- WASHINGTON - Even though
John Moss was a California politician of considerable foresight, the author
of the Freedom of Information Act author never imagined the legislation
who worked so hard on would be used so often to track UFOs.
- A Sacramento Democrat, Moss spent 13 years getting FOIA
through a hesitant Congress. It was, Moss said, essential to equip the
American public with information so they could be responsible citizens.
- Thirty-two years after the Freedom of Information Act's
1966 enactment, an individual used Moss's handiwork to file a request with
the secretive DIA. The requester, identified only as Case No. 0195-1998,
wanted the agency's supposed files on "the disappearance of Frederick
Valentich in October 1978; he reported being followed by a UFO."
- Those conversant with UFO mysteries know the Valentich
name well. A 20-year-old Australian pilot, he disappeared in his Cessna
182 after reporting a strange flying object over the Bass Strait between
Australia and Tasmania.
- For everyone else, the request for secret Valentich and
UFO files represents one of the unimagined consequences of the Freedom
of Information Act. Without anyone expecting it, Americans tracking UFOs
became among the most persistent users of the law.
- "I don't think that this was something contemplated
in the legislation, though it certainly wasn't excluded," said Michael
R. Lemov, a Washington attorney and former staffer for Moss. "I must
say, it wouldn't have been one of the priorities."
- And yet, for some agencies, UFO-related requests have
become all in a day's work. At the privacy-loving National Security Agency,
for instance, a Bee review shows that UFO-related requests accounted for
about 123 out of 832 total requests last year. No other single subject
-- not Princess Diana, not missing POWs, not worldwide surveillance programs
-- received nearly as many requests.
- The UFO-related requests to the CIA used to be about
as common, though the agency's posting of available files on its Internet
site -- http://www.foia.ucia.gov/frame2.htm -- has relieved much of the
- "It's part of the myth that's out there," CIA
spokesman Tom Crispell said, "that the CIA is somehow involved in
the cover-up of aliens...there are so many individuals out there that believe
in the conspiracy."
- But UFOs are only part of it. In a world filled with
Oliver Stone movies, "The X-Files," and some admittedly bizarre
government behavior, secret agencies provoke the most colorful FOIA requests.
- There was, for instance, the 1998 request to the CIA
for a "copy of the $50,000,000,000 reward contract which is only on
file" at CIA headquarters. It's not apparent from the agency's FOIA
log what the supposed reward was for. Another individual demanded a copy
of the "CIA Torture Manual," while a certain Mr. Hughes used
FOIA to seek "the amount of CIA budget that is allotted for the use
of prostitutes, pornography, exotic dancers and brothels." A perennial
request at CIA is for information about the assassination of President
John F. Kennedy.
- "Like the JFK assassination conspiracy theories,
the UFO issue probably will not go away soon, no matter what the Agency
does or says," historian Gerald Haines wrote, in the CIA's on-line
"Studies in Intelligence."
- The requests can be all-encompassing, as when a Mr. Andrew
Sparkes demanded "all documents pertaining to U.F.O.'s in the possession
of the Department of Energy." They can also be narrowly focused, as
when a Mr. Derek Liddell asked the National Security Agency for "documents
relating to a near head-on collision between a helicopter and a UFO on
10/18/75 in Mansfield, Ohio." A requester to the Defense Intelligence
Agency had an apparent statewide focus with a February 1998 request for
agency information on "aliens in Virginia."
- And, the requests can be, seemingly, Hollywood-inspired.
In January 1998, for instance, an individual asked for the Defense Intelligence
Agency files on "Men in Black."
- Nor are the questions aren't limited to the nation's
spy and military agencies. In early 1999, for instance, a resident of the
small New Jersey town of Stanhope submitted three requests to the Agriculture
Department seeking the department's supposed UFO files.
- On their own, the UFO requests came seem odd. But government
files made public through FOIA also peel the cover back on some events
that remain inexplicable to this day, even if they aren't other-worldly.
It was FOIA, for instance, that made available the previously secret memo
recording a 1976 aerial encounter between Iranian fighter jets and a strange,
fast, bright UFO near Tehran.
- "The credibility of many of the witnesses,"
noted the disclosed memo, which is now available at the NSA's Internet
site, "was high."
- Copyright ©1999 Nando Media