Monday, February 26, 2024

“Against the Odds” – the new Donald Keyhoe biography by Linda Powell and some curious Australian fallout involving Defence scientist Harry Turner and federal Australian minister Richard Casey with Keyhoe’s “Flying Saucers from Outer Space”

"From where did the widespread belief come that UFOs represent extraterrestrial technology and that the government is hiding this truth from us. The man perhaps most responsible for these twin pillars of current belief is Donald E. Keyhoe." writes Linda Powell, in an excellent biography of Donald Keyhoe – “Against the odds – Major Donald E. Keyhoe and his battle to end UFO secrecy” (Anomalist Books, 2023).


In “The Myth and Mystery of UFOs” (University Press of Kansas, 2010) Thomas E. Bullard, a folklore scholar, well grounded in the serious study of the subject of UFOs, wrote:

“The extraterrestrial hypothesis found its most enthusiastic champion in a retired Marine Corps aviator and aviation writer, Major Donald E. Keyhoe. In an article for True magazine in 1949, he laid out the case he would promote throughout the 1950s, arguing that the government knew flying saucers were advanced vehicles from another planet but hid this fact from the public to prevent mass panic. Keyhoe was convinced and convincing. His network of military and government contacts leaked impressive sightings and behind-the-scenes rumors to him, making him the best-connected spokesman for flying saucers during this decade. He wrote with a flair that dramatized stale facts and events into an ongoing detective story in four best-selling books— The Flying Saucers Are Real (1950), The Flying Saucers from Outer Space (1953), The Flying Saucer Conspiracy (1955), and Flying Saucers: Top Secret (1960). The titles stated his foremost concerns, the texts crackled with tense expectation that the secrecy campaign verged on collapse and the hidden truth would soon spill out that visitors from space 

swarmed our skies. On April 17, 1952, Keyhoe picked up an influential ally when Life magazine published “Have We Visitors from Space?” an article sympathetic to the extraterrestrial hypothesis.” 


In “Donald E. Keyhoe and the Pentagon: The rise of interest in the UFO phenomenon and what the government really knew”, (The Journal of UFO Studies, New Series 6, 1995/96, 195-211), Dr. Michael Swords, a Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) board director, but then in the Department of Science Studies, Western Michigan University, concluded:

“Keyhoe is a founding father of ufology, perhaps the most important one. He certainly was a major sustainer of ufology as he and NICAP battled through the 1950s and early 1960s to keep the subject alive. As the extraterrestrial sirens sang to him, he, as did many others, became engulfed by their enticement, a somewhat reluctant US marine sailing very strange waters for the rest of his life, Ufology owes more than we can say to Donald Keyhoe, a good man, a talented man, who was in the right time and place to crack the door, and give the rest of us a little look inside.”


Linda Powell’s impressive biography of Donald Keyhoe, gives a well documented picture of the man, his times and his impact.  Best known for his flying saucer books, particularly “The Flying Saucers are real” (1950) and “Flying Saucers from Outer Space” (1953), his leadership of NICAP, and his earlier connections with Charles Lindbergh (“Flying with Lindbergh” (1928)), his life story is remarkable. “Against the Odds” is a very important foundational UFO/UAP reference and a striking mirror of our contemporary machinations with the UFO/UAP enigma.  It should be required reading for all who seek to understand, participate and even lead the current push for UFO/UAP disclosure.


The chapter headings of “Against the Odds” alone, give a grand idea of a fascinating life, well told, with rich insights and lessons for current players who think they know it all. You need to realise that others have gone before you, and you need to realise with current events, controversies and insights, much of it seems like, “History continues to repeat itself,” as Linda Powell suggests. Her Keyhoe biography gives us much to consider, and it might even help in recalibrating the trajectories and certainties offered up and claimed by current iterations of the UFO/UAP controversy.


