The RAND Corporation and UFOs (Pt. 1)

RAND Corporation logo
RAND Corporation logo

Everyone is aware of various studies and investigations on UFOs undertaken in the past by a fairly large number of U.S. government agencies including the Air Force, CIA, FBI, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the National Security Agency (NSA), the Department of State, etc., which at least to some extent have been released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). More murky, however, is the role played by semi-official think tanks and research institutions which conduct classified studies for the government and which are an integral part of the so-called military-industrial complex.

It makes perfect logical sense that at least some of these private organizations were contracted in the past to conduct research on certain specific aspects involving UFOs and extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI). We know for sure this is true in the case of the Brookings Institution, the RAND Corporation, and the Battelle Memorial Institute, but there may be other organizations which have not yet surfaced to public light. One problem with think tanks and private research companies is that they are not subjected to the same FOIA rules which apply to official agencies, unless their studies were published as part of government reports.

I’ve published in this page many of my “UFO Chronicle” columns which appeared originally in Fate magazine, and occasionally articles for other publications like UFO Universe, all from a period stretching between 1990 and 2004 more or less. This time, however, we’ll take a time trip all the way back to the early days of my career as a UFO journalist when I was publishing a weekly column for the supplement UFOs and other Cosmic Phenomena in the long-defunct New York City newspaper The News World, which appeared between 1981 and 1983. Although I loved the subject, I was still hesitant to be typecast as a UFO journalist, so I used the pseudonym of A. Hovni. I deliberately chose a play of words combining my initials AH with OVNI, the Spanish acronym for UFO. Although the article was published almost 30 years ago, since it deals with historical documents, it’s still just as valid as when it came out of my typewriter. Other than correcting a few spelling typos and adding illustrations, I am reproducing it intact, just as it was written back in 1982.

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Article as it originally appeared in The News World.

UFOs interest think-tank scientists at RAND

Scientists wonder if UFOs are from space & what powers them

By A. Hovni

Special to The News World

New York City, April 17, 1982

First in a two-part series

When Mr. William Laub of Northfield, Illinois requested the U.S. Air Force in October of 1969 for information regarding a UFO Study reportedly made by the RAND Corporation, the Air Force’s Community Relations Division at the Pentagon responded curtly that, “The RAND Corporation has never made any reports on unidentified flying objects (UFOs) for the United States Air Force. If any reports were made by this corporation they were made on their own.” Similar enquiries with the RAND Corporation itself elicited a no more forthcoming answer.

One letter from The Reports Department indicated that “RAND has done very little research on the subject of UFO’s: therefore, no publications have been written on the subject.” Still another letter from RAND, date June 25, 1969, seemed to get closer to the truth. “We are unable to identify any RAND publication on UFO’s available for external distribution,” it said.

RAND Corporation

Though well known by name, the RAND Corporation is actually a rather secretive semi-official think tank, based in Santa Monica, California, whose work includes computer “war games” scenarios and other classified research for the Air Force. Knowing the Air Force’s long background with the UFO problem, it shouldn’t come as a surprise then that RAND, as well as other similar outfits such as the Battelle Memorial Institute, have conducted specialized UFO projects in the past. Despite all denials to the contrary, the RAND report which Mr. Laub wanted to know about, did indeed exist. Titled UFOs: What to Do?, it was published on November 27, 1968, “FOR RAND USE ONLY.” Its author was George Kocher. The document was eventually downgraded or leaked to the public, and it can now be obtained through the Center for UFO Studies in Evanston, Illinois.

 studies for Air Force

Yet the history of the RAND Corporation and UFOs goes back to the earliest days of Air Force involvement in the matter. The Air Materiel Command’s Project “SIGN” final Technical Report on “UNIDENTIFIED AERIAL OBJECTS,” issued in February of 1949 and declassified only in 1967, states very clearly that the RAND Corporation was assisting the Air Force UFO project along with consultants from Ohio State University (Dr. J. Allen Hynek), General Electric Research (Dr. Irving Langmuir) and MIT (Dr. G.E. Valley). On page 3 of this report, we read that “inasmuch as various surmises have been advanced that some of the reported observations may have represented ‘space ships’ or satellite vehicles, a special study has been initiated with the RAND Corporation, under the RAND Project, to provide an analysis from this standpoint and also to provide fundamental information, pertaining to the basic design and performance characteristics that might distinguish a possible ‘space ship’.” So much for the USAF’s Community Relations Division denials that no such report had ever been requested by the military.

RAND's original office in Santa Monica, CA in 1948
RAND's original office in Santa Monica, CA in 1948. (image credit: RAND Corporation)

space ships theory probed

Dr. James E. Lipp
Dr. James E. Lipp (image credit: RAND Corporation)

We know only from this period what Project Sign termed “a preliminary undertaking,” and which consisted of a RAND project study prepared by Dr. James Everett Lipp, an aeronautical engineer then serving as head of RAND’s Missiles Division. It was submitted in a letter form to Brigadier General Putt, Director of Research and Development Office, USAF, and published as APPENDIX “D” of project Sign’s final Technical Report. (Shortly after, Project Sign became Project grudge).

