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Irina Froning, a tall, attractive blond woman in her mid-forties, sat in the silent back room of an office in San Pedro, California. It was night, and only lights shining softly on the plants enabled her to see. In the outer office, she could hear her friend, whom she was visiting for the weekend, typing reports and correspondence.
"It was Sunday evening," Irina later recalled, "and we were going to stay home, at her house, when my friend suddenly started. It was as if a bolt had struck her that she had to do some typing that night. So she said, 'Will you come with me?' "
Whenever she visited a new place, a home or office, Irina went immediately for the bookshelves to learn more about the person who lived or worked there. But on this night, as her friend typed, Irina wandered past the bookshelves to a small darkened doorway. She walked through the doorway, and in a back office, illuminated by the plant lights, she saw a credenza; on top of the credenza lay a large, square picture book entitled UFO . . . Contact from the Pleiades.
"I really was not interested in UFOs," she said. "I sat down and admired the plants, and then I thought, What am I going to read? and that was the only book. So I put it on my lap. It was intriguing. But nothing really stunned me until I ran across that page in the middle of the book." Her eyes focused immediately on the word "tachyon."
"This space being," she recalled, "is telling a man that earth scientists are now working on a 'tachyon' propulsion system. That blew my mind! Because for years David had been hugging the table with a pencil in his hand, working with the ideas coming to him about tachyons. He had just published a paper on tachyons! I said to myself, Nobody knows about this."
From Brit Elders's diary, February 20, 1980: "Tempers flared tonight. Tom, Lee, Steve all arguing. Poor waitress must have thought they were going to blow. Odd thing, the three argued same issue, just different words. Point of problem: additional security needed. After all the trips/work convincing scientists it's okay to research, phone calls, etc., etc., no one willing to attach name to analysis. No one wants to release reports, only verbal. Too much going out of our office, not enough coming in. After three trips to San Jose we gained one video tape, lost one priceless metal sample. Photo tests jump ahead three feet, fall back two. Labs closed to UFO testing. Guys are using each other as verbal punching bags, venting frustration.
"Lee said, 'At least with a goddamn murder case you know you've got a crime. With a UFO case you don't know what you have.'
"Maybe our biggest problem: We're used to tangibles, bodies, bugs, etc. Can't touch a UFO. Metal confuses people. Photos representations only. Bottom line: There's no yes, no no. Round robin conversation finally brings out all tension.
"Reorganize thoughts, get out of frustration's way, proceed. (1) tighter security; (2) no open release of material or information to anyone; (3) one of us present for any analysis; (4) no more verbal reports; (5) low-key research, find the right ones for the right work; (6) no info to outsiders, gets too twisted; (7) everything done must be signed for. creates paper trail; (8) all work must be made known to Lee, he will coordinate and authorize research from here on.
"Suggest no discussion of UFOs until arrive, unless absolutely necessary. Has slammed too many doors in face in the past. Personal opinion: Wish more people with education, reputation, background, qualifications, had courage and curiosity to pursue subject. Tom says it's the nature of the beast.
"Finally all calm. Feel waterlogged from coffee, tired of sitting, 3:30 a.m., ready to sleep, much needed."
A year and a half into the investigation, caught between the antagonistic UFO community on one side and the reserved scientific community on the other, they had stalled. Until they could get all of the evidence thoroughly examined by qualified scientists, they had no defense against the attacks. The refusal of JPL's Dr. Nathan to analyze the photographs had discouraged them, even though results in other areas such as the sounds still looked promising. They now needed somehow to persuade more scientists to look at the evidence and to go on record. But one piece of evidence, the most important of all, had disappeared - the burnished triangle that had so intrigued Marcel Vogel at IBM. No one had any idea what had happened to the piece, and though it had disappeared almost from his very hands, Vogel seemed the most perplexed of all. One minute he had it, and the next minute it was gone. Though the fragment itself had disappeared, Vogel fortunately had already taped his entire analysis on video. The Elders now held that tape, and they concealed it, refusing to acknowledge its existence even in the face of endless attacks from the UFO community.
Colman VonKeviczky of Inter-Continental UFO Network (ICUFON) sent out a flyer to his membership claiming that UFO models had been found hanging in Meier's barn, and that a picture Meier claimed to be of an extraterrestrial named Asket was actually Meier's wife in a blond wig. Proclaiming the case a hoax, however, did not deter VonKeviczky from advertising at the bottom of the flyer's front page: eleven slides of original Meier photos for only $33; and, for an additional price, copies of Meier's contact notes.
The magazine Second Look in 1980 quoted Jim Lorenzen as saying that Eduard Meier was a totally unreliable witness because he "was jailed for thievery as a teenager, escaped from prison, joined the French Foreign Legion, deserted and served out the remainder of his jail term in Switzerland."
One reporter from the London publication The Unexplained wrote that Meier's story "has now become so bizarre that even the most gullible devotee of the extraterrestrial hypothesis ought to be feeling just the teeniest twinges of doubt." After dismissing the evidence as unconvincing, the writer said that Meier's story had "all the hallmarks of American George Adamski's extravaganzas, updated and technically sophisticated for a more demanding age."
After MUFON's Walt Andrus had called the Elders's photo journal an "outright fraud," a prominent ufologist, Bill Moore, distributed a letter among several ufologists pointing out that the Elders had failed to sue Andrus for the accusation. He added that "Andrus and all the rest of us would welcome with open arms [a lawsuit] since none of us believe they have any evidence which would stand up in court. On the other hand if they fail to sue, then they are in effect admitting that what Andrus has said is true. The legal precedent of 'in silence is consent' would certainly apply here, I believe." Then Moore closed: "I firmly believe that these people, down deep in their hearts, know exactly what the truth is in this matter. It is only their greed for money and profit that keeps them from telling it to the world. Think about it."