“Against the Odds” chapter headings: Roots, Service, Changes, Home and Away, Flying with Lindbergh, Moving On, From Pulp to Propaganda, The Shape of Things to Come, Lift-off, Friends, Flaps, and Flimflam, Lifting the Lid, Elation and Deflation, A Friend Among Foes, A is for AdamskiAPRO Accord, Biters Bit, The Merry Widows, Ruppelt’s Ruminations, Strange Bedfellows, The Grandiose Plan, The IcebergNICAP, The “Real” NICAP, A Motley Crew, Strong-Armed by Armstrong,  Annus Horribilis, Cleaning House, Ruppelt’s Reversal, The Feud, Et Tu, Ruppelt?, Tacker’s Tack,Forwards and BackwardsStaggering OnA Gas ExplosionKeel and JacksCondon’s Low Trick, Fiasco FalloutThe Bitter EndAfter the Fall, Aftermath.


Understandably, Linda Powell’s book is largely a 20th century American story informing the life and times of Donald Keyhoe.  However, his 1953 book “Flying Saucers from Outer Space” had a very significant impact, particularly in my home country of Australia. Back in 1953-54 Australians usually got their books via British editions, unless you were in a position to acquire American editions.  In the case of “Flying Saucers from Outer Space” 2 hardback editions emerged – the US edition (Henry Holt) in late 1953 and the British edition (Hutchinson) in May 1954.  Both sold well.


Two particular Australians of great significance took an interest in the book during 1954 – Richard Casey and Harry Turner. Remarkably it seems (unless further research shows otherwise) their respective interests did not seem to intersect, which seems surprising. Maybe we just haven’t seen that connection yet.



Lord Richard Gardiner Casey, Governor General of Australia from 1965 to 1969, had a long and distinguished career in Australian politics. For most of the 1950s Casey was both Minister for External Affairs (now called Foreign Affairs) and Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) – the premier government scientific research enterprise. These roles gave Casey great influence, including secret influence as a “kingmaker” in the Australian intelligence empire. 

                                                                    Richard Casey

On occasions Casey used his position to give fuller reign to some of his passions and enthusiasms. His biographer, William J. Hudson, indicated, “Throughout his years at External Affairs, Casey gave constant attention to the Press, dining with editors, giving background briefings to newspaper executives, keeping in touch with columnists, having department officers prepare articles on current events for publication over his name, writing about his own enthusiasms (notably rainmaking and flying saucers, neither an interest shared by ministerial colleagues).” Hudson highlighted, “Unfortunately for his friends, he tended to become a missionary for whatever fascinated him ...”


Flying saucers clearly fascinated Casey. He clearly wanted to get to the bottom of the mystery. The UFO sirens lured Casey particularly during the period from 1952 to 1955. 


A personal letter to Casey from his man in Italy, Paul McGuire (formerly a Catholic writer from South Australia – an asset of course in Rome), dated 27 October 1954 accelerated his enquiries into the flying saucer mystery. 


From Rome, Italy, McGuire wrote, “I don’t know what you hear of flying saucers. Personally, I was born skeptical. But if they have no physical reality, they are certainly a political and psychological factor. The air here is filled with them or rumours of them. And both Mrs. (Clare Boothe) Luce (the US Ambassador to Italy) and her Air Attache profess to take them seriously. She talked (about) them here (at the Australian Embassy) on Thursday at lunch. On Thursday evening at a little dinner given on his birthday by the Air Attache, I sat next to her, she next to him. They went at it solidly for two hours. The three or four Italians (Foreign Ministry and Service) were pop-eyed.” 


The letter is a remarkable insight into international diplomatic secret intelligence on a subject normally reserved in public circles as not a serious concern. 


Major General Emmett Cassidy

McGuire revealed, “(Major General Emmett B.) Cassady, the Air Attache, says flatly that the sightings are constantly increasing and are up to 50 “unexplaineds” a week. The reports are now sufficiently consistent to establish the prime type as cigar or clipped-cigar shaped, about 70 metres long. They are recorded by various instruments, sufficiently to establish a physical object: i.e. to remove the assumption that they are all effects of atmospheric disturbances, or such. He says that two senior Air Generals of the U.S. Forces have met a saucer in flight. Mrs. Luce mentioned a third General. She says that her brother-in-law saw one closely while walking in New England, “and he hasn’t been the same man since;” though he refuses to talk for publication. 


