Interview with Blue Book liaison, Major Fournet

Major Dewey Fournet (image credit: NICAP)
Major Dewey Fournet (image credit: NICAP)

I finally came face to face with former military Blue Book officers in 1988. A local ufologist from Arkansas, Bill Pitts, sponsored a conference on Blue Book in Eureka Springs in the Ozarks. (It later became a very successful annual UFO conference under Lou Farish where I have often spoken.) The star was Major (Ret.) Dewey Fournet, who was the Pentagon liaison officer with Blue Book in the early period under Capt. Ruppelt, which included the flying saucer wave of 1952 and the Washington, DC radar cases. Another speaker was Max Futch, Airman 1st Class, who took over the project for a brief period after Ruppelt, and is a rather obscure figure in the history of the project.

I had the opportunity of conducting a lengthy and relaxed interview with Major Fournet about some of the key events he had lived, like working with Ruppelt during the ’52 wave, briefing the 1953 CIA-convened Robertson Panel, or serving later in the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena’s (NICAP) Board of Governors. Fournet was very frank and revealing. He confirmed having reviewed the first draft of Project Sign’s legendary ‘Estimate of the Situation,’ which concluded the saucers were not only real but also probably of interplanetary origin. The USAF Chief of Staff, Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg, wouldn’t sign it and the report was toned down and rewritten without the pro-ET conclusion. The revised version was declassified under the FOIA only in 1985.

Fournet also talked about the contents of his briefing to the CIA panel and his own ‘Estimate of the Situation’ to the USAF mentioned in one of Keyhoe’s books. Fournet explained that he intended “to show the probability of intelligent control, and admitting to the possibility that when we said that intelligent control is probable, admitting then the further possibility that they could be of extraterrestrial origin, but that’s all… my sole purpose really was to try to knock out the prejudices that certain people in the military and other parts of the government had, they were not being open-minded in my opinion, I wasn’t trying to force-feed them a definite belief, I was trying to open their minds a bit.” Excerpts of my interview with Fournet were published in the now-defunct ‘UFO Universe’ magazine (Nº 3, Nov. 1988).

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The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects by Edward Ruppelt

Antonio Huneeus: My first question is about Captain Ruppelt’s book. Since you worked with him I’d like some kind of personal portrait of Ed Ruppelt, what kind of person he was based on your experience with him.

Dewey Fournet: As far as I am concerned Ed was very objective, he tried to be very honest, he was trying to do the best job that he possibly could, still he might get carried away but he retained what I consider was an excellent balance, he was willing to take off and go… never complained about it, and every time that another report came in that we thought deserved some study he… so he was gung-ho on the seriousness of the subject and felt that he had to do as good a job as it could possibly be done, no biases, and I had discussed a couple of times all the implications that could possibly be, at least those that we could dredge out of our imaginations, and even though we would eliminate a lot of them as probabilities because of insufficient evidence, nonetheless he kept an open mind about it, he didn’t turn down ipsofacto some piece of information that somebody was offering him just because it didn’t fit with any preconceived conclusion.

AH: After you left the service, and he too, did you stay in touch with him?

DF: Well, I stayed in touch with Ed on and off, especially at the time that the movie was being made, the Al Chop Story, he and I did communicate quite a bit, because we wanted to be sure that Al wouldn’t be carried away into the wild blue yonder, and at one point it looked like he might have been, and Ed and I would have backed off.

From left: Fournet, Chop, and Ruppelt. (image credit: NICAP)

AH: So you all did work on the movie in one way or another?

DF: Oh yeah, we had to review the script, the portions of the script that involved either one of us, he (Ruppelt) reviewed those in which he was involved, I reviewed those in which I was involved, and I had a big brouhaha with Al over that portion of the National [Airport] thing, and that’s when Al finally reminded me–it suddenly came to Al that I had been called out of the Control Room–to talk to me about it on the phone, and that’s when the convergence, when the fighters occurred.

AH: Right, so you missed that part?

DF: I was not there, it was mentioned in the movie: in fact because I gave Al a real hard time on it, and he said, well, look, I’ll make it not only evident that that occurred while you were out, but I’ll call it to the attention of the audience, and that’s why it became so obvious that I was being called out and was still out when this incident was occurring. I am still not sure about that one.

