. Twenty year-old
Frederick Valentich, 47 minutes into what should have been a routine
69 minute flight from Moorabin, Victoria, to King Island, reported in a
radio conversation with Melbourne Flight Service Unit controller, Steve
Robey, of seeing an unidentified "aircraft" near him.
Apart from a very early attempt to suggest that Frederick
Valentich may have been flying upside down, totally disorientated, with
lighthouse lights producing his perception of an "unidentified
aircraft", the Australian Department of Aviation has never officially
addressed the question of what Valentich may have been observing prior
to his disappearance.
I tried to extract from the Department their opinion.
At first the then Assistant Secretary (Air Safety Investigation),
Mr. G.V. Hughes, advised me that he was not clear as to what was meant
by my expression, "...the stimulus of Valentich's apparent UFO
"However, a great deal of consideration has been given to what Mr.
Valentich might have been looking at when he described his
observations. A considerable number of suggestions have been put
forward by persons inside and outside this Department. All have been
examined. The Department is not aware of any other official body
having undertaken such an investigation into this occurrence," Mr.
However, when it came to an official investigation of a possible
UFO connection, a veritable bureaucratic "Catch-22" loomed large. Mr.
Hughes advised me, "As you correctly state ..., the RAAF is responsible
for the investigation of reports concerning 'UFO' sightings, and
liaison was established with the RAAF on these aspects of the
investigation. The decision as to whether or not the 'UFO' report is
to be investigated rests with the RAAF and not with this Department."
At the time I was fortunately in a position to get a clearer
picture of the RAAF role in the Valentich case. I had been given
unprecedented direct access to the RAAF files. During my detailed
explorations of the files in a number of visits to the Department of
Defence in Canberra, I did not come across any documentation on the
Valentich affair. The RAAF Intelligence Liaison Officer - DAFI told me
that the RAAF did not investigate the affair because they were not
asked to by the Department of Aviation! The RAAF saw it as more
appropriately in the domain of an "air accident/air safety" enquiry.
The Intelligence officer also volunteered that his personal opinion was
that pilot diorientation was involved.
In November, 1982, I was finally given official permission to
examine the Department of Aviation UFO files, but was specifically
denied access to the Valentich files on the grounds that they were Air
Accident Investigation files and not UFO files. Mr. Hughes of Air
"the file concerning this occurrence is no more or
less restricted than any other accident investigation file. As a
signatory to the International Convention on Civil Aviation, we
subscribe to the Standards and Recommended Practices contained in Annex
13 to the Convention, in respect of aircraft accident investigation,
specifically, when it is considered that the disclosure of records, for
the purposes other than accident prevention, might have an adverse
effect on the availability of information in that or any future
investigation, such records are considered privileged."
While in Melbourne examining the Aviation Department's UFO files,
I was able to have a lengthy discussion on the Valentich affair with
Mr. A. Woodward, the signatory on the official Aircraft Accident
Investigation Summary Report, dated May 27th, 1982. He largely
reiterated the official department line, emphasising that they were
treating the matter as only an "air accident" investigation. He dwelt
on a long list of prosaic explanations ranging from disorientation,
suicide, to the unlikely prospect of the plane being struck by a
meteorite, but conceded that the affair was still
It appears that the RAAF's enthusiasm for the UFO controversy
diminished sharply after 1977 and 1978. The whole problem was getting
unwieldy and unmanageable. Controversy rather than resolution was at
every turn. At this time getting any sort of information out of the
RAAF was difficult. Letters were either not answered or replies skirted
the substance of enquiries.
A letter I wrote in April, 1980, drew the following internal
"11/4 A/ADRR -
Re reply, I believe there is a policy of not providing
information on UFOs - Is this true?"
"A/ADPR (Press) :
Could you please get a policy sorted out with DAFI in [sic? - B.C.]
whether we should continue to answer such enquiries? I think we
are obliged to, particularly when FoI comes in [a reference to
the Australian Freedom of Information Act- B.C.], but I think
you were going to discuss the matter with [unclear-B.C.] at one
I still presume we are still in the UFO business. If so, could I
have a suitable reply to pass on to Mr. Chalker, please (14.4.80)."
As it turned out a reply was not forthcoming for a further 5 months.