“Henry Luce (Mrs. Luce’s husband and founder of Time magazine and other major media publications) held a conference of his editors lately to decide whether they should make an effort to knock the whole business on the head. His people said, “And how the hell do you think you can do that? There’s too much evidence.” 


“Mrs. Luce and Cassady both said that whatever is there does not belong to the U.S.A., and that no scientists could yet produce the phenomena established, or explain them.” 


The day after the McGuire letter, 28 October 1954, Associated Press reported that the American ambassador Claire Boothe Luce saw a flying saucer for herself on the day. 

She was among dozen of witnesses who saw “a luminous round object” speeding across the sky over Rome, followed by a fall of fine cotton-like particles.” It was reported, “These objects dropped white cottony stuff that hung from telephone wires.”  (Was this a case of “angel hair” a phenomenon I witnessed in Grafton during 1969?)  Mrs. Luce was reported saying, “I saw something, but I don’t know what it was.” Maurizio Andreolo, an AP reporter, described the flying saucer as “like a moon dashing across the sky at fantastic speed ... silently.”


The McGuire intelligence included some provocative disclosures, but of course they were in the secret context of diplomatic exchanges between an Australian Federal Minister for External Affairs and his Ambassadorial Minister for Italy. 


Paul McGuire concluded, “As I said, I was born skeptical and achieve belief only by (I hope) rational processes. I am quite incompetent to judge the technical points Cassady puts. So I dismiss the question of the flying saucers’ existence. But we cannot dismiss politically the fact that Mrs. Luce and her Attache are talking them.” 


McGuire speculated, “Mrs. Luce and Cassady may have some political motive for lying. That I doubt. They may be deluded or misled or fanciful (that is much more likely). But, whatever the cause, the fact is that they are talking here of saucers as established or near-established realities.” 


It was Paul McGuire’s final words that Casey acted upon very promptly. McGuire wrote, “May I presume to suggest that other posts might be asked whether Americans elsewhere are talking like this.” Richard Casey copied the explosive extract from McGuire’s personal letter to other Australian diplomatic posts, specifically Walter.R. Crocker (High Commissioner for Australia, New Delhi, India), Keith Officer (Paris, France), Laurence ‘Jim’McIntyre (London, England), Douglas Copland (Canada), McClure Smith (Cairo, Eygpt) and Dr. Ronald Walker (Tokyo, Japan). He also copied the extract to his External Affairs Department head Arthur Tange (who would later become Defence Department head). 


Casey attached his own comment, “It all sounds rather strange and one is naturally inclined to be quite skeptical – although there seems to be some evidence that a proportion of the “unexplained objects” are in fact “unexplained” on any rational hypothesis. This is just a note to ask if you have encountered any evidence or views on this subject held by responsible and informed people in your part of the world.” 


To Paul McGuire he wrote, “I’ve read one or two books on this subject and have had the official statements of the U.S.A.F., which are obviously very carefully worded. Like you I am naturally skeptical but there seems to be a proportion of the “sightings” that are not explainable on any rational hypothesis.” 


Embolden somewhat by the McGuire communication Casey wrote to his Chief of the Division of Radiophysics CSIRO in Sydney, Dr.E.G. Bowen, on 15 November 1954 enclosing “a can of worms.” Casey revealed, “I am sending you copy of a small book ... You’ll probably have a fit when you see it. It is called “Flying Saucers from Outer Space.” The cover is enough to put anyone off. It was given to me – and I had the greatest reluctance even to start it, but I found that I became strangely interested in it. Maybe you would have the same experience. One naturally regards the title with every skepticism – if not something stronger. 


“I have seen one or two official U.S. Air Force statements about “Unexplained Air Objects,” which are always carefully worded and are at pains to explain that the greater part of the “sightings” are explainable as natural phenomena or on some other grounds. But the inference is that there is a percentage that are not so explainable. It is with this small minority of these things that this fellow Keyhoe deals in this book ... It appears to be honestly written (although rather journalistically) – and he quotes a number of Pentagon people by name – not that they endorse his theory, but they never wipe it or indeed even discount the possibility of it. 

