Civilian Saucer Investigation
11 - 14 minute read
CIVILIAN SAUCER INVESTIGATION (LOS ANGELES) By Jan L. Aldrich
A number of UFO groups, some with grandiose goals, were formed in 1950 and 1951 in response to what was perceived as the government's apathy towards the subject of UFOs. Civilian Saucer Investigation (Los Angeles), Civilian Saucer Investigation (New Zealand), and Civilian Saucer Intelligence (New York), were three such groups – unrelated to each other despite the similarity of their names – established by private citizens with an interest in UFOs.
In late 1951 several scientists, aeronautical engineers and interested persons established a UFO study group in California. Edward J. Sullivan, a North American Aviation employee, was the spark plug of the organization. Walther Riedel, another North American Aviation employee and former German rocket scientist who came to the U.S. under "Operation Paperclip", was another prominent member. In 1952, LIFE magazine published a sensational – for its time – article entitled "Have We Visitors From Space?" in which the CSI-LA group was briefly mentioned. As a result of the LIFE article, CSI-LA received huge amounts of mail and hundreds of UFO reports from all over the world. CSI-LA shared many of these reports with the Air Force's UFO project at Air Technical Intelligence Center (ATIC) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio. The official UFO report files don't contain any material that originated with CSI-LA, but a specific correspondence file containing some of these items was located.
The Air Force also received an avalanche of mail resulting from the LIFE magazine article which is preserved on two microfilm rolls. LIFE magazine also acknowledged their article prompted a huge response. The Air Force examined some of the reports received by LIFE but it does not appear copies were made for the official case files. Most of the LIFE magazine material remains unavailable to researchers. In addition to coverage by LIFE and TIME magazines, TRUE magazine and Reader's Digest prominently mentioned CSI's activities. Further notoriety and publicity resulted from exposure in both the local and national press. Gerald Heard, CSI member and author of a popular UFO book, Is Another World Watching? also published CSI's address. This media attention resulted in a steady flow of reports into the organization from dozens of countries ranging from Canada and England through to Australia, New Zealand and Peru. Werner Eicher, an employee of the missile division of Convair in Ponoma, California acted as translator for CSI's foreign reports. CSI's first newsletter published in September, 1952, carried a collection of foreign reports written by Eicher. Richard Williams, an editor on the Los Angeles Mirror produced a summary in the same issue of a study of those sighting reports which CSI's thirteen scientists, engineers and technical writers thought represented unique phenomena.
Out of all the reports received, CSI rated 10 to 15 per cent worthy of additional investigation and study. Preliminary findings discussed by Williams indicated that many objects described were disc-shaped, traveling at a high rate of speed, sometimes wobbling, and occasionally giving off luminous radiation.
Shortly after the first newsletter was published, Victor Black, also a technical writer at North American Aviation, attacked Sullivan and CSI-LA in an article published in AMERICAN MERCURY magazine. Black accused Sullivan of using CSI as a cult and a get-rich-quick scheme. (The CSI treasury never amounted to more than a few hundred dollars and much of the expenses were met by the officers from personal funds.) Black also attacked Riedel as being "an ex-Nazi." Included in the attack were remarks about Dr. Lincoln LaPaz, head of the University of New Mexico's Institute of Meteoritics. LaPaz had no known connection with CSI, but apparently was acquainted with Sullivan.
After threats of legal action, the AMERICAN MERCURY magazine ran a retraction in January of 1953. In the early 1950s AMERICAN MERCURY, though in decline, was still considered by many to be a respectable magazine. However, it would soon be taken over by promoters of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Ironically, one of the staff members was future American Nazi Party leader, George Lincoln Rockwell. At the January, 1953 Central Intelligence Agency's Scientific Advisory Panel (the Robertson Panel) on Unidentified Flying Objects deliberations, CSI was a topic for discussion,
"The Panel took cognizance of the existence of such groups as the 'Civilian Flying Saucer Investigators' (Los Angeles) and the 'Aerial Phenomena Research Organization' (Wisconsin). It was believed that such organizations should be watched because of their potentially great influence on mass thinking if widespread sightings should occur. The apparent irresponsibility and the possible use of such groups for subversive purposes should be kept in mind."
