Book Review

Nick Redfern, Body Snatchers in the Desert: The Horrible Truth at the Heart of the Roswell Story (Paraview-Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, 2005)

In a past newsletter I directed readers to links for Nick Redfern’s important articles on his very human explanation of the Roswell event. I also included Stanton Friedman’s review of Nick’s book. My interest, of course, was due primarily to the fact that Nick’s view was essentially the same as I put forth four years ago in The Façade—that the bodies connected with the Roswell event were human unfortunates used by the “sanitized Nazis” crawling through the corridors of our nation’s defense and aerospace industries. As promised, I have now read Nick’s book for myself and offer this review. In the course of sharing my thoughts, I think it’s important to interact with Stanton Friedman’s review. Stanton’s stature and expertise in this area are unquestioned. However, I believe that his dismissal of Nick’s position is hardly on firm footing, being built on inconsistent reasoning and deflecting attention away from the most salient details. Since he is the top researcher on this issue, and since he did write a review of Redfern’s book, he’s the best person to interact with concerning my own thoughts. But before getting into the details, an overview is in order.

In simplified terms, Redfern believes what happened at Roswell involves the intersection of several programs being conducted by Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany, and our own government during WWII and the years immediately following. These programs were:

  • The Japanese Fugo balloon program – This program involved the use of experimental high altitude balloons as weapons. The goal was to launch these balloons from Japan in such a way as to ensure that they would be carried by the winds over the western United States. The intended payload on these balloons were lethal biotoxins. 9,000 such balloons were launched in the initial phase of the plan, complete with ingenious explosive devices. A few reached U.S. soil, and there were a few casualties. The press wisely obeyed military gag orders on these events, and so the Japanese were kept from ever finding out if their balloon bombs were effective. The nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought the war to an end before the Japanese could send the Fugo ballons with bioweapons. Learning about all this has renewed my confidence in our nuclear decision to end the war.
  • Japan’s Unit 731 – One of the more infamous atrocity mills of WW II. Unit 731 was an officially sanctioned and funded bioweapons program / facility headquartered in Harbin, Manchuria. Headed by Shiro Ishii, Unit 731 has become synonymous with human experimentation for those who know of its existence. Experiments on human beings (or “logs” as they were referred to) involving live human vivisection, effects of frostbite, high altitude pressurization exposure to bioweapons, flamethrowers, and explosives were routine. These experiments included U.S. POWs. This Unit was the potential source of the bioweapons to be used for the Fugo balloon project.
  • Operation PAPERCLIP – The now well-known program begun under the Truman administration to bring Nazi scientists to U.S. soil for their knowledge and expertise. As Nick demonstrates, the program eventually included Japanese scientists. However, even prior to the “heyday” of PAPERCLIP, the U.S. government, with the approval of Douglas MacArthur, was soliciting and procuring Unit 731 scientists for their advanced knowledge of bioweapons and their effect on human beings. Nick marshals brief, but weighty, evidence that both Nazis and Unit 731 scientists who engaged in human experimentation made it into this country and wound up on the U.S. payroll.
  • Nazi Advanced Wingless Aircraft / the Horten Brothers “UFO” Development – This refers to the work of Reimer and Walter Horten, mainly toward the end of the war, to produce a flight-worthy wingless disk aircraft. Although models were tested and commissioned by the Luftwaffe in 1944-45, the war ended before the Nazis could more perfectly develop and mass produce the model. The Horten craft was discovered by the British, after which the Horten brothers were invited to Britain to continue their work. An agreement between the two and Britain could not be reached, and the Hortens returned to Germany in 1945.
  • NEPA (Nuclear Energy for Propulsion Aircraft) – This program focused on developing nuclear energy for the propulsion of aircraft. One of the significant obstacles with achieving the project goal was shielding pilots from radiation. Another problem was constructing a reactor light enough and small enough for an aircraft. A sub-problem for the testing involving the protection of occupants from radiation was that, eventually, human occupants would have to be put at risk. Redfern argues that, in the wake of the 1947 close of the Nuremberg trials—which called for the end of human experimentation—those involved in our testing program felt rushed to gain official permission to use human subjects. Attempts were made to procure legislation allowing human experimentation. Documentation indicates that, eventually, prisoners and mental patients from U.S jails and institutions were used, along with dead bodies snatched from morgues and hospitals without consent of surviving kin. This body snatching program was dubbed Project Sunshine. Of particular relevance for Redfern’s thesis is the documentary evidence that certain “specimens” were procured from Formosa, home of Unit 731.