“Anyhow, I think you will not be as nauseated when you read the book, as you will undoubtedly be from the look of the cover. And when you have read it – if you can bring yourself to do so – I’d be interested to know your reaction.” 


The letter was marked “PERSONAL” but of course it was from Casey, Dr. Bowen’s federal minister and political master. A reply would eventually come which may have been a turning point in Casey’s descent into the flying saucer controversy. Casey copied this letter to Lewis Douglas, in Tucson Arizona, which “I hope won’t lead you to the inescapable conclusion that I’ve got nuts. “  He asked Douglas to get a copy of Keyhoe’s book – “I feel sure you will at least be intrigued by it – and you need never admit publicly that you’ve read it.” Casey asked him to “make discreet enquiries at the top end of the U.S.A.F. as to what its all in aid of – I’d be very interested to know what they have to say about it in private, as apart from the obvious “attitude” that they have to observe vis-à-vis the public.” Casey was clearly intimating that there had to be a secret and public view on the subject, which he expected to be different.

Dr. E.G. Bowen replied to Casey’s letter, “Mr Dear Minister, I found the book by Major Keyhoe intensely amusing and entertaining ... I must say, however, that I am far from convinced by any of the anecdotes or arguments. “Bowen cited inadequate evidence and Keyhoe’s seeming intent to trap the US Air Force into “saying something they obviously were not going to say.” He then highlighted phenomena such as “a whole range of atmospheric reflection phenomena in which it possible to see mock suns, sun dogs etc,” “radar reflections from meteors” (which he said, “These are real visitors from outer space and there is no mystery about what they consist of or how they behave,”) and “a large number of radar-echo phenomena which can arise from refraction or reflection of radio waves in the atmosphere.”


Bowen then launched into a negative analysis of Keyhoe’s book, indicating that all the radar sightings were quite unconvincing, and so to the visual sightings. However, he did surrender, “One thing which I most decidedly cannot understand is simultaneous visual and radar sightings of high speed objects in the lower atmosphere. 


Bowen wrote, “I know many of the scientists concerned with defence matters in the United States and know that they completely discount the suggestions made in Keyhoe’s book. I also know several of the Canadians, but I do not know W.B. Smith.  His ideas on rotating magnets are wild in the extreme and I suspect from his other answers that he is either being misreported or is a rather irresponsible member of the scientific community.” 


He agreed “that the Air Force have not behaved particularly well on this question,” but more on the question of hiding explanations, such as the involvement of Skyhook balloons in the death of Captain Mantell, back in 1948. Mantell was involved in an attempted intercept of a “flying saucer,” which Bowen believed was caused by the classified Skyhook programme. 


Dr. Bowen concluded, “The whole thing can be put down to hysteria and mass suggestion. People certainly see phenomena which they cannot explain. In the old days they put it down to witches and sorcerers; now it has simply changed to saucers from outer space. In this respect books like that of Keyhoe will, of course, do a great deal of good. Like people who used to predict the end of the earth, they build up suspense, made out, as he does, that 1954 is the the fateful year – and then nothing happens. The public gradually becomes disillusioned and forgets the whole thing. This, I think, is what will happen in the present case. There will, no doubt, be saucer scares in other parts of the world but I doubt whether we will hear much more about them from the U.S.A.” Well, he certainly got that one wrong.


This myopic response had an effect on Richard Casey. He responded, “Both my wife and I have read your letter with the greatest interest. It puts Keyhoe’s theories into proper perspective – and I can well believe that your reaction to it is the right one – although it removes a rather romantic conception that had intrigued both my wife and myself.” 


However, Dr. Bowen’s November 1954 letter was wrong on a number of accounts, but more through a lack of knowledge of what was going on around him, even in his own country. In late August 1954 a spectacular radar visual aircraft encounter had occurred near Goulburn New South Wales. It would leak out in a sensational way in December 1954 creating widespread media publicity. 


Meanwhile another physicist, Harry Turner had been secretly assessing the Directorate of Air Force Intelligence (DAFI) UFO files. He to considered Donald Keyhoe’s book “Flying Saucers from Outer Space” but came to very different conclusions. 