In a recent Sign Oral History interview with Frederick Durant, who kept the minutes of the Robertson Panel sessions, Durant was asked who brought up the CSI and APRO as potential problems. As Durant remembered it, Captain Edward Ruppelt brought up George Adamski and the UFO groups as generators of UFO reports by their activities. The inclusion of CSI seems strange as they were sending the Air Force copies of their investigations.
In February of 1953 the CIA's contact section interviewed Dr. Walther Riedel who described the activities of the organization and how investigations of UFOs were conducted. Also mentioned in the memo was another North American Aviation employee supposedly associated with CSI, George. P. Sutton. (Mr. Durant was able to query Mr. Sutton on behalf of the Sign Historical Group about his association with CSI which he denied.)
With this large database handed to them on a silver platter, CSI-LA had an instant archive of UFO reports going back the late 19th Century. However, as every serious part-time UFO organization soon finds out, correspondence, newsletter publication, and administrative duties eat up the majority of time. Soon the goals of the organization were buried under piles of day-to-day paperwork that had nothing to do with research and investigaiton. CSI-LA succumbed to these pressures and ceased operations in 1954, having produced only four newsletters.
The CSI-LA files containing almost 1000 first-hand sightings reports were transferred through several hands and ended up at National Investigation Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) in Washington, D. C. When the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) received the NICAP files, the majority of the CSI-LA sighting files were intact. Some items were missing, probably taken out and not refiled later. Copies of some of this misplaced material have been found in others' files, so the amount of actual missing material is probably quite small. CSI-LA had a panel that met to evaluate cases. This was an important, but time-consuming task. By 1954, they were looking for some other organization or individual to take on this task. While the original sighting reports to CSI -LA are mostly intact in the CUFOS files, the case investigations and evaluation panel material apparently have not survived.
Pioneers rarely receive their due. The CSI (NY) group called CSI-LA, the best of the UFO organizations. Alexander Mebane, Isabel Davis, and Ted Bloecher of CSI (NY) tended to be sparing in their compliments. Such an accolade was high praise indeed. Many CSI-LA reports were used in Richard Hall's highly-regarded UFO EVIDENCE, Volume 1, thereby contributing to the serious consideration of the UFO problem. (It should be noted that Ruppelt, the Robertson Panel, and the CIA contact sections did not report the correct name of CSI in their writings. They referred to the organization variously as"Civilian Saucer Investigators", "Civilian Flying Saucer Investigators", and "California Committee for Saucer Investigations".) (An additional comment: Most of CSI-LA's founding membership was drawn from employees of North American Aviation. There were several other aviation companies which had unofficial study groups or actual corporate interest in UFOs during this era. Douglas Aircraft and Republic Aviation are two that were known to exhibit such an interest. There is also information that similar interest was shown by the employees of Northup and Lockheed.)
Ruppelt and Col. S. H. Kirkland, Chief of the Analytical Section of the Air Technical Intelligence Center met with members of CSI and invited representatives of the media on April 2, 1952 in Los Angeles, California. The meeting is officially described in a Project Blue Book Status Report, and then, more informally, in Captain Ruppelt's book, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects. Fortunately a complete copy of the meeting minutes has been located. It provides important insight into the thinking of CSI and some ideas on the early workings of Project Blue Book. A memo dated 9 February, 1953, from the CIA's "Office of Operations" to the OSI, further details the operations and throrough investigative methods of CSI-LA.
Captain Edward Ruppelt's comments on CSI-LA from The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects: On April 1, Colonel S. H. Kirkland and I went to Los Angeles on business. Before we left ATIC we had made arrangements to attend a meeting of the Civilian Saucer Investigators, a now defunct organization that was very active in 1952. They turned out to be a well-meaning but Don Quixote-type group of individuals. As soon as they outlined their plans for attempting to solve the UFO riddle, it was obvious that they would fail. Project Blue Book had the entire Air Force, money, and enthusiasm behind it and we weren't getting any answers yet. All this group had was the enthusiasm.