Article on the movie about Al Chop titled, UFO: The Truth About Flying Saucers. Al Chop was the public information officer at Wright Patterson Air Force Base who had an inside look at the mechanics of how the Air Force was handling the UFO situation.

AH: Another question I have concerns the famous Project Sign’s Estimate of the situation, the one that Gen. Vandenberg burned down.

DF: That was the Project Sign report.

AH: I think it’s in the Keyhoe and Ruppelt books that you did see it.

DF: Oh yes, I studied it.

AH: And that’s the one that concluded that they (UFOs) were extraterrestrial?

General Hoyt Vandenberg (image credit: USAF)

DF: That’s correct, and Vandenberg never signed it, and I think with damn good reason, because what did we had after the first two years and two months, Project Sign folded up, there simply wasn’t enough to go on, there wasn’t enough hard evidence to arrive at such a conclusion. Now if they had said as I did with the Robertson Panel, look, let us acknowledge the fact that at least this is a possibility, and let’s always keep that in front of us, and never wander away from it, don’t turn it down because it doesn’t seem like an appealing thing to you; and the purpose was simply to stimulate completely objective views on the thing, to admit every possibility within the realm of our mentality, and not ipsofacto turned it down, but the Project Sign report did not do that, it was written as a staff study and normally in a staff study you got to come up with conclusions, one, two, three, four, you don’t bend the rod, …but they were straight laced, and coming up with a conclusion such as they did at that point in time when there were so little evidence to substantiate that claim, naturally anybody in the position such as Vandenberg would say, I am not going to sign it.

AH: What did the early portion of the report have, it just recounted sightings?

DF: It went through, yeah, in that kind of a study what you do is, first of all you start up with your assumptions, then you go through and show what evidence you have resulting from the study, and the conclusions which are supposed to be corroborated and supported by the information that you have already presented.

AH: And in this case they didn’t have enough evidence to arrive to those conclusions?

DF: Right, and they didn’t even put in any recommendations, so the thing sort of fell flat, but at least it was interesting to me and Ed that even at that early stage, at least there was enough open-mindedness in the project that they were acknowledging this as a possibility, even though they put it as a definite conclusion.

AH: Right, the second thing which you’ve already told me but I want to have it here on the record, is about your own ‘estimate of the situation,’ that last report you did just before leaving the Air Force.

DF: It was largely, it contained largely the same kind of thing [as in] the presentation I made to the Robertson Panel; all right, now remember whether it be Ed, or me, or my division chief, or General Samford or whoever, if you go about saying, look, I have arrived at this point in all these studies that we’ve made, I have arrived to these conclusions, but remember that none of them have been proven, we’re only acknowledging possibilities, I did that in the estimate of the situation that I made, using as a large part of it the same basic sighting reports that I used to put together my presentation to the Robertson Panel, intending to show the probability of intelligent control, probability in this case, and admitting to the possibility that when we said that intelligent control is probable, admitting then the further possibility that they could be of extraterrestrial origin, but that’s all.

Edward Ruppelt (standing center) at July 29, 1952 Pentagon UFO press conference. Also pictured, Major Generals Roger Ramey (seated left), USAF operations chief, and John A. Samford (seated right), USAF director of intelligence. (image credit: Wikipedia)

AH: Right, somebody had to be behind an intelligent control.

DF: Yeah, and my sole purpose really was, number one, to try to knock out the prejudices that certain people in the military and other parts of the government had, they were not being open-minded in my opinion, I wasn’t trying to force-feed them a definite belief, I was trying to open their minds a bit, so at least they could acknowledge this within the spectrum of their thinking as a possibility, and to also go to the Robertson Panel into letting this, admitting this as a possibility in their deliberations, and trying to help them in considering this aspect to come to grips with what should be done from that point on, and I was hoping in fact that they’d take it out of the Air Force.

AH: What? The UFO study?

DF: Yeah .

AH: And take it where?

DF: Put it in some other government agency, or on the presidential staff with volunteers from the scientific community, and I was hoping the Robertson Panel, being such noted scientists, would enlist the help of these other scientists.

AH: So that was your aim. I guess that’s connected to a question I have further down here; I was checking one of Keyhoe’s books, again I don’t know how accurate he is when he quotes you or Ruppelt or Chop, but he mentions there a plan that the three of you had of releasing all the UFO data to the public with a press conference, or something to that effect.