The focus of Casey, Bowen and Turner’s interest, namely Donald Keyhoe and his official flying saucer case files that enriched his 1954 international best selling book in fact, with the wisdom that comes with a deeper grasp of the facts and the benefit of hindsight, comes through these and other gauntlets fairly well. 


Casey received a letter dated 12 January 1955 from Laurence McIntyre in the London Australian External Affairs office. McIntyre’s enquiries had led him to Sir Frederick Brundrett, Scientific Adviser to the Minister of Defence. Brundrett had replaced R.V. Jones as Director of Scientific Intelligence in 1954. McIntyre revealed, (Brundrett) “had as a matter of fact made something of a study of the problem himself in an effort to lay a ghost, as it were,” that covered a large number of sightings extending over the past 30 years (back to 1924?). Two things struck him, namely in none of the cases was there any independent witnesses, and all cases were explainable in rational terms. This study made Brundrett quite skeptical about flying saucer reports. McIntyre concluded his letter, “In short (DSI Brundrett) did not believe that flying saucers existed, and considered that all reports so far received, even though emanating from many sane and responsible people, had been based on one or another form of hallucination. Nor does he consider that the available evidence is enough to justify the setting aside of money and resources for serious study. But he has by no means closed his mind completely.” 


Casey passed on his growing diplomatic intelligence on the saucer problem to Dr. Bowen who duly responded saying, “I must admit that I was rather at a loss for comment on the dispatches from France and Italy.” He was amused that the main reaction was a ribald one. He didn’t fully understand the Plantier theory as described in the Paris-Presse l’Intransigeant newspaper report but grouped it with the views of Wilbert Smith in Keyhoe’s book, namely that they violated the known laws of physics. Bowen had a much easier time with Brundrett’s views heartily agreeing with them. He told Casey, “There are just too many physical inconsistencies in the reports to put much faith in them.” 


And that was that. Minister Casey’s dance with the UFO had reached an impasse. Information from various sources intrigued him but his science guru gave him pause. He never quite lost his interest but it certainly went into a decline. 

Casey would reconnect his "flying saucer" "sirens" in 1972: See:

John Pinkney – UFOs, “Alien Honeycomb” & the Australian Lord “Flying Saucerer” – some timely lessons from the past?


The Casey documents describing Casey’s flying saucer interest from 1952 to 1955 were from a Department External Affairs “Flying Saucer” file M1148/0 located and copied for the author by Jason Cowland during February 2001. The Casey diary entries and Casey related clippings were accessed by Bill Chalker in the National Library, Canberra during May 2001. Lord Casey’s diaries from January 52 to October 1956 were examined. These are located in Boxes 27 & 28 of the Casey family papers. Richard Casey’s extensive press cuttings from the period of 1952 to 1955 were located in Boxes 48 through to 54. 



June 26 1954 Melbourne: The Melbourne Argus Weekender newspaper: “’Saucers’ do exist and why!” written by an “eminent Australian nuclear physicist, who has investigated “saucer” reports since 1948,” whose name “must be withheld because of his link with high-level research”.


The Melbourne Argus was prominently reporting on a huge wave of UFO sightings in Victoria - the most significant of the early sighting waves in Australia, that entrenched official interest. A classified Directorate of Air Force Intelligence (DAFI) file minute dated 2 Nov 1955, revealed: “A ministerial statement in the House (Australian parliament - B.C.) on 19 Nov 53 (indicates) that the RAAF make detailed investigations of every report received, (which in truth we are not yet doing).” 


The Australian nuclear physicist: 

“From all corners of the world there have come thousands of reports of strange objects in the sky …  over cities, deserts, mountains and oceans … Radar plots have checked with visual sightings. Jet fighter aircraft have attempted to intercept them and have been out maneuvered. (Governments) … have set up investigation centres … there remain several hundred reports that can't be explained… 


“Finally, I appeal to the Air Forces and Security Services of the Western World to release their suppressed information ....”


The Australian scientist hypothesised, “A certain remnant of reports of UFOs may only be explained by the assumption that machines controlled by some intelligence are being observed.”“These machines are not manufactured on earth; that is, their origin is extraterrestrial.” 


