The U-2 spy plane. (Image: U.S. Air Force)
The CIA released an admission that it was responsible for the majority of the reports of Unidentified Flying Objects during America’s Cold War with Russia. “It was us,” the agency posted on social media, along with a declassified document from the 1990s.
The heavily-redacted 272-page report, entitled ‘The CIA and the U-2 Program, 1954-1974,’ describes various aspects of the CIA’s top secret U-2 program, which was used for high-altitude spy missions over Russian airspace.
#1 most read on our #Bestof2014 list: Reports of unusual activity in the skies in the ’50s? It was us. http://t.co/BKr81M5OUN (PDF 9.26MB)
— CIA (@CIA) December 29, 2014
The CIA’s 1998 report goes on to reveal how the deployment of the U-2 aircraft — with its revolutionary, breakthrough capabilities — practically single-handedly fueled the hysteria over UFOs during the Cold War. It reads:
High altitude testing of the U-2 soon led to an unexpected side effect — a tremendous increase in reports of unidentified flying objects (UFOs). In the mid-1950s, most commercial airliners flew at altitudes between 10,000 and 20,000 feet and military aircraft like the B-47s and B-57s operated at altitudes below 40,000 feet. Consequently, once U-2s started flying at altitudes above 60,000 feet, air-traffic controllers began receiving increasing numbers of UFO reports.
Such reports were most prevalent in the early morning hours from pilots of airliners flying from east to west. When the sun dropped below the horizon of an airliner flying at 20,000 feet, the plane was in darkness. But, if a U-2 was airborne in the vicinity of the airliner at the time, its horizon from an altitude of 60,000 feet was considerably more distant, and, being so high in the sky, its silver wings would catch and reflect the rays of the sun and appear to the airliner pilot, 40,000 feet below, to be fiery objects. Even during daylight hours, the silver bodies of the high-flying U-2s could catch the sun and cause reflections or glints that could be seen at lover altitudes and even on the ground. At this time, no one believed manned flight was possible above 60,000 feet, so no one expected to see an object so high in the sky.
Not only did the airline pilots report their sightings to air-traffic controllers, but they and ground-based observers also wrote letters to the Air Force unit at Wright Air Development Command in Dayton charged with investigating such phenomena. This, in turn, led to the Air Force’s Operation BLUE BOOK. Based at Wright-Patterson, the operation collected all reports of UFO sightings. Air Force investigators then attempted to explain such sightings by linking them to natural phenomena. BLUE BOOK investigators regularly called on the Agency’s Project Staff in Washington to check reported UFO sightings against U-2 flight logs. This enabled the investigators to eliminate the majority of the UFO reports, although they could not reveal to the letter writers the true cause of the UFO sightings. U-2 and later OXCART flights accounted for more than one-half of all UFO reports during the 1950s and 1960s.
What is not explicitly stated in the report is that the CIA stood to gain from UFO hysteria. The secrecy of the U-2 surveillance program was essential to the Agency, and the report discussed other various “cover stories” that were employed to disguise the program and its purpose. The myth that extraterrestrial spacecraft were visiting earth was a convenient diversion to keep Americans’ imaginations running wild — to the point that it kept the Russians from knowing anything specific about the true capabilities of the United States.
Being that one of the CIA’s primary functions is psychological operations, it is probable that it helped to perpetuate the myth a little more than they let on. The Agency, after all, has a long history of manipulating and influencing American public opinion.