Major Donald Keyhoe

DF: No, no, we never would have done that, and I think I brought Don short on that at one point in the discussions I had with him right when I got out. No, what we did succeed in doing, Ed and I agreed that in order to avoid all the distress that we were having and the accusations from the public and the press in particular that we were covering up things, not releasing data, was to adopt a policy that said, and we did this in mid-52 now, any report that you know about, if you can ask for it by specific description, we will release everything that we can declassify to the requester, but as far as making the whole library available to the public, that would have been absurd because there was such a clutter of trash in those reports, I mean, let’s face it, the preponderance of the thing, when I say preponderance, over 50%, maybe 60 or 65% of it was absolutely trash, completely mistaken stuff that was miss-described, it didn’t sound like spaceships.

AH: Because there was a hype over the subject at the time?

DF: That’s correct, and we just didn’t feel that without us analyzing every single one of those in complete detail–which we didn’t have the resources to do–it was completely unwise to try to dump this out on the public, where they don’t know the wheat from the chaff, and that would have been a terrible disservice to the American public.

AH: That clarifies that episode from Keyhoe’s book. Now, about your dealings with Fred Durant, and Marshall Chadwell from the CIA, and other CIA people before and during the Robertson Panel.

DF: Well, Fred [Durant] really approached the Air Force, and I never did find out from Fred what instigated the interest by CIA on the subject, never bothered, I knew he had been given the authority to see me and I was told that I could tell everything that I possibly could about the UFO project, from day one as long as I knew what I was talking about.

AH: He was a consultant for the CIA, right?

DF: No, I don’t know if Fred was a consultant, I do know he was on the CIA payroll, I assumed he was just one of the project managers, and there again, you don’t go out asking questions like that of those people, because at that time CIA was fairly young, you know, it was a successor to OSS and it was considered to be a kind of cloak and dagger operation, so you don’t go banging around saying, hey tell me everything that you’re doing, but my superiors, I guess it started all the way from the Chief of the Air Staff, I don’t remember who it was in those days.

AH: Vandenberg?

DF: No, Vandenberg was gone.

AH: Twining, or he was later?

DF: Twining was later. Ah, I got the orders to go ahead and get with Fred at his request and brief him as completely as he wanted on everything that I could give him that was fact, how we operated, what the latest status of the project was, any conclusions that we may have ongoing at the time, and I got to know Fred fairly well, not very intimately though, because my closure to Fred was over about a 6-month period, less than that, 4 months, but I gave him everything that he asked for, everything that I could, that I felt would help him. He told me what his objective was, which was to take the stuff up in the CIA and they would determine whether they felt any further recommendations should be made to the Air Force or to the President or whomever, so the next thing I knew, I heard, I was on the phone with Fred quite a bit, he’d have further questions and I’d answer them on the phone if I could, otherwise we would get together, but I don’t think we got together personally that often, it must have been only three or four times  then he called me and asked me whether I would be willing to meet with a bunch of top people in CIA who apparently were potentially involved in this or would be involved in the recommendations that were going to be forthcoming, and brief them, not in great detail but at least enough to give them an overview, he said; so I did that, I met with them, and the next thing I heard from Fred was that the CIA had contacted certain scientists and asked them if they would meet as a panel to review all the pertinent material that we had, and they would render some conclusions and recommendations for the Air Force or the government, and that was the Robertson Panel.

AH: Did you have any dealings with this fellow that appears a lot in the Robertson Panel proceedings, Dr. Marshall Chadwell, he was the head of the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence.

DF: The name is vaguely familiar, but I can’t say that I can recall him explicitly.

AH: OK, do you recall by any chance a report that is again mentioned by Keyhoe, about a sighting in April 52 by the Secretary of the Navy, Don Kimball, while he was flying over Hawaii? I’ve never been able to find corroborating evidence about this case.