Dr. Lipp’s letter indicates that further research was being conducted by a Mr. Collbohm on the “special design and performance characteristics that are believed to distinguish space ships,” but this or other reports from the time have not been obtained by UFO researchers that we know of. Professor Lipp’s work was reviewed briefly on a previous article (see UFO Supplement, April 3, 1982 issue) as it pertained to the possible relationship between UFOs and the planet Mars. Dr. Lipp devoted several pages of his study discussing the likelihood of intelligent life in Mars and what the technical requirements would be for the hypothetical Martians to visit Earth in “a nuclear hydrogen-propelled vehicle.”

the red planet

Dr. Lipp however, seemed more convinced of the possibility that UFOs could be space ships from elsewhere in the galaxy rather than from our own solar system. He discussed the different types of stars and those similar to the Sun that could generate planetary systems, in much the same way as Dr. Carl Sagan would popularize over 20 years later. Of a sample of 47 known stars within a distance of 16 light years from the Sun, Dr. Lipp maintained that 22 “can be considered as eligible for habitable planets.” And long before Sagan, the Russians Kardashev and Shklovsky, and other proponents of SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), Dr. Lipp advanced “some personal intuition into the discussion with the view that life is not unique on Earth, or even the RANDom result of a low probability, but is practically inevitable in the right conditions.” He also took the educated guess that, “knowing nothing at all about other races, we must assume that Man is average as to technical advancement, environmental difficulties, etc. That is, one half of other planets are behind us and have no space travel and the other half are ahead and have various levels of space travel. We can thus imagine that in our sample volume (the 22 potential stars within 16 light years from earth—ed.) there are 11 races of beings who have begun space explorations.”

more advanced civilizations

Continuing with the argument that a number of space civilizations could be way ahead of us, Dr. Lipp wrote that their space ships would “require improvements of propulsion that we have not yet conceived.” He mentioned “a large number of hypothetical methods of transportation like gravity shields, space overdrives, teleports, simulators energy beams and so on,” drawn from the combined “efforts of all the science-fiction writers.”

Dr. Lipp’s study seem truly revolutionary if we consider that it was written on December 1948. In fact, his astronomical analysis is quite similar to that of George Kocher in another RAND UFO study, this one written in 1968. Yet Lipp’s final remarks against the “flying objects” being space ships are weak and seem perhaps a bit contrived in order to adjust to the official Air Force policy of denying the extraterrestrial origin of UFOs. He based his first counter-argument on the proposition that all UFO incidents up to his time “have occurred within the United States, whereas visiting spacemen could be expected to scatter their visits more or less uniformly over the globe.” Dr. Lipp was evidently misinformed about the UFO phenomenon occurring only in the U.S. in 1947 and 1948. On the other hand, that UFOs became a global phenomenon is an undisputable fact.

The second and final counter-argument is that the only “motive” that could explain the “purpose” of UFOs is, according to Lipp, “that the spacemen are ‘feeling out’ our defenses without wanting to be belligerent. If so, they must have been satisfied long ago that we can’t catch them. It seems fruitless for them to keep repeating the same experiment.” As Head of the Missiles Division of the RAND Corporation, Dr. Lipp should have known that weapons research after World War II was advancing dramatically, thus justifying the continuing UFO surveillance of our planet’s sensitive military and industrial installations for purposes that are still unknown.

RAND Corpartion Headquarters in Santa Mocia, CA.
RAND Corpartion Headquarters in Santa Monica, CA. (image credit: Cbl62/Wikimedia Commons - CC License 3.0)

the Martian invasion scenario

Before reviewing the 1968 RAND Document, UFOs: What to Do?, in our next article, we must mention another interesting study made by RAND. Although it was constructed as just one more computer war game scenario, its implications seem indeed strange. Information on this report came from the popular French science writer Jacques Bergier, who in turn obtained it from a book that reveals “the tip of the veil of secrecy” of RAND, titled Analysis for a Military Decision. Among the many hypothetical war scenarios disclosed in this book, Bergier mentions the astounding one of “a plan to invade the earth with flying saucers manufactured on Mars.” According to Bergier, some of the facets studied in this particular RAND scenario were mathematical graphs of the saucers in the Earth’s gravitational fields, as well as the gravitational fields of Mars and its satellites.

