Real or Not: MJ-12 Documents Affect Today’s UAP Search

One of the most contentious issues surrounding the UFO phenomenon has been the mystery documents which supporters claim show a secretive government organization. These documents allege that an organization, known as Majestic-Twelve, controlled the U.S. response to the phenomenon. Detractors claim that the documents are fake. Since the 1980s, their authenticity has divided the UFO community. Now, Congress is poised to adopt legislation that may shed light on the origins of the MJ-12 documents. Are they real? If not, who created them? Were MJ-12 documents a product of a disinformation campaign? Congress is now considering  legislation that attempts to answer such questions.

The original MJ-12 document is an alleged briefing paper for incoming President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Several other documents appeared over time that either are supposed to be MJ-12 internal operating manuals or classified documents that reference Majestic-Twelve. Except for one document “found” at the nation’s archives, the rest were anonymously sent to persons who were close to the UFO research community.  Each ignited debates that distracted UFO researchers and  divided them into warring camps. This fight gave ammunition to skeptics about the MJ-12 documents and, by extension, general UFO research. Citing an Air Force investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has dramatically labeled the one Truman Administration document found at a government archive  “bogus”. (https://vault.fbi.gov/Majestic%2012.) The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) have a detailed disclaimer on their website that disputes their authenticity.[1] As a result of the intrigue, most interested bystanders simply move on to other topics.

Due to recent congressional developments, the MJ-12 documents may once again become an issue in the UAP debate, whether real or not. Senate Bill 4503 (Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 (FY 2023 IAA or S.4503)) has been referred to the full Senate and is currently pending. On a 16-0 vote, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence added §705 (Comptroller General of the United States Compilation of Unidentified Aerospace-Undersea Phenomena Records) to S. 4503. §705 requires the General Accountancy Office (GAO) to review records of the intelligence community (IC) from January 1947 forward to determine to what extent that the IC was involved in UAP issues. In addition to looking at IC efforts to study the phenomenon, the GAO is required to investigate “any intelligence community efforts to obfuscate, manipulate public opinion, hide, or otherwise provide unclassified or classified misinformation about unidentified aerospace-undersea phenomena or related activities… .” While the decades long debate over the MJ-12 documents have revolved around their authenticity, the GAO review could add a new element to the MJ-12 debate. If fake, are they the product of a government disinformation campaign? Under the §705 investigation mandates, these documents could lead to evidence of a possible government “debunking” campaign aimed at undermining the credibility of the UFO research community. A policy that may still have impacts today.

NARA, the FBI and Air Force each claim the documents are fakes. In the past, these declarations would be enough to put the inquiry to rest. Today, with the pending changes in federal law, the question becomes, assuming these documents are fakes, who faked them? If it is shown to be a UFO researcher, the story comes to an end. In the declassified record, there is no evidence of a privately created hoax. There is evidence of a hoax but there have never been any officially named suspects. While there are inferences that someone in the UFO community committed a hoax, the lack of any timely investigative follow up casts doubt on such accusations. On the other hand, based on declassified records, there are many instances of questionable conduct in the IC response to the UFO/UAP mystery that may indicate a pattern or policy to mislead the public. These documented instances make an organized “debunking” effort appear more plausible. They provide enough information to make the matter worthy of serious investigation.

With regard to the specifics of the NARA MJ-12 determination, there are ten questions raised about a potential confirming document. The document was a purported memorandum from Robert Cutler, President Eisenhower’s National Security Advisor, sent to attendees of a White House meeting informing them about rescheduling a discussion about MJ-12. Because it was a document which listed MJ-12 as being a meeting topic, its authenticity would provide significant support for the existence of an MJ-12 program. For each of ten arguments against the authenticity of the Cutler/Twining Memo, there are countervailing arguments that were contemporaneously raised. None are addressed on the NARA website. For instance, the sixth question states there was no watermark on the Cutler-Twining Memo. According to NARA, the memo should have had a watermark. Despite the NARA opinion, the late UFO researcher, Stanton Freidman, stated that the Cutler-Twining Memo did contain a watermark for identifying it as paper in government use at the time, but not available to the public. (Freidman, Stanton, Top Secret/Majic. Marlowe & Company (1996), p. 92.) There is no evidence that the FBI, or any agency, contacted Mr. Freidman about his evidence before the NARA determination was made, even though, by implication, Freidman was accused of participating in a hoax.

