Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Country of Paradoxes: The Cautionary Tale of Paul Bennewitz.

One of the preeminent cultural legacies of the Cold War in America was a rich mythology of secrecy and paranoia. Some of these myths have grown inextricably entangled with their embellishments, and reside in a slippery, ambiguous country akin to the fluctuations of the quantum; others possess bare historical bones stranger than most fictions. With their majestic, haunted skies and arid, lonely plains, the deserts of New Mexico are the heartland of high strangeness in America, and the cradle of so many of these myths. In 1945, surveying the detonation of the first nuclear bomb over what is now the White Sands Missile Range, Oppenheimer famously laid a potent hex on the twentieth century with his citation of the Bhagavad-Gita: “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the skies, that would be like to the splendor of the mighty one. Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” Also that year, Project Paperclip began its importation of German rocket scientists to continue their research at Fort Bliss and White Sands; according to popular conspiracy lore, they brought with them the prototype for a bell-shaped anti-gravity craft called Die Glocke.

In 1947, the Roswell region of New Mexico witnessed what is either the most significant event in the history of the world, or the most elaborate and persistent Chinese whisper ever to whip through the earlobes of time. In the height of the Flying Disk epidemic of that year, farmer “Mac” Brazel found some unusual debris scattered about the homestead where he was foreman, and eventually “whispered kinda confidential like” to the local sheriff that he might have found a crashed saucer. Legendary Texan conspiracy guru Jim Marrs, linking the Roswell incident to the earlier detonation of the Atomic bomb at Los Alamos, pithily suggested that the extraterrestrials came to New Mexico at that time because “the kids had just found the matches!”

The truth of what happened in Roswell is now thoroughly lost in a sea of claim and counter-claim, bitterly entrenched debate between its adherents and debunkers, unconvincing military obscuration, profiteering, mythologizing, and time. To socio-cultural historians and eager pop-culture poachers alike, the objective truth remains infinitely less important than the extraordinary corpus of legendry Roswell has engraved upon the modern subconscious: the idea of crashed disks, retrieved debris, back-engineered ET technology, alien bodies and autopsies, and, perhaps most significantly, the dark military cover-up which researcher Stanton Friedman, exhibiting a certain genius of inevitability, has labeled “the cosmic Watergate.”

Whatever the true nature of the black magic Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project unleashed upon the New Mexico desert in ’45, the region remains haunted to this day, and continues to be a focal point for the weirdest manifestations of hidden Americana: the seemingly entwined worlds of secret weapons testing, UFO’s, cattle mutilations, and alien abductions. During the 1980’s, a myth emerged of an underground facility in Dulce, New Mexico, which combined all these nefarious and unlikely activities under one very secretive roof. The true origin of the Dulce base conspiracy theory is in itself a dark, shadowy, and disturbing tale, which highlights the murky operation of disinformation.

Disinformation differs from regular propaganda, in that it is a far more subtle and underhand method of disseminating untruths. Propaganda, to a large degree, doesn’t hide its origins, and spreads itself through official channels. Disinformation, on the other hand, possesses a more fiendish ingenuity. Its method is to persuade certain groups that they have come upon privileged information which would otherwise be hidden, and thus turn the would-be truth seekers themselves into unwitting propagandists. The purpose of this activity is either to discredit those who had come too close to the truth, or to distract attention altogether from the reality of a particular situation. Since disinformation sometimes contains partial truths, it generally winds up producing endless Moebius strips of uncertainty: if a government openly acknowledges disinformation, does that constitute a further act of disinformation, thus rendering the initial information potentially true, and so on.

The extent to which the UFO mystery has been mired in disinformation is something which can probably never be accurately gauged. However, in 1955, the CIA started using the then-secret Lockheed U2 high-altitude airplane to perform “overflights” over Russia in order to take aerial photography. Memos from the period prove that the CIA quickly realized the efficiency of fomenting belief in extraterrestrial UFO’s as a cover for their own aerial espionage projects. From this period onwards, the history of the UFO becomes inextricably bound up with the history of secret aeronautics and black budget military technology. While explicit examples of disinformation are difficult to find, the story of Paul Bennewitz is a disturbing example of the occasional ramifications of such strategies.

Paul Bennewitz was an apparently gifted physics postgraduate and inventor who ran a small electronics company called Thunder Scientific Corporation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which provided the nearby Kirtland Airforce Base with high-altitude testing equipment. Bennewitz was also an avid UFO buff, acting as a part-time investigator for the Arizona based APRO (Aerial Phenomenon Research Organization.) Bennewitz’ journey into the bowels of the Chapel Perilous began in 1979, when he and some friends began to witness strange lights in the sky over the Monzano Test Range outside Albuquerque.

While carefully cataloguing and filming the unusual lights, which, in one of the many strange twists in the case, were apparently genuinely anomalous, Bennewitz encountered the psychologist and ufologist Dr. Leo Sprinkle. Sprinkle was one of the first academic figures to openly study the alien abduction phenomenon, and a pioneer in the highly controversial use of hypnosis to restore the memories of abductee encounters. In 1980, a patient of Sprinkle’s named Myrna Hanson claimed that she and her son had been abducted while driving home near a cow pasture at Cimarron. Under hypnosis, Hansen claimed to see two white clad figures emerge from a UFO, and mutilate several cows with an 18-inch knife. Later, she and her son were kidnapped, and taken onboard different crafts, where they were subject to the obligatory examination, and given the obligatory implants. Hanson only escaped after being taken to an underground desert facility where she witnessed more severe cruelty being perpetuated against cows, and row upon row of liquid vats containing human and animal body parts.