DF: Yeah, it rang a bell, but I think the only place I saw that was in Don’s book, I must say that if I did know about it at the time I can’t remember that. Before we move from that question, Antonio, let me elaborate on that, just try. I was going to elaborate about the question supposedly submitted by the Secretary of the Navy. The reason I may have seen it–and I don’t remember it–is because it didn’t matter the source of the report, the sighting, it could have been from the President himself, but if it was treated as casually and incidentally as, hey I saw this light in the sky, and that’s all there was to it, well, certainly, you might have gone over and talked to the person if you’d gotten permission, and see if there was any additional information that could be added to the initial report, but in this case I feel certain that Kimball would have reported it through the Navy, and the Naval Intelligence were very close to us, and they knew what our rules were, they knew what our requirements were, and the report could have come in and been very vague, and just because Kimball saw something didn’t give it any more credence than another good observer, presumably we would have treated him as a fairly decent observer, and it would have gone in the files as insufficient information, and it would have been just more of [a mass of them?], so the source of the report, the observer, whoever it was, didn’t make that much difference to us.

AH: That’s important to know, unless the difference, let’s say between a pilot and a farmer, the difference in technical qualifications…

DF: Oh yes, well, definitely, we put more credence and we felt that we could ask more pointed questions of a pilot or a CAA controller if it was a radar sighting, or somebody with that qualification, naturally we’d pursue it a lot more, and let us say that we knew that Kimball was a private pilot, well, I’m sure if the report would have given some clues that, gee whiz, there could be more to this that it is being reported in this report that we received, we would have pursued it, but simply because he was a better qualified observer, a pilot, OK? but it would haven’t made any difference whether he was the Secretary of the Navy or it was an ensign flying a fighter, is what I am saying, as long as we felt that either of them had the same qualifications, we would haven’t given more weight to the Secretary of the Navy’s report that we would to the ensign’s report, just as we would haven’t given anymore to the President’s report than we would to a soldier on the field if neither was better qualified as an aerial observer.

AH: In any case, you think that because of his position, files about that case would be more easily found on Navy Intelligence.

DF: No, I don’t think so, I think they would have come to us because, as I said, we had a beautiful relationship with the Navy Intelligence, they were the ones, every time I needed help on photo analysis, I got with Navy Intelligence because they had that superb Photo Analysis Lab across the river at Anacosia, which is where the Tremonton movies were running parallel with the ones at Wright-Patterson, and the Navy people are the ones that gave the presentation to the Robertson Panel, because if anything they were better equipped in that particular field that was Wright-Patterson.

AH: OK, also other rumors from that period, the reaction from the White House after the Washington DC sightings. I think that in the movie they show a phone call from the White House or something.

DF: Well, not me, I think to Ed Ruppelt, and I can’t talk for Ed on that score because that didn’t excite either one of us; the fact that the President was taking interest because it was local, we understood, but that would have been one of his aids, I am sure, that would have gotten hold of Ed, and he would have not gotten hold of Ed directly, he would have called the Chief of the Air Staff, the Chief of the Air Staff would have gotten Gen. Samford, and Gen. Samford would say, OK, you go to this fellow or I’ll get him to call you, but I never had time to talk with Ed about that because things were moving too fast, and that was just a passing incident, because we were always getting requests, from Senators of tremendous seniority, from people in various Secretary’s offices, from all kinds of governmental positions, and it was a matter of course with us, we just told them what we knew, if they had a need to know.

Life amagzine article on the UFOs over Washington in 1952. (image credit: Life magazine)

AH: Another rumor that has been referred in books is that after the Washington sightings, supposedly Einstein called the President and told him, whatever you do don’t shoot at them. Did you hear anything about that?

DF: No, I didn’t hear anything like that, but we had standing orders, there was to be no firing unless there was definite indication that they were under attack.

AH: And those orders were from the moment you began working on the project?

DF: Oh, absolutely, they were from the very middle of 47 as far as I know, from the Kenneth Arnold sighting, I never saw any evidence to the contrary, even in Project Grudge days, because Project Grudge was an internal matter for Air Intelligence, and that had no authority at all over the field, the combat forces.

AH: Let’s move a little forward. What were your reasons for joining NICAP, and then about your relationship with Keyhoe.

DF: The latter part is more important, Don got hold of me right at the time that I was getting out of the Air Force.

AH: You didn’t know him before?

DF: No, because I didn’t deal with him directly, the reports he got were through Al Chop.

AH: But you approve them?