“As soon as the flying saucer has been picked up by radar in the earth’s atmosphere and airplanes have gone up to head it off,” continued Bergier, “the model must be subjected  to constant alterations and improvements.” To which he added with good sense that, “this problem seems to have been solved in a masterly fashion by the Martians colleagues of the men from RAND, since to date not one single flying saucer from Mars has been shot down or forced to land.” And this despite the efforts to the contrary by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and those of other nations. Bergier’s final sentence in his section on “Martian Invade the Earth,” is also highly suggestive: “In these laboratories not only man-made wars are studied but also the possibility of wars unleashed by unknown enemies.” We’ll review next what to do with UFOs, according to the men from RAND.

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Looking back at this article 30 years later, one has to admit that the small December 1948 study prepared by James Everett Lipp of the RAND Missiles Division for Project Sign, makes him a true pioneer of SETI in an era long before even that acronym was coined. “This may have been the first U.S. government sponsored study on non-human life in the universe,” wrote Curtis Peebles, an aerospace historian for the Smithsonian Institution and UFO skeptic. Born in 1910, Lipp earned a Ph.D. in aeronautical engineering from the California Institute of Technology in 1935 and worked for Douglas Aircraft Co. for 13 years before joining RAND in 1948, where he eventually headed its aerospace division. By all accounts, Dr. Lipp was a highly competent aerospace scientist who is mentioned in several histories of the genesis of the American space program. He wrote a RAND paper in February of 1947 titled, “Communication and Observation Problems of a Satellite,” which among other things mentioned the possibility of “spy satellites” for the first time. He is also remembered for a “prophecy” written in this same paper about the enormous prestige to be gained by the first country to launch a space vehicle. Ten years before the USSR launched Sputnik, Lipp wrote:

Since mastery of the elements is a reliable index of material progress, the nation which first makes significant achievements in space travel will be acknowledged as the world leaders in both military and scientific techniques. To visualize the impact on the world, one can imagine the consternation and admiration that would be felt here if the United States were to discover suddenly that some other nation had already put up a successful satellite.

Unfortunately, I have been unable to locate online the full Lipp report to Project Sign (it may exist in some government FOIA repository somewhere), but those who care to read the complete text can see it in Project Blue Book – The Top Secret UFO Findings Revealed!, an anthology of documents from Projects Sign, Grudge and Blue Book edited by Brad Steiger in 1976 (Ballantine Books), where it was included.

We did find online a copy of a letter from A. M. Mood of the RAND Corporation to Lt. Col. A. J. Hemstreet of the Technical Intelligence Division at AMC in Wright-Patterson, dated 29 March 1949, which sheds some additional light about the cooperation between RAND and the USAF regarding their early UFO projects. The letter begins by stating that, “we had not planned to issue a formal report on Project Grudge until or unless our study leads to some unusual or unexpected finding which would throw new light on Grudge.” Mood then goes on to say that “we are now working through the data in search of significant consistencies or other indirect bits of evidence,” but that “to date we have found nothing which would seriously controvert simple rational explanations of the various phenomena…” (he includes a long list with balloons, aircraft, planets, hoaxes, etc.).

Memo between USAF and RAND on UFOs.
Memo between USAF and RAND on UFOs.

Mood finally raises a few questions about specific incident that seem to be misfiled and wants to know more about the Maury Island case of June 1947: “We have heard from a reliable source of an incident in which fishermen observed flying objects which dropped hot material which they collected and subsequently gave to official investigators. The investigators’ plane crashed but there was a survivor. We do not seem to have a file on this incident – certainly not a complete file. May we have one?”

Finally, my original article mentioned a RAND computer war game of a flying saucer invasion cited by French science writer Jacques Bergier. This came from the book Analysis for Military Decisions, edited by E. S. Quade in November 1964 under the USAF Project RAND contract. The full book is now available online at the RAND Corporation’s Reports and Bookstore page here, where it’s described as: “Presentation of the lectures prepared for the RAND course ‘An appreciation of analysis for military decisions.’ The lectures are designed primarily for decisionmakers and not for analysts; they are not intended to teach systems analysis, but to point out the weaknesses and possible abuses, as well the effectiveness, of an analytic approach to long-range military planning.” Pages 73-75 discuss the flying saucer invasion scenario.

Continue to Part 2

Antonio Huneeus

Open Minds Investigative Reporter J. Antonio Huneeus has covered the UFO field from an international perspective for over 30 years. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications in the U.S., Latin America, Europe and Japan. He was also the co-author of the Laurance Rockefeller-funded “UFO Briefing Document – The Best Available Evidence” and edited the book “A Study Guide to UFOs, Psychic & Paranormal Phenomena in the USSR.” Huneeus studied French at the Sorbonne University in Paris and Journalism at the University of Chile in Santiago in the 1970s. He has lectured at dozens of UFO Conferences all over the world and been interviewed by many media outlets including The Washington Post, the Sy-Fy and History Channels, Nippon-TV, etc. He received the “Ufologist of the Year” award at the National UFO Conference in Miami Beach in 1990 and the “Courage in Journalism” award at the X-Conference in Gaithersburg, Maryland, in 2007.

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