Bennewitz believed Hanson’s story, and become utterly convinced that the cattle mutilations and underground facility must be connected to the lights he had been filming over the Monzano Test Range. The story continued to take stranger and stranger turns. Bennewitz built a series of low-frequency electromagnetic antennas, and became convinced he was receiving signals from the alien space crafts. He even subsequently developed a computer program which he believed could translate these signals, and gave his mission to thwart the aliens the grandiose title of Project Beta. Understandably alarmed, he then attempted to alert both the media and the military.

Bill Moore was the head of APRO in 1980. As the co-author of one of the very first books exploring the Roswell incident, Moore was a well established figure in UFO circles. According to Moore, “In early September, 1980 I was approached by a well-placed individual within the intelligence community who claimed to be directly connected to a high level project dealing with UFO’s. This individual told me that he spoke for a small group of similar individuals who were uncomfortable with the governments continued cover-up of the truth, and indicated that he and his group would like to help me with my research in this subject in the hope and expectation that I might be able to help them to change the prevailing policy and get the truth out to the public without breaking any laws in the process. The man who acted as liaison between this group and myself was an Airforce Office of Special Investigations agent named Richard Doty. I knew I was being recruited, but at that point I had no idea for what.” As it turns out, Moore had been enlisted to spread disinformation.

Here we find ourselves in thoroughly ambiguous territory. For the purposes of security and anonymity, Moore and his associate Jaime Shandera named this high level group the Aviary, giving each member a bird codename. According to Shandera: “We wanted the information, but didn’t want to reveal where we got our clues. To maintain anonymity, I give Bill’s source the codename “Falcon”, the next source we used was called “Condor” and so on, until we had 24 contacts from all levels of government. It was my idea to use bird names.” Shandera continued to give a brief description of individual members, in the same irresistible mixture of All the Presidents Men and the X-Files: “Hawk is a person well-connected in areas of study in ESP since the sixties, with impressive credentials. Blue Jay is person close to the President of the United States, capable of checking on information to determine its reliability. Partridge is a scientist privy to UFO information collected by the government. Chickadee is well-placed in the Pentagon and versed in scientific study. Heron is enigmatic and puzzling, he seems to speak in riddles…” What exactly was going on here? It may be that the group’s intentions were as Moore describes them, but why then was he encouraged to spread disinformation? Were Moore and Shandera merely dupes, actually being feed disinformation as a payment for spreading more disinformation? Or was Moore simply a straight-up disinfo agent from the beginning? The world of disinformation is akin the paradox of the liar extended to Escherian dimensions; when Moore eventually confessed his sins to the 35th Annual MUFON (Mutual UFO Network) Symposium in Los Vegas, he warned them that his information would be a mixture of true information and disinformation, for that was how the government worked, even in dealing with him.

The victim in all this, however, was the hapless and tragic Paul Bennewitz. Its now acknowledged that Bill Moore and Richard Doty subjected him to a sustained disinformation program. Rather than divest him of his delusions, the pair proceeded to feed him evidence with validated and intensified his suspicions. Sections of his notes reveal his increasing paranoia and panic: “Established constant direct contact with the alien….aliens on the ground in electro statically supported vehicles….charging beam weapons. The aliens are picking up and “cutting” people every night….whether all implants are totally effective I cannot predict…..Conservatively I would estimate that at least 300,000 people have been implanted in the US….at least 2 million worldwide….”At the same time, his conception of the aliens at Dulce base were acquiring the complexity of a personal mythology: “Their body metabolism is very high, estimated at 110 to 115 degrees. Elimination is through osmosis. Skin color of the ruling echelon varies from a jaundiced yellow or white. No hair of any kind. Their arms are long – near to knee level. They have very long hands and fingers. All of them look underfed. They have big heads and eyes. The humanoid types are generally light green. When in need of formula or dead they turn GREY. Many in this culture walk with a limp or shuffle their feet…”

Fearing the intrusion of his home by threatening energy balls, Bennewitz constantly surrounded himself with knifes and guns. Inevitably, he suffered a complete physical and nervous breakdown, and was finally placed in institutional care, and released from the quixotic courage and rigors of Project Beta.

The Dulce base and variations of it have gone into popular and conspiracy lore. In the 1990’s, the X-Files brought these kinds of ideas to Simpsons-levels of cultural dispersal, and made conspiracies the widespread fan-boy pastime they continue to be today. It is amusing to speculate that some of these florid scenarios may have originated in the imaginations of Airforce Intelligence spooks. Bennewitz died in 2005, a largely unknown victim of the extreme callousness of the National Security apparatus. Many, including Richard Doty, claim he never stopped believing in the alien threat revealed by Project Beta.


sfauthor said...

Nice posting. Do you know about this edition of the Gita?

Tristan Eldritch said...

No my friend, I have read the Gita many timees - in the original. However, I see that this particular edition receives a ringing endorcement from Karen Armstrong. Miss Armstrong is an outstanding voice in the field of comparative spitituality, and her recomendation is good enough for me.