"NOT SO 'ALIEN' HONEYCOMB"
Alien Honeycomb - the first solid evidence for UFOs" by John
Pinkney and Leonard Ryzman was published during 1980. It professed to
tell the story of a UFO explosion near Greenbank, Queensland, which led
the authors to recovering some of the debri. They claimed it contained
"unknown elements and configurations". The book reveal no details
about chemical analyses and the authors resisted any attempt at
confirmatory, independent analysis.
They were only prepared to have their material examined by the
United Nations. The story that allegedly connects the debris to a UFO
is fragmentary and dubious. In fact not enough information was given
to verify a clear correlation. Subsequent investigation indicated the
original discovery of the material by locals was covered by the
Brisbane Telegraph on November 13th, 1970. The authors tried to link
the debris with a sighting of a "flare" like "UFO" back in about 1966.
Pinkney and Ryzman indicated that most of the material was
retrieved by RAAF officers, and then clandestinely despatched to
Pentagon testing laboratories. They presented absolutely no evidence
to back that statement up. The only reference to "Alien Honeycomb" I
found in the RAAF files were internal memoranda from 1980. DEFAIR
CANBERRA wrote to HQOC - SOINT on August 1st, 1980, regarding
"Confirmation of Data in Book 'Alien Honeycomb'":
The text of the book is sufficiently vague to make tracing
information from service records a very tiring and difficult task.
A check of files held at Air Force Office has proven negative.
Unfortunately, a 'no comment' or 'no information' response from the
RAAF is only going to encourage this type of journalisim.
Accordingly, it is requested that HQOC initiate a check of records
(including those of HQ AMB) [Amberley - B.C.] for data which could
relate to this matter.
A telex dated September 5, 1980, and categorised as
"unclassified/routine", from HQOC to DEFAIR Canberra, stated:
Further to ref A the following is retrans of info received from HQ
1. Summaries of unidentified aerial sightings prepared by Dept of
Air between mid 1968 and mid 1969 have been checked for mention of
the case. No mention of that particular sighting appears in the
2. This is unusual because it is our understanding that the
summaries were comprehensive and not edited lists of reported
3. Unless requested by command the HQ does not propose to
take this matter further.
I didn't see any evidence of a dark, pervasive coverup there. Other
RAAF files refer to retrieval of mundane debris, but none refer to the
Greenbank "alien honeycomb". More likely the key to this affair is
languishing, not in a UFO or UAS file, but in aircraft accident files.
As an industrial chemist and someone who was promoting serious
research into possible physical evidence for UFOs, I was interested in
finding out more when the book first appeared. The authors did not
assist independent research into their material. Based on visual
assessments I had concluded the material was AEROWEB high strength
honeycomb, some of which is made from fibreglass - a clearly
human-sourced material. Soon other researchers,such as Paul Hebron, of
UFO Research (Queensland), had acquired samples of the material from
the site in question. A researcher working for sceptic Dick Smith
received some of the "alien honeycomb" from the same person who
provided the authors with their material. A clear relationship was
established between this material and the material held by Pinkney and
Ryzman. Dick Smith financed an analysis through Unisearch laboratories,
and not surprisingly confirmed that the "alien honeycomb" was not so
alien - it was fibreglass! So much for "the first solid evidence of
UFOs." More compelling examples of unusual debris or material related
to UFO events have been documented. However in this case it was clear
that the material had nothing to do with UFOs.
RAAF "OPERATION CLOSE ENCOUNTER"
The next major wave of sightings occurred in the middle of 1983.
There was a spate of essentially nocturnal lights, supported in some
cases by photos, around Bendigo and Ballarat, Victoria, during May. A
spate of activity including some apparent close encounters, occurred in
NSW, during June and early July, against a back drop of probably
spurious radar returns at Sydney airport. The RAAF initiated, with
perhaps tongue in cheek, what their UFO files called "Operation Close
Encounter", which lead to RAAF aircraft being on standby, to pursue any
verified correlated returns. They finally concluded the returns were
probably spurious. The lack of a coherent threat solidified the
official position that much of their involvement in the UFO controversy
fell well outside the RAAF's military/security domain.
The UFO wave of 1983 saw the RAAF being remarkably public in their
role of examining UFO sightings, indeed at a level virtually
unprecedented in the history of the Australian controversy. An
uncharitable interpretation of these developments is that the RAAF
wanted to be seen to be doing it's "job".