Another major point raised in the NARA analysis was that the Cutler-Twining Memo was in a newly declassified document box that did not contain any similar documents. This issue was also raised in Stanton Friedman’s book. (Id @ pp. 88-90.) Freidman also questioned how the Cutler/Twining Memo came to be loosely placed in Box 267. The UFO researcher’s decision to review the documents in Box 267 was the result of seemingly unrelated incidents. First, the National Archives alerted Freidman that a new batch of Air Force intelligence files were available. Air Force Intelligence files were the type of documents that might discuss UFO issues. Second, at the same time, Freidman’s research partners received post cards from exotic locations around the world urging them to keep looking. As a result, Freidman’s partners went to the archives to look at the contents of Box 267 and found the Cutler/Twining Memo. It was in a box that did not contain any other related documents and was not in a particular file. Highly unusual. How it got there is still a mystery. One that neither the FBI nor the National Archives ever interviewed any of the UFO researchers who found it. Even though they would be either key witnesses or prime suspects.

Sneaking a document into a secure archives is as difficult as sneaking one out. If the document had been placed in Box 267 by a UFO researcher, it would have been a federal crime. Yet, no criminal investigation was ever conducted. Considering the effort used to “debunk” the document, why was their no federal effort made to determine who did it.   

NARA’s final point on the Cutler/Twining Memo was that Robert Cutler was out of the country when the memo was issued. The Stanton Friedman book counters that there were several examples of procedural memos, like this memo (i.e., changes in meeting dates or times), that were routinely sent out by Mr. Cutler’s assistant when he was out of the office. (Id. @ pp. 99-101.)

While these factual disputes, and several others, may make it much harder to accept that the Cutler-Twining Memo is an official government document, they also make it more difficult to claim that it is a forged document created outside of government. Its “discovery” by UFO researchers in an unrelated box of documents in a secure location in a government archive raises questions about how a private person would place it there?  

This saga began when photos of the alleged Eisenhower Briefing document were mailed to a person with ties to the UFO research community. Over the years,  other purported MJ-12 documents were anonymously sent to UFO researchers. Each had appeared genuine on their face, but deviations from normal documentary procedures have been noted by UFO researchers in each. The Cutler-Twining Memo, the only supporting document found in the National Archives itself, has serious questions of how it got in an unrelated document box requested by a UFO researcher after a suggestion by a NARA employee. In addition to receiving a photographic copy of an MJ-12 document sent anonymously through the mail, they received post cards from locations around the world urging them to continue the search .

If the Cutler-Twining Memo was put in Box 267 by an outsider, how did they do it? The only investigations that took place are by the National Archives and the Air Force to look into whether the MJ-12 documents were real. After each were declared “bogus”, there was no attempt by law enforcement to conduct a follow-up investigation about a potential breach of the Archives’ security. Even though the FBI received information about the documents, they never undertook any steps to determine how the Cutler-Twining Memo ended up in the National Archives. The FBI website discusses what steps were actually taken: 

In 1988, two FBI offices received similar versions of a memo titled “Operation Majestic-12…” claiming to be highly classified government document. The memo appeared to be a briefing for newly elected President Eisenhower on a secret committee created to exploit a recovery of an extra-terrestrial aircraft and cover-up this work from public examination. An Air Force investigation determined the document to be a fake. (https://vault.fbi.gov/Majestic%2012.)

The FBI website states that they relied upon an Air Force investigation. The main goal of the NARA and Air Force investigations were to show that the MJ-12 documents were not government documents. Instead, the three government websites leave the strong implication that UFO researchers faked the documents without any due diligence into how the UFO researchers bypassed the National Archives security process.