DF: I had enough respect for Don and his background as a Marine officer, a Marine flying officer, were enough to tell me, well gee wiz, we’ll bend over backwards to give him what I want him to get, which was the factual information rather than some of the trash that he’d picked up in one of his early books, so I thought he could be a big help to us to get some of this trash off display and not presented as factual stuff, instead deal with what we thought were the facts. I wasn’t trying to brainwash him, I was just giving him good information, and he came in on that policy that we had enacted, that anybody can ask for a report based on a specific incident that he can describe to us, we’ll release that information whatever is releasable in the report, and that’s how he had got the stuff through Al Chop, but I never dealt with any of those people directly. But Don, I don’t know when it was, he found out, I think it was after Washington National, he got word somehow, somebody asked why wasn’t Major Fournet in that press conference or whatever it was, because somebody knew, I think Al had mumbled it, and that’s I believe where Don could have gotten hold of my name, or else it was one of his buddies in the Navy, I am not sure, but he contacted me and said that he’d like to talk to me briefly if he could meet me, so I agreed, I’d go ahead and meet with him, because as I said I thought he could be [to] the government, [and] the public a big service, since he was well equipped to write about the [UFO] stuff with his background, and if he was dealing with facts, what we called the facts, it was more like it to come up with a good story for the public, for public consumption than if he had all this other stuff mixed up with it, so I talked to him and told him, OK, fine, look, and I described what my reasoning was for seeing it that he got fed all the stuff beforehand, and I said, I think you ought to go to it, but try to get the facts across to the public, so I met him briefly that way. Well, years and years passed, and it was early 60s sometime when Don contacted me and asked me if I would join the Board of Governors of NICAP, he was the Director, and I was very reluctant at first because I had promised myself when I walked out of the Air Force in 1953 I never wanted to hear about this thing again, I had a bellyful, but he kept saying, look, NICAP is a very sound organization, he mentioned the Admiral…

AH: Yeah, Hillenkoetter, I was going to ask you, did you ever met him?

DF: Hillenkoetter was one, I never met him.

AH: Knowles was another one.

DF: Knowles could have been, and it was an impressive list, and Doc Hartranft, who was the President of the Private Aircraft Pilots Association [Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association]; so after he twisted my arm considerably, I said OK, look, but let’s have one thing clearly understood, I am coming in to help you on your policy matters because I have certain definite opinions about how this type of thing should be handled, and I will even assist when I can on the business matters, because they were already having some business problems with money, and it was under that arrangement that I went in. Well, I would hear from Don maybe once a year, when he was starting to plead another case for contributions because NICAP’s finances were [getting worse] it’s in the mid-60s now–but otherwise I met with the Board only once, I happened to be on a business trip to New York, I arranged to come back through Washington and I stayed for a couple of nights, and met with the Board at a place near Dupont Circle, but that was the only time I actually met with them, but things went from bad to worse, that was in 1967, things went from bad to worse and finally Doc Hartranft called me and said that he had been in touch with a couple of the other board members, Don was getting ready to put out another final appeal for funds, it was a very, very sad appeal, really, you could tell that the bottom could be dropping out if NICAP didn’t get substantial contributions, and he said we can’t put up with this, we are losing members because of these constant appeals for additional funds besides the dues that they pay, and things are cluttering up.

AH: What was the problem, because I understand that they had a lot of members at one point?

DF: Yeah, I think it was, Don said it was because of the declining publicity, the declining numbers of sightings, the declining numbers of reports, and the loss of interest by the public, and I couldn’t stay up with that stuff, I had my own work to do and I was gone all the time, so I couldn’t say whether that was sufficient or not, I didn’t had the time to go up there and try to sit with Doc Hartranft and a few of the other people and figure it out what should be done, so it got to that point, I got the call from Doc, he said he had talked to so and so and such and such, and they decided that it was time for Don to go, and since I was the one that knew Don the best, they put the kiss of death on me to go ahead and call Don and tell him as gentle as I could that the Board had decided that he was to become Director Emeritus, and that they get the acting directorship, and it fell on my lap to do that and that was one of the toughest things that I had to do in a long time, because I liked Don as a fellow, but Don got carried away on certain things.

AH: Right, Don was one of the main ones that was always accusing the Air Force of cover-up and conspiracy.

DF: Yeah I know, that was another one of my purposes, to try to get him off that kick when I had all that material released.

AH: OK, Dewey, that should do it, those were all the questions I had.

DF: OK, very good, I hope it helps.

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