During June and July, 1983, there was a rash of puzzling radar
"paints" from Sydney Airport (Mascot). More than 30 unidentified radar
returns were recorded. None were correlated with any visual sightings.
When word leaked out, widespread media attention occured.
THE MELTON - ROCKBANK UFO SECURITY BREACH
A bizarre night time game of "tag" and "pursuit" lasting several
hours, and involving police, occurred at Melton, Victoria, on July
This event caused great consternation in official circles,
principally because during the evening's events the Army signal unit
was alerted that their security had been breached. Constable Raymond
Ellens was in a police divisional van with Constable Peter Ferguson,
involved in the on and off pursuit of the strange intruders. Constable
Ellens stated in his official report:
At about 5.00 am we again sighted the object to the east of our
position. Sunshine 311 were still in attendance. We observed the
object travelling directly towards our position. Between the
object and our position was the Australian Army Rockbank Receiving
Station. The object appeared to be travelling slowly directly
towards the antenna array. At this time the object appeared to be
below the height of the antenna and if it continued on its path a
collision would have occurred. The object then turned about and
started to arc again to the north. After a few minutes we again
lost sight of the object over the far horizon.
Sergeant Barry Harman of Melton police station witnessed the
strange craft in close proximity to the station:
"Both Inspector Hickman and myself then ran onto the roadway of
Palmerston street in front of the Melton Police Station, and
immediately I looked into the direction of the Regional shopping
centre and observed the object.
"My immediate observation was that of two large round lights, very
similar to the lights of a motor car, approximately 40 cm in
diameter and approx. 3 - 5 metres apart, approaching the police
station at a very low altitude of approx. 100 to 150 metres. This
object appeared to be maintaining an even altitude and speed and
direction towards the police station.... As the object passed by, I
gain the impression of the shape of the object to be similiar to an
inflatable life raft approximately 12 metres in length, with
rounded sides, and a shallow body of approximately 2 metres in
depth. A red flashing light, not rotating, was situated in about
the centre of the undercarriage. There was no visible wings or
tail similiar to an aircraft, nor was there any sound similiar to
an aircraft or helicopter. The only sound audible was that of a
very quiet wind noise...."
Constable Ferguson gave this description:
"The object then proceeded from over Melton in an easterly
direction directly towards our position. As the object got closer
and eventually passed directly over head we shinned the spotlight
onto its underside and observed it to be of gun metal grey in
colour and to have the appearance of a very large rubber raft with
two lights inset in the front and two white lights on the rear and
a red flashing light in the centre. The underside appeared to be
slightly curved and the side .. panels (were slightly) curved also.
The object was approximately 30 feet in length and was
approximately 20 wide. The object made a low pitched humming sound
and appeared to be travelling at about 70 to 80 kph. The object
was approximately 200 feet above us and was illuminated by the
The evenings events were well witnessed. Earlier the object had
briefly appeared on Tullamarine radar. The officers had also sighted
the object on the ground near a paddock at the rear of the Toolern Vale
Stud. Constables Ellens and Ferguson inspected the paddocks in the area
but could find nothing.
Here we have a complex multiple witnessed affair involving
possibly two seperate objects, one of a structured lattice appearance
and the other, the "inflatable" craft described above. I spoke with
some of the officers soon after the incident and was impressed with the
seemingly bizarre nature of the affair. John Auchettl, then with
VUFORS, went out to Melton the next day. There was extensive interest
and presence from army, transport and police officials. John undertook
a detailed investigation. He still regards it as a very unusual and
strange event, particularly because of the apparent "backing up" of the
UFO when a collision seemed imminent with the Rockbank aerial array,
the slow speed involved while it seemed to be chasing the police at
times and the curious aspect of the UFO seeming to "crash land" at one
point and seemingly disappear into the ground. John indicated that
this was not (in army parlance) a "dead ground" effect, it was as if
the object had been "absorbed" into the ground. And yet we have clear
and unambigious evidence of real object, tracked briefly on radar.