This potential improper behavior is consistent with other Air Force, IC and FBI historic actions taken in response to citizen interest in the UFO phenomenon. The declassified record, mostly made public after 2000, shows many instances of improper or illegal behavior intended to reduce the amount of credible evidence about the phenomenon in public circulation. Also, law enforcement would shy away from these activities when UFO/UAP matters are at issue. Normal lines of authority were blurred when UFOs were at issue. Early in the government’s involvement with the phenomenon, lines of authority were drawn and largely respected by non-involved agencies. Since September 1947, the FBI was to be kept informed about UFO information but claimed it would not get involved in the subject matter.

The FBI’s own UFO files show the effort that the Bureau went to distance itself from questionable government actions connected with UFO-related issues. As  described in an FBI file, Joseph Perry took a high quality photo of a classic UFO while photographing the Moon through his telescope.[2] On March 5, 1960, Perry contacted the Detroit FBI field office about his photograph to ask for assistance in getting his picture to the proper authorities. He made clear that he wanted it back unless it showed a secret government project. The FBI Detroit Field Office accepted the photo and transferred it to the local Air Force base. After Perry’s sighting was covered in local newspapers, UFO researchers learned of his photo and informed him that he would never get his photo back. In fact, the Air Force claimed they never received the photo despite protests to the contrary from the local FBI office. Eventually, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who had been constantly updated about the matter, wrote to Perry and informed him that he should seek redress from the Air Force. No further FBI action was taken even though the photo was improperly withheld by the Air Force. There are no Air Force declassified documents about the incident. However, the FBI documented its every step. To date, the Air Force has failed to declassify any documents about the incident.

At the same time as the FBI/Air Force/Perry matter was unfolding, declassified records tell a different story the FBI interest in UFO matters. Hoover had authorized the use of FBI personnel to attend UFO meetings and report back. While Mr. Perry’s drama was playing out, Hoover received a four-page, single spaced account of a UFO meeting in Denver, Colorado.[3] Nothing law enforcement-related was discussed in the memo. This memo to the Director shows the FBI’s level of interest in UFOs. A field agent sent the memo directly to J. Edgar Hoover, but no other recipients. It appears that the FBI Director was keeping tabs on UFO issues like he did of other “dissidents”. However, they failed to follow up on the “theft” of a citizen’s private property instead, using FBI resources to monitor a UFO meeting.   

For the Air Force’s part, declassified records show similar patterns of conduct. The destruction of quality evidence voluntarily submitted to the Air Force by private citizens was a frequent occurrence during the 40s, 50s and 60s according to declassified records. The Joseph Perry case is not the only incident but one of the best documented. The pre-Viet Nam era was a time of great trust in the government. Citizens voluntarily turned over their only copies of UFO photos to Air Force officials who assured them they would be returned. In each instance, the photographer was a person with no previous interest in the UFO phenomenon. They would turn over originals and negatives after receiving assurances that their UFO photo would be returned. Each were high quality photos showing UFOs at close range. If the person complained about the situation, they were either labeled a hoaxer or just ignored.[4]

This policy of taking quality UFO photos out of public circulation appears to be an outgrowth of the recommendations of 1953 CIA Robertson Panel. Prior to the Panel meeting in the last week of the Truman Administration, the “debunking” policy was formulated jointly by the CIA and Air Force. The Robertson Panel of physicists who worked on defense projects followed this recommendation. It recommended that UFOs could be used as a psychological offensive weapon against the Soviets and a defensive weapon at home. UFOs were never used as a psychological weapon against the Soviet Union, but similar tactics were used against Americans by the CIA and Air Force. In fact, in a highly redacted 1953 year-end report about implementation of the Robertson Panel recommendations, a division head in the CIA Office of Scientific Intelligence lamented that two books were published that year about UFOs.[5] The year-end report states that: “These books do, however, illustrate the risk taken by the present policy.” Apparently, it was risky to allow books to be published about UFOs.

Overall, the MJ-12 papers fit a pattern of use of psychological warfare tools against U.S. citizens. The first document, the Eisenhower Briefing Memo, was anonymously mailed to a person with connections to the UFO research community. Subsequent documents were mailed to other researchers. Each looked authentic but had flaws which called them into question. However, none can be directly linked to a government facility except the Cutler/Twining Memo. The document appeared in a box that an archivist suggested that Mr. Freidman take a look. At the same time, the researchers were getting anonymous post cards from exotic locations, each with a local U.S. embassy, that urged the researchers to continue looking. These post cards helped tip the scales and two of Freidman’s colleagues went to the Washington D.C. archive to look. Either the researchers snuck in the Cutler/Twining document, or a government employee did so. Since no investigation was launched for breaching the National Archives security, we are only left with innuendo about a private hoax.

