14-18, 1953 - The Durant Report of the Robertson Panel proceedings
Report of Scientific Advisory Panel on Unidentified Flying Objects
Convened by Office of Scientific Intelligence, CIA. (Credit: CUFON)
The Air Force had earlier commissioned the Battelle Memorial
Institute to scientifically study the various UFO reports collected by
Project Sign, Project Grudge and Project Blue Book, but Battelle
insisted they needed more time to conduct a proper study. The CIA
thought the question so pressing that they authorized an ad hoc
committee in late 1952.
The Robertson Panel first met formally on January 14, 1953 under
the direction of Howard Percy Robertson. He was a physicist, a CIA
employee and director of the Defense Department Weapons Evaluation
Other panel members were respected scientists and military
personnel who had worked on other classified military projects or
studies. All were then skeptical of UFO reports, though to varying
Louis Alvarez, physicist (and later, a Nobel Prize winner)
Frederick C. Durant, missile expert
Samuel A. Goudsmit, Brookhaven National Laboratories physicist
Thornton Page, astrophysicist, deputy director of Johns
HopkinsOperations Research Office.
Lloyd Berkner, physicist and J. Allen Hynek, astronomer, were
associate panel members.
The Panel had four consecutive days of formal meetings.
The first day, they viewed two amateur motion pictures of UFOs:
the 1950 Montana UFO Film and 1952 Utah UFO Film (the latter was taken
by Navy Chief Petty Officer Delbert C. Newhouse, who had extensive
experience with aerial photography). Two Navy photograph and film
analysts (Lieutenants R.S. Neasham and Harry Woo) then reported their
conclusions: the two films depicted objects that were not any known
aircraft, creature or weather phenomena. Air Force Captain Edward J.
Ruppelt then began a summary of Air Force efforts regarding UFO studies.
The second day, Ruppelt finished his presentation. Hynek then
discussed the Battelle study, and the panel discussed with Air Force
personnel the problems inherent in monitoring UFO sightings.
The third day, Dewey J. Fournet spoke to the panel; for over a
year he had coordinated UFO affairs for the Pentagon. Fournett
supported the extraterrestrial hypothesis as the best explanation for
some puzzling UFO reports. For the remainder of the third day, the
panel discussed their conclusions, and Robertson agreed to draft a
The fourth and final day, the panel rewrote and finalized their
The Robertson Panel's official report concluded that 90 percent of
UFO sightings could be readily identified with meteorological,
astronomical, or natural phenomena, and that the remaining 10 percent
of UFO reports could, in all likelyhood, be similarly explained with
detailed study. It was suggested that witnesses had misidentified
bright stars and planets, meteors, auroras, mirages, atmospheric
temperature inversions, and lenticular clouds; other sightings were
judged as likely misinterpretation of conventional aircraft, weather
balloons, birds, searchlights, kites, and other phenomena.
Furthermore, the Panel suggested the Air Force should begin a
"debunking" effort to reduce "public gullibility" and demystify UFO
reports. The panel suggested a public relations campaign, using
psychiatrists, astronomers and assorted celebrities to significantly
reduce public interest in UFOs. It was also recommended that the mass
media be used for the debunking, including influential media giants
like Walt Disney Corporation.
Their formal recommendation stated "That the national security
agencies take immediate steps to strip the Unidentified Flying Objects
of the special status they have been given and the aura of mystery they
have unfortunately acquired."
Also recommended was that the government monitor civilian groups
studying or researching UFO's "because of their potentially great
influence on mass thinking ... the apparent irresponsibility and
possible use of such groups for subversive purposes should be kept in
The Robertson Panels conclusions and recommendations had a great
influence on official United States policy regarding UFO's for many
The Robertson Panels study was classified for five years. In
1954, however, Ruppelt made the first public statements regarding the
panel in his TRUE article, when he offered a brief summary of its
proceedings. Ruppelt did
not, however, note the panel members names, nor the government agencies