The intelligence world was in an uproar because the Rockbank site
was an Australian Signal Intelligence facility, where Defence Signals
Directorate (DSD) monitoring occurs as part of our UKUSA SIGINT
intelligence alliance. The site is linked with the nearby Watsonia
facility which has direct satellite communications with the NSA and
CIA. In this light, one can understand the acute sensitivities with
the security "breach" that occurred that night. In intelligence
parlance, one could suggest that the Melton UFO showed "clear intent"
in its intrusion at the DSD Rockbank aerial array. We probably don't
know the full story of that nights events.
THE RAAF'S CHANGE IN UFO POLICY
The RAAF used the lack of a coherent threat in their 1983
"Operation Close Encounter" to finally resolve their ongoing dilemma -
that much of their public involvement in the UFO controversy fell well
outside the RAAF's military/security domain. What of the "breaches"
at North West Cape in 1973 and at Rockbank in 1983? Both incidents
had clear links to the clandestine world of military intelligence.
Predictably it was not long before the RAAF changed their UFO policy.
The Defence News Release of May 2nd, 1984 carried the details:
WEDNESDAY. MAY 2 1984 NO 80/84
UNUSUAL AERIAL SIGHTINGS - RAAF CHANGE IN POLICY
The RAAF in future will investigate fully only
those Unusual Aerial Sightings (UAS) which suggest a
defence or national security implication.
The Minister for Defence, Mr Gordon Scholes, said
today that while the RAAF would continue to be the first
point of contact, UAS reports not considered to have a
defence or security implication would not be further
investigated. Instead they would be recorded and the UAS
observer would be given the address of civilian UAS research
organisations if the observer wished to pursue the matter
Mr Scholes said that in the past the RAAF's
investigation of all UAS reports had often proved time
consuming, unproductive and had led to many man-hours of
follow-up action by the RAAF and other agencies such as the
Department of Aviation and the Bureau of Meteorology.
He said that procedures for investigating UAS
reports had remained unchanged for many years. The vast
majority of reports submitted by the public had proven not
to have a national security significance.
This sparked an inevitable response from the nations media, with
Gordon's blow: No UFOs
(Daily Telegraph, Sydney)
No go for the average UFO
RAAF resets UFO targets
RAAF gives up chase for UFOs
(West Australian, Perth)
UFO reports now have low rating
RAAF turns back on UFO Investigations
I responded to the RAAF's policy change with a letter to the
editor of one of Australia's leading newspapers of record:
The Sydney Morning Herald
Saturday, May 19, 1984
RAAF now has correct UFO policy
SIR: The Defence Ministers recent announcement of the RAAF's "new"
policy on UFOs (or UASs) (Stay in Touch, May 3) is a logical and
inevitable expression of the RAAF's 34 year involvement in the UFO
As the first civilian to have been permitted direct access to
the entirety of the RAAF's UFO files, I can confirm that the whole
history of the RAAF's activity in this area has been based on two
criteria logically, national security and, predictably, political
In the main, the RAAF UFO investigations have served there
publicly stated purposes. That is, they may have allayed possible
fear and alarm by the general public and satisfied the Government
that there is no apparent defence implications.
The RAAF has stated "nothing that has arisen for the 3 or 4 per
cent of unexplained cases gives any firm support for the belief
that interlopers from other places in this world or outside it
have been visiting us". It is my contention, having examined many
of those unexplained cases, that surprisingly many of them contain
extraordinary details which do not lend themselves to easy
explanation. These deserve to be the stuff of scientific
In the great majority of cases that make up this unexplained
residue, national security implications were not clearly apparent.
However in a few, violations are apparent. For example, on October
25, 1973, a UFO hovered nearthe sensitive North West Cape US Naval
Communications base. It was observed by a US Lt-Commander and a
base fire captain, before it "accelerated at unbelievable speed
and disappeared to the north". The US experience is similar. For
example an alleged UFO ostensibly showed "clear intent" (according
to previously classified documents) when observed hovering near a
weapons storage facilities at Loring Air Force Base late in 1975.
Therefore, I believe the recent change in policy is an
appropriate one for the RAAF to adopt. It will allow the RAAF to
weed out those rare occasions in which national security
violations are suggested and also allow civilian groups to attempt
scientific investigations of the infrequent "close encounters"
that the RAAF prefers to ignore.