If it was left by a government employee, why would they do it. Since there are significant questions about the multiple documents claimed to show the Majestic 12 program, it is unlikely to have come from a whistleblower. Whistleblowers would not leak flawed documents. In this case, the whistleblower would also have to have help from personnel in far flung embassies to send out the encouraging post cards. A whistleblower, prior to the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989, would think twice before enlisting cohorts to leak classified documents to the public. It is more likely that the leak was a deliberate act by a federal employee acting under colorable authority.

Given the times, this dark reading of the intentions of the FBI, Air Force and CIA would hardly be novel.  In the 1970s, the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Activities Within the United States (Church Committee) found many instances of similar conduct, much of it beginning in 1953, and committed by the military, federal law enforcement and the intelligence community. The Church Committee’s final report summarized its results as follows:

“We have examined three types of “intelligence” activities affecting the rights of American citizens.  The first is intelligence collection – such as infiltrating groups with informants, wiretapping, or opening letters.  The second is dissemination of material that is collected.  The third is covert action designed to disrupt and discredit the activities of groups and individuals deemed a threat to the social order.”[6]  

            When looking at the conclusions of the Robertson Panel, many of them fit under the types of activities found by the Church Committee. The agencies, discussed herein, are the same agencies, during the same time period, and for similar conduct that was called out by the Church Committee.  For example, the Robertson Panel Conclusion 3(a) reads:

  1. That the continued emphasis on the reporting of these phenomenon does, in these parlous times, result in a threat to the orderly functioning of the protective organs of the body politic.

            This Robertson Panel conclusion reads like the third type of “intelligence activity” named by the Church Committee, aimed at persons “deemed a threat to the social order.” The Church Committee’s oversight investigation covered illegal activity by the CIA, National Security Agency (“NSA”) and the FBI from 1936 to 1976.  None of these illegal activities were authorized by Congress. Keeping Congress at arm’s length helped hide these illegal programs.  Among the CIA illegal programs conducted in the general timeframe as the Robertson Panel were the MK ULTRA mind control program and letter opening operations aimed at American citizens.  Both lasted for decades. 

Overall, the Church Committee found that the intent of these illegal programs was to “to disrupt and discredit the activities of groups and individual deemed a threat to the social order.”  This concern could be talking about the conclusion of the Robertson Panel that “the reporting of these phenomenon does, in these parlous times, result in a threat to the orderly functioning of the protective organs of the body politic.” The MJ-12 documents had the potential of being a threat to the “body politic”. Whether they are real or fake, there is enough information about them to raise the suspicion of being a government disinformation operation. §705 of the pending FY 2023 IAA can help Congress better understand how our past shapes the present. The search for official misinformation could go a long way towards understanding the current reticence of the DoD and IC to fully implementing existing UAP law. Is their current reticence intended to protect exposure of past improper activities that escaped the scrutiny of the 1970s Senate Church Committee? Hopefully, the FY 2023 IAA will be adopted with §705 GAO review mandates included. There are enough outstanding questions to more than justify a GAO review.     


[1] https://www.archives.gov/research/military/air-force/ufos?_ga=2.127424142.2050400479.1668096571-1668073696.1668096571#mj12

[2] https://vault.fbi.gov/UFO/UFO%20Part%2014%20of%2016/view  (Part 14 of 16).  The FBI records on this incident are mixed with other UFO-related issues from the same time period.

[3] Id.

[4] i.e., www.nicap.org/reports/Goodbye_Rex_Heflin.pdf

[5] https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/DOC_0005515979.pdf

[6] U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Activities Within the United States, “Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans: 1976 U.S. Senate Report on Illegal Wiretaps and Domestic Spying by the FBI, CIA and NSA”, Red and Black Publishers (2007), p. 7.

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