The scientist was O.H. (Oliver Harry) Turner, who at that time was working in the physics department of Melbourne University. Turner was involved in the early research that led to radar in Australia, as well as working in high level research at England's Harwell establishment, at Maralinga (as the chief Australian Health Physics officer during the atomic testing in the late fifties) and with Australia's military scientific intelligence from the late 1960s until his retirement in 1982. 


The UFO “invasion” centred in Victoria in 1954 was the most significant of the early sighting waves in Australia. The Victorian UFO Research Society was not founded until 1957, however in 1978 it produced an excellent study of the flap. The extensive wave led to entrenched official interest. A classified DAFI file minute dated 2 Nov 1955, somewhat tellingly revealed: “A ministerial statement in the House (Australian parliament - B.C.) on 19 Nov 53 (indicates) that the RAAF make detailed investigations of every report received, (which in truth we are not yet doing).” 


DAFI (Directorate of Air Force Intelligence) asked Turner, to undertake a classified “scientific appreciation” of their files.  He recommended greater official interest and specific interest in radar visual reports, also concluding, “The evidence presented by the reports held by RAAFtend to support the ... conclusion ... that certain strange aircraft have been observed to behave in a manner suggestive of extra-terrestrial origin.”


In studying the RAAF/DAFI UFO files Turner also utilised retired Marine Corps major Donald Keyhoe's USAF reports, described in his best selling book, “Flying Saucers from Outer Space”, and suggested the RAAF seek official USAF confirmation of the legitimacy of Keyhoe's data. Turner said of Keyhoe's “USAF data”, that “if one assumes these Intelligence Reports are authentic, then the evidence presented is such that it is difficult to assume any interpretation other than that UFOs are being observed.” 


The disposition of Harry Turner's controversial report is a revealing indictment of official handling of the UFO controversy. Faced with his provocative conclusions with Keyhoe's data as one cornerstone, the Director of Air Force Intelligence (RAAF) did seek out official confirmation from America. The Australian Joint Service Staff (intelligence) in Washington wrote to him saying: “I have discussed with the USAF the status of Major Keyhoe. I understand that his book is written in such a way as to convey the impression that his statements are based on official documents, and there is some suggestion that he has made improper use of information to which he had access while he was serving with the Marine Corps. He has, however, no official status whatsoever and a dim view is taken officially of both him and his works.” 


So when it came to considering Turner's classified report, the Department of Air concluded: “Professor Turner accepted Keyhoe's book as being authentic and based on official releases. Because Turner places so much weight on Keyhoe's work he emphasised the need to check Keyhoe's reliability. (The Australian Joint Service Staff communication) removes Keyhoe's works a prop for Turner's work so that the value of the latter's findings and recommendations is very much reduced.” Turner's findings, including one in which he recommended the setting up of a scientific “investigating panel”, in the light of the “discrediting” of Keyhoe's data, were found to be impractical and not justified. 


The big problem with all this was that it was based on misrepresentation on the part of the US Air Force. They were engaged in a misguided campaign to undermine the popularity of Donald Keyhoe's books. While Keyhoe may have slightly “beat up” his USAF data, the Intelligence reports, quoted by Keyhoe and used by Turner to support his conclusions to DAFI, were authentic. Eventually the USAF themselves also admitted that the material Keyhoe used was indeed from official Air Force reports. 


It was the CIA that actually passed on the negative assessment of Donald Keyhoe and his book “Flying Saucers from Outer Space”. P.G. Strong, Chief, Operations Staff, 0/SI, wrote a “Report on book entitled “Flying Saucers from Outer Space”, dated 8 December, 1953.  Linda Powell’s book “Against the Odds” highlights this document. 


It was quite the dance that Donald Keyhoe had with the US government and its agencies, particularly the USAF and the CIA, in his battle to end UFO secrecy.  The fallout went as far as Australia, effectively scuttling and misdirecting the attempts to do a serious enquiry into the UFO mystery.  

The early cover of "Against All Odds"
(my review copy) 
The final cover:


Post a Comment

<< Home