May 9, 1984
The end of September, 1984, saw an embarrassing incident for the
government's "new" UFO policy. Having "down-graded" their interest,
due to an alleged lack of "national security" impact, a delta winged
aircraft, which startled golfers and trail bike riders at Cunnamulla,
in south-west Queensland, put the RAAF into a flap. The UFO was
described as having no tail, no windows and no apparent sound. One
witness reported it had "beautiful rainbow colours" and "seemed to zig
zag like it was out of control" for a short time before disappearing.
The object ostensibly remained unidentified.
The RAAF denied ownership. The matter was raised in the Senate of
Australia's parliament, leading the Senator representing the Defence
Minister in the Senate, to confirm that the RAAF advised there had been
no "known" delta-winged aircraft operating in the area at that time.
"Beryl flying off course" was supplied as the only suggestion -- a
flippant reference to the Queensland premier's pilot, Beryl Young.
Since then the RAAF have taken a relatively low profile in the UFO
controversy but civilian researchers have benefited in that reports
coming to the RAAF have been passed onto them. Even an abduction case,
located near Jindabyne, NSW, was referred to my group by the RAAF. I
have even had RAAF officers contacting me reporting their own UFO
AN INSIDER REVEALS THE RAAF
It came as a great surprise to many when the RAAF Senior Public
Relations Officer in Canberra, Ken Llewelyn, wrote a book about
"Incredible true stories of airmen on the earth plane and beyond" -
Flight into the Ages.
The book, released in February, 1992, carried the disclaimer that
it did not represent the official view of the RAAF on paranormal
activities. It described ghost encounters, past lives, psychic
experiences, and most interestingly of all, as far as this history is
concerned, accounts of UFO experiences. Ken Llewelyn covered the
Valentich disappearance and the apparent UFO connections. He also
described Shamus O'Farrell's classic radar visual encounter and
detailed a number of other less well known accounts.
One of Ken Llewelyn's sources was former RAAF pilot, Dave Barnes.
He gave details of an extraordinary event that took place at Amberley
RAAF Base, in the late 1970s. More than 20 airmen saw "a large UFO
hovering above the runway", at about 5.00 am. The object was described
as being an inverted cone shape. Barnes also indicated he had spoken
to Aboriginal elders near the Maralinga atomic bomb test site, about
their dreamtime and min min lights. The aboriginals had often seen
high speed lights north of Maralinga.
Another of Ken Llewelyn's prominent sources was Group Captain Tom
Dalton-Morgan. He had been part of a combined Royal Air Force and
United States Air Force committee in the late 1940s investigating UFO
sightings. It had concluded that most reports could be explained except
for three per cent which remained unexplained. Dalton-Morgan was the
Officer in Charge of Range Operations at Woomera between 1959 and 1963.
In about the late 1950s, shortly before the test firing of a Black
Knight rocket, he received a radio call from Percy Hawkins, the
Recovery Officer, reporting an exceptional bright light at about 5000
feet travelling at high speed directly towards the test site.
Dalton-Morgan and his team, who were 80 to 90 miles SE of Hawkins
position, were able to view the incoming light from their elevated
control building position. They watched it fly in from the NW, then
orbit around the range buildings some 5 miles to the south. When the
UFO was east of the control building, it seemed to accelerate and climb
very steeply away to the NE. Dalton-Morgan concluded,
"I am unable to
conceive of any object, plane or missile during my posting to Woomera
that was able to perform the manoeuvers seen by my team. Observers at
the control tower and the launch site all agreed on the brilliant
white-greenish light; the high degree of manoeuvrability, including
rate and angle of climb; complete lack of sound; the lack of positive
identification of the vehicle fuselage because it was a dark moonless
night; and the exceptionally high speed of which it was capable."
Ken Llewelyn told me that his book was like "Lady Chatterley's
Lover" in official circles -- an underground popular book even at high
levels. Beyond his controversial, but fascinating book, I questioned
him on a number of matters. In response to the perennial charges of
coverups, he said he had such regular and sufficient contact at high
levels in the RAAF to be certain that there was no evidence of hidden
cells of high power involvement in the UFO mystery. He appreciated
that many people, particularly a lot of UFO researchers and
enthusiasts, did not believe this position. He indicated that as of
1992, the current intelligence head was emphatic that there was nil
real interest since 1984 and even prior to that. It was felt there was
just not enough man power and resources, and no really compelling
material to sustain high level interest.