The highlight of the evening wasn't the Civilian Saucer Investigators, however; it was getting a chance to read Ginna's UFO article in an advance copy of LIFE magazine that the organization had obtained - the article written from the material Bob Ginna had been researching for over a year. Colonel Kirkwood took one long look at the article, sidled up to me, and said, "We'd better get back to Dayton quick; you're going to be busy." The next morning at dawn I was sound asleep on a United Airlines DC-6, Dayton bound.
The LIFE article undoubtedly threw a harder punch at the American public than any other UFO article ever written. The title alone, "Have We Visitors from Space?" was enough. Other very reputable magazines, such as True, had said it before, but coming from Life, it was different. Life didn't say that the UFO's were from outer space; it just said maybe. But to back up this "maybe," it had quotes from some famous people. Dr. Walter Riedel, who played an important part in the development of the German V-2 missile and is presently the director of rocket engine research for North American Aviation Corporation, said he believed that the UFO's were from outer space. Dr. Maurice Biot, one of the world's leading aerodynamicists, backed him up.
But the most important thing about the Life article was the question in the minds of so many readers: "Why was it written?" LIFE doesn't go blasting off on flights of space fancy without a good reason. Some of the readers saw a clue in the author's comments that the hierarchy of the Air Force was now taking a serious look at UFO reports. "Did the Air Force prompt LIFE to write the article?" was the question that many people asked themselves.
When I arrived at Dayton, newspapermen were beating down the door. The official answer to the LIFE article was released through the Office of Public Information in the Pentagon: "The article is factual, but Life's conclusions are their own." In answer to any questions about the article's being Air Force inspired, my weasel worded answer was that we had furnished LIFE with some raw data on specific sightings.
My answer was purposely weasel worded because I knew that the Air Force had unofficially inspired the LIFE article. The "maybe they're interplanetary" with the "maybe" bordering on "they are" was the personal opinion of several very high-ranking officers in the Pentagon - so high that their personal opinion was almost policy. I knew the men and I knew that one of them, a general, had passed his opinions on to Bob Ginna.
Oddly enough, the LIFE article did not cause a flood of reports. The day after the article appeared we got nine sightings, which was unusual, but the next day they dropped off again.
Clark, Jerome, "Civilian Saucer Investigations (CSI)" THE UFO ENCYCLOPEDIA, vol 2, 1st edition, page 84
Darrach, H. B., Jr., and Robert F. Ginna, Jr., "Have We Visitors from Space?" LIFE, April 7, 1952, pp. 80-96
Durant, Frederick C., III, Sign Oral History Project Interview, Jan Aldrich and Tom Tulien, interviewers.
Durant, Frederick C., III, private communication.
Gross, Loren, UFO'S A HISTORY: 1952: SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER, privately published, Fremont, California, 1986, pp 90-94
Gross, Loren, UFO'S A HISTORY: 1953: JANUARY-FEBRUARY, privately published, Fremont, California, 1988, page 71.
Nelson, Willard D., "When Blue Book Met the Ufologists," International UFO Reporter, Sep-Oct 1987, pp 21-23.
Project Blue Book Status Report # 6, 30 April 1952, Air Technical Intelligence Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio
Ruppelt, Edward J., THE REPORT ON UNIDENTIFIED FLYING OBJECTS, Doubleday and Company, NY, 1956, pp. 132-134.
Tompkins, William M., Interview, Jan 12, 1990, Medford, Oregon, John Timmerman interviewer.
Jan L. Aldrich's Notes, Conversations with Isabel Davis.
Jan L. Aldrich's files, UFO reports and correspondence from CSI (LA) from the files of J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies, The Donald E. Keyhoe Archives, and the holdings of Murray Bott.