The intersection of all the above offered by Redfern can be briefly described as follows. Roswell was a PAPERCLIP screw-up. The “UFO” was in reality a wingless craft launched from a U.S. base in the southwest via a high altitude Fugo balloon. These craft were occupied by either a Japanese crew (no one over five feet tall) or human unfortunates being utilized for testing purposes. Two or more of these craft crashed at Roswell and other nearby locations, explaining the multiple site / multiple date problem pointed to by skeptics as conflicting (and therefore unreliable) testimony. The bodies were human, but physically unusual to those who discovered them. The victims were small, perhaps oriental, or perhaps unfortunates who suffered from progeria or Turner’s syndrome (which involved baldness, enlarged head, and even polydactylism). The UFO explanation was floated to the public to deflect attention away from the fact that Nazis and other Japanese war criminals were on our payroll. After the late forties, the UFO scenario proved useful for misdirecting the Soviets, and so the myth was continued.

Redfern supports this reconstruction in a twofold way: actual de-classified documents and clandestine sources. My only criticism of the book pertains to a small point about the documentation, so I mention it here before proceeding. I would have liked to see Redfern give more details as to where he got the documentary evidence. That annoyance aside, in my view, he does a good job in laying out the details of the above reconstruction from his inside sources, and then proceeds to systematically corroborate data points with physical (documentary) evidence. For example, his book contains documentation for the adaptation of the Fugo program at U.S. military facilities (including a Japanese crew), a far-reaching program of radiation testing involving U.S. citizens as guinea pigs, procurement of Japanese war criminals from Unit 731 under PAPERCLIP, and human experimentation involving the handicapped, retarded, children, dwarfs, and victims of progeria. Redfern also adds some startling correlative evidence to support his reconstruction. For example, Dr. Lincoln Lapaz, long suspected to have been involved in the Roswell incident because of witness testimony, was actually the leading U.S. expert on Fugo balloons. There are of course others, even down to how these experimental programs were utilizing exotic materials that account for some of the more dramatic Roswell testimony—like metal that “remembered” its original shape. Space prevents more than passing mention of the details of such details.

What does all this add up to? On one hand, there is strong documentary evidence for Redfern’s thesis. It is coherent and has powerful explanatory value. On the other hand, most of the specific connections to Roswell itself come from inside sources—witnesses to events who either want to remain unnamed, or who must be taken at their word. The question the reader will have to answer is whether this is sufficient for providing the “final answer” for the Roswell story. In my mind, this reconstruction covers every significant data point in the Roswell legend. All that remains is documenting each point. Nick has documented a number of the points, and so work remains. Not everyone agrees, naturally.

At the UFO festival, I ran into Stanton Friedman at breakfast and asked him about Nick’s book. Stan’s response seemed focused on the apparent lack, in his mind, of any specific evidence connecting the data points of the book to Roswell specifically. In other words, the following facts don’t impress Stanton:

  • a whole range of data points that account for all the “assuredly alien” aspects of the Roswell story can be documented;
  • the collective documentation of the above data points (wingless craft, high altitude balloon, human experimentation, radiation experiments) allows the researcher to locate programs and their personnel at bases in the southwest well within flight-testing range of Roswell;
  • the personnel involved include notable scientists operating under the aegis of PAPERCLIP; all the above was true in the summer of 1947.

Apparently what Stanton wants is some sort of document that explicitly mentions all the above with the name Roswell at the right dates. Personally, his response made me wonder about two things.

First, what non-alien explanation or body of documentary evidence would convince Stan that he is wrong on Roswell? I’m not trying to be cynical, but I can imagine him picking to death any document (or truckload of documents) that really did come clean about the whole thing if the final explanation wasn’t alien (“the use of the semicolon in this document makes me question its authenticity”). I’m not trying to impugn Stanton’s motives or character. He’s one of the few people in this field that I still think consciously try to operate with integrity. It’s just human nature when so much of one’s life is invested in a subject to want more evidence than is (perhaps) reasonably warranted before changing one’s mind. It’s normal. It should go without saying that the U.S. government has seen to it that no one will ever find an explicit record of what happened at Roswell. The close of the late Congressman Schiff’s attempts to get as much speak loudly in this regard. The alternative is that one must work with the pieces and ask if any other explanation has as much explanatory power. In this regard, I would hope Stanton would realize that the Roswell case does not the entire alien issue make. That brings me to my second musing.