Despite the O'Farrell encounter, the numerous reports of military
personnel, such as the 1978 HMAS Adroit report, sightings from witnesses
of the calibre of Dalton-Morgan and others, and the high level "sub
rosa" interest of scientists like Harry Turner (JIB), Dr. John
Farrands and George Barlow (DSTO), and Dr. Michael Duggin (CSIRO), the
military ethic was entrenched and the inevitable decline was well
underway. The RAAF's exorcism of "the UFO problem" was reaching its
THE RAAF UFO "SWANSONG"?
During December, 1993, the RAAF formerly concluded its long
love-hate relationship with UFOs, or "Unusual Aerial Sightings" (UAS)
as they preferred to call them. The Department of Defence "swansong"
was dryly expressed in Enclosure 1 to Air Force file AF 84 3508 Pt 1
folio 18 - RAAF POLICY: UNUSUAL AERIAL SIGHTINGS. In correspondence
dated January 4, 1994, civilian UFO groups around Australia were
informed by-now Wing Commander Brett Biddington (of the 1983
"Operation Close Encounter" caper fame), on behalf of the Chief of Air
Staff, that "The number of reports made to the RAAF in the past decade
had declined significantly, which may indicate that organisations such
as yours are better known and are meeting the community's
The "new" policy, which was an inevitable outgrowth of the
downgrading of the RAAF's role back in 1984, stated:
For many years the RAAF has been formally responsible for handling
Unusual Aerial Sightings (UAS) at the official level. Consideration
of the scientific record suggests that, whilst not all UAS have a
ready explanation, there is no compelling reason for the RAAF to
continue to devote resources to recording, investigating and
attempting to explain UAS.
The RAAF no longer accepts reports on UAS and no longer attempts
assignment of cause or ollocation of reliability. Members of the
community who seek to report a UAS to RAAF personnel will be
referred to a civil UFO research organisation in the first
Some UAS may relate to events that could have a defence, security,
or public safety implication, such as man-made debris falling from
space or a burning aircraft. Where members of the community may
have witnessed an event of this type they are encouraged to contact
the police or civil aviation authorities.
Given the rich history of political and military machinations that
quite often effectively prevented opportunities for real science, the
policy statement alluding to "the scientific record" is particularly
perplexing. As a scientist who has examined in detail the RAAF
"record" I can state with some certainty that their record was not
particularly scientific and was largely defined by two criteria --
national security and political expediency. You have seen evidence in
the history I have written where science rarely got a look in, despite
courageous and persistent "sub rosa" efforts by scientists like Harry
Turner and Michael Duggin. In examining the official record I share
with these scientists the sense of lost opportunities.
If the Department of Defence had a sense of an efficient "burial"
of "the UFO problem" someone had forgotten to inform the alleged
corpse. The UFO phenomenon has never really passed away, but you would
be forgiven for believing it has had many resurrections. Remarkable
events continue to occur, providing a challenging testament to the
legitimacy of the UFO phenomenon.
THE RAAF UFO DATA
Over 1,612 reports have been received by the RAAF from between
1950 and until June, 1984. The actual figure is somewhat greater due to
incomplete records and scattered omissions from the Summary reports
periodically produced by the RAAF between 1965 and 1980. Accurate
figures for the period 1950 and 1954 are not possible, due to the loss
of the original files.
It is possible to give a rough statistical breakdown of the RAAF's
"total" investigations from 1950 to June, 1984. This needs to be broken
up into 4 periods, due to different sources of information and lack of
official "unknown" percentages outside the period from 1960 to 1980
PERIOD 1 (1950 - 1954):
Records for this period are incomplete with the only surviving records
being the previously secret "1954 Report on "Flying Saucers"" prepared
for the Directorate of Air Force Intelligence (DAFI) at their request
by nuclear physicist, Harry Turner, as a "scientific appreciation" of
their reports. Some of reports from this period survive in the old
Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) UFO files which were examined by me
during November, 1982, at the Melbourne offices of the Bureau of Air
Safety Investigation. The total for 1954 is made up 35 from the "1954
Report" plus 3 additional reports, namely 2 from the Ballarat School of
Radio and the classic radar visual event over Goulburn, NSW, involving
a Naval Sea Fury aircraft. Only the latter is included as an "unknown"
in addition to those cited in the "1954 Report".