I also wondered what Stanton could offer to undermine the explanatory value of Redfern’s view (which I share). In other words, what does the alien view really have going for it, and how can it be defended against Nick’s work? We’ll take the negative aspect first.

In his review of Redfern’s book, Stanton suggests that the whistleblowers Redfern relies on might turn out to be as bogus as others who have come down the pike. It’s a logical question, but it creates the impression that Redfern’s reconstruction depends on these sources when it doesn’t. While an explicit connection to Roswell does depend on these sources, Stanton’s criticism doesn’t disprove the thesis. It merely highlights a point that needs more evidence.

Stanton also takes Redfern to task a bit over the NEPA program. He says:

“Nick has also been given a bum steer about the NEPA project and the radiation shielding problems associated with it. He states that the project was cut back in 1957 and finally cancelled in 1961 after President Kennedy took office. In actuality, the GE ANP (General Electric Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion program) was at fullest bloom in the 1956-1960 time frame. I know because I worked there in the Radiation shielding unit as a nuclear physicist from September 1956 until November 1959. The budget for 1958 alone was $100,000,000. 3500 people were employed full time of whom 1100 were engineers and scientists. This was far more money and manpower than was spent at Fairchild and Oak Ridge in the late 1940s and early 1950s.”

And elsewhere:

“Nick keeps referring to concerns about radioactivity and contamination. These were not the shielding concerns. Instead, it was the neutrons and gamma rays emitted by the reactor that were of concern. Usually split shielding was to be used with some all around the reactor (typically under 3 feet long and 5 feet in diameter) and more placed between the crew compartment, typically far ahead in the airplane, and the reactor. There was also serious concern about both neutrons and gamma rays leaving the reactor shield assembly in directions other than towards the crew, but being scattered by both the atmosphere and structures past the crew shielding.”

These responses strike me as odd because of their methodological inconsistency. Stanton Friedman’s work has done much to certify the high degree of compartmentalization that exists in classified projects. Are we to assume that at the time he was working for GE and doing work related to Oak Ridge such compartmentalization did not exist, so that he had comprehensive knowledge of everything that was going on at that location? How is it that the documentation Redfern produces about shielding concerns contradicts Stanton’s assertion above? Did everyone at or above Stanton’s level on the project agree that radiation was not a shielding concern? How would he know if another team on the project had concerns or not? How does any of this allow Stanton (or us) to know what the concerns were in the late forties?

Even if Stanton’s criticisms are unimpeachable, the reader should note that they don’t actually refute any point of Redfern’s thesis. Should we conclude Redfern’s thesis falls apart because one of his sources can’t recall the exact budgetary figures and spending trends in the late fifties and early sixties? This kind of “refutation” in Stanton’s review is nitpicking. It is a red herring that directs the reader’s attention away from the fact that Nick’s panoply of data points still stands. It is like drawing the conclusion that the restaurant you’re at serves awful food because the knife in your place setting is not completely parallel to your spoon. Consider another example:

“Nick does point to various human tests of aviation biology associated with planes flying higher and faster, how to bail out at high altitude and speed without freezing, how to provide protection against excessive acceleration, low air pressure, low temperatures at altitude, cold water when winding up in the ocean. However he never mentions that there was a lot of research being done on biological effects of radiation because of the need to know how quickly ground crews could go in on a battlefield on which a nuclear weapon had been exploded. How high would radiation levels be in aircraft that had either dropped a nuclear weapon or had to fly near the mushroom clouds of a weapon dropped by somebody else?”

Okay—radiation testing was also conducted to answer these questions. How does any of this tarnish Redfern’s thesis?

And lastly:

“Nick is clearly aware of the testimony of Major Jesse Marcel of what was observed on the Foster Ranch and of Barney Barnett in the plains of San Augustine. A big Japanese balloon and a Horton flying wing don't fill the bill. Most Horton craft were actually made out of wood, but there was nothing about the wing and balloon that matched the eyewitness testimony and the complete absence of conventional components as noted by Jesse -- nor the huge area covered by the small pieces of wreckage. Nick accepts the testimony of the late Frank Kaufmann about the shape of a saucer from north of Roswell. He seems unaware that Frank's original testimony about the shape seems to have been taken from a drawing on the cover of Popular Mechanics of the TR 3 airplane, and that Frank's testimony has been totally discredited, even by his formerly staunchest proponent, Dr. Kevin Randle.”

Several points of observation are worth making. First, it would be unwarranted to argue that no evidence of an experimental balloon was found at Roswell. Kal Korff’s work has demonstrated this, among others. I am not suggesting that Korff is correct on all counts—but I am suggesting that he isn’t wrong on every count. Second, while Stanton may be correct (and I do not know for sure) that “most Horton craft were actually made out of wood,” Redfern isn’t claiming that the Roswell craft was “an original Horten”—the claim is that the Horten design was brought here via PAPERCLIP scientists and other intelligence channels and adapted. This criticism is therefore pointless, as is the implication extracted from it: “… there was nothing about the wing and balloon that matched the eyewitness testimony and the complete absence of conventional components as noted by Jesse …” This only holds if one assumes a wooden craft. Third, I would like to know why Redfern’s Fugo balloon-plus-disk-shaped-non-alien-craft cannot account for the size of the debris field while a Friedman-disk-shaped-alien-craft a couple dozen feet in diameter can. Do aliens just pack more junk into their saucers? This objection seems incoherent. Lastly, it matters not where Frank Kaufmann got his recollection of the shape of the craft, or if he saw it at all. There are other witnesses who testify that they saw a disk shaped craft at the other crash site associated with the Roswell incident (cf. the bodies laying outside). If it was an adapted Horten disk, how would the recollection of others as to the curved shape undermine what Redfern is saying? The rejection of Kaufmann’s remarks is another red herring.

This brings me to the “positive” angle of the alien view that opposes Redfern’s thesis: What does the alien view really have going for it? The answer, if Redfern is correct, is “nothing.” The answer in terms of where we are at now—living with the absence of an explicit document that might satisfy Stanton Friedman—is “not much.” The fact is that Redfern’s thesis can account for all the “alien” features already noted. The only item that even remotely stands in the way is the Majestic documents. Redfern does comment on these documents and suspects they are fakes, deliberately handed over to distract researchers from the real, horrible story he erects. Toward that end he makes some interesting speculations about the role of Bill Moore with respect to these documents and his role in the disinformation campaign against Paul Bennewitz. But speculations they remain.

I suspect that these documents are not as much of an obstacle as one might think even if they are authentic. I doubt that these documents have ever been systematically searched with PAPERCLIP, its personnel, and its operational locations in mind. I am willing to bet that some of Redfern’s names, places, and programs would be found in these documents, and that these documents could be interpreted in a way that supports Redfern’s thesis. On the other hand, the documents may be fraudulent (in whole or in part). If they were subjected, for example, to stylometric linguistic analysis (and I do not mean forensic examinations of the kind that examines numbering styles, paper, ink, typewriter keys, etc.), they may disappear altogether from the picture, leaving the alien view with nothing to commend it. But until that happens, if Redfern’s explanation for the bodies be allowed, the unusual anatomical features actually mentioned in the documents can be accounted for (eye covering, head size, extra fingers and toes, even genital anomalies). The fact is even the best of these documents is not terribly specific or forensically precise; they are just surface observations that cannot compel us to say with certainty that the bodies were alien and could not have been a human unfortunate of one of the types Redfern documents were used in human experimentation for radiation testing.

So where does this leave us? In my judgment, Redfern has presented a compelling though imperfect and incomplete case that potentially has comprehensive explanatory value. Yes, I’d love an explicit document typing all this together, but even if one surfaced and really was authentic, there would be those who would refuse to believe it. What we do have is a quite plausible scenario for what happened at Roswell and the knowledge of what to look for to tighten the arguments. Just accomplishing that much means Nick Redfern has performed a valuable service.