In another open letter, published in Saucer Smear, after accusing the Intercep group of suppressing some of Meier's more absurd statements, Moore wrote, "Let the record show that when confronted with a legitimate opportunity to present evidence to a qualified forum and thus settle the Meier controversy once and for all, [Intercep] has, by means of a conspicuous and revealing silence, patently refused to do so. The very fact that they chose not to reply at all speaks volumes."
"They're saying the case is a hoax," remembered Elders. "We're coming back and saying, 'We don't believe it's a hoax. We've got evidence that indicates there's something really happening.' They're saying, 'Prove it.' Well, they know we can't prove it. We tried for five years to prove it, and it probably never will be proven."
"We spent the first two years," said Brit, "trying to disprove it."
"And after two years," interjected Lee, "we discovered we couldn't prove it, so we said, 'To hell with it, let's try to learn from it.'
"This is the point," he continued. "I think the Loren-zens began APRO with dedication, as we did with this case, to try to get to the bottom of things. But I think after years of searching and years of frustration, they became jaded. Perhaps they became wise: They suddenly realized they'd never prove the existence of UFOs. So therefore, 'Let's just report the cases and forget it.' Because getting involved takes a lot of time and a lot of money, and nobody's going to believe it anyway. I think somewhere along the line people do become jaded, as we almost did with Meier. Throw in the towel, because you're tired of the hassle."
One night Lee Elders met Stevens at Picacho Peak, an extinct volcano that rises out of the desert floor halfway between Phoenix and Tucson. When the two men wanted to get away and go for a drive, they would meet in a park at the base of the peak and talk.
"So I met him that evening," recalled Elders, "and I was really upset over what was happening. There was talk at that time that we would get totally out of the case, because I didn't want to get into mudslinging, I didn't want to get into legal battles, I was tired of the character assassination, tired of the cheap shots, tired of the attacks against the case. So we met, and Steve gave me this book. He said, 'I want you to read it. This problem is nothing new, it began thirty years ago.'"
The book Stevens gave to Elders was The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, by Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, still considered a classic on the subject. As head of Project Blue Book for its first two years, Ruppelt had created the term "UFO" for "Unidentified Flying Object" to replace "flying saucer." After resigning his commission, he had gone to work at Northrop Aircraft Company as a research engineer and published his book in 1956. At Blue Book, Ruppelt had spent two years talking to pilots, engineers, generals, and scientists, and his book contained many sightings, experiences, and other things he could not explain. But Stevens gave the book to Elders for what Ruppelt had written in the foreword.
The report has been difficult to write because it involves something that doesn't officially exist. It is well known that ever since the first flying saucer was reported in June 1947 the Air Force has officially said that there is no proof that such a thing as an interplanetary spaceship exists. But what is not well known is that this conclusion is far from being unanimous among the military and their scientific advisers because of the one word, proof; so the UFO investigations continue.
The hassle over the word 'proof boils down to one question: What constitutes proof? Does a UFO have to land at the River Entrance to the Pentagon, near the Joint Chiefs of Staff Offices? Or is it proof when a ground radar station detects a UFO, sends a jet to intercept it, the jet pilot sees it, and locks on with his radar, only to have the UFO streak away at phenomenal speed? Is it proof when a jet pilot fires at a UFO and sticks to his story even under the threat of court-martial? The at times hotly debated answer to this question may be the answer to the question, "Do the UFOs really exist?"
Ironically, while the photo journal UFO . . . Contact from the Pleiades acted like a lightning rod drawing the wrath of ufologists, it began to serve as a calling card when asking scientists to examine the evidence. In time, it also became a beacon - an attractive coffee table display that occasionally intrigued a scientist, engineer, or special effects expert who then tracked down the Elders or Stevens, wanting to know more about the story. After nearly a year and a half of knocking on doors, in late 1979, 1980, and 1981, some new doors began to open: Besides doors at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and IBM, another door opened at Arizona State University, and one at the U.S. Geological Survey, then at Film Effects of Hollywood, and McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Company.
Probably as a category having the least probative value to a scientist, the photographs remained the most exciting and most controversial of the Meier evidence. But there would never be a definitive answer concerning their validity. Every scientist involved with photogrammetrics whom Dilettoso had spoken with had said at the outset that before they could render any conclusive statement they first would have to be assured that either the negative or the positive transparency to be examined was an original. Perhaps a first-generation copy would be sufficient for study, but anything lower than that would begin to leave room for the possibility of manipulation in the photograph. And no one knew the generation of the Meier photographs. But Dilettoso found two scientists willing to analyze them anyhow: They could always examine a photograph of lesser generation and likely detect a fabrication if it existed, but were they to find nothing, they could never be certain that a fabrication indeed had not taken place.
In late February 1981, with the photographs now properly "digitized" on magnetic tape at the University of Southern California's Image Processing Institute, Dilettoso made an appointment with Eric Eliason at the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Arizona. For eight years Eliason had been a research computer scientist at USGS, developing image processing software so astrogeologists could analyze photographs of the planets beamed back from space. He had spent two years producing the intricate radar map of cloud-covered Venus acquired by Pioneer 10, and later applied his software in the processing of space photography beamed back by both Viking and Voyager.
Dilettoso arrived at Eliason's office after working hours with two of the Meier photos on magnetic tape. After Dilettoso's preliminary explanation of the photographs, Eliason took them to the computer room, mounted the magnetic tape into a tape drive, typed in the appropriate commands, then went to a library of programs that allowed him to turn the image, filter it, stretch the contrast, and perform other image enhancement techniques.
On the screen in the darkened room, Eliason brought up the edges of the craft extremely sharp and studied the precise point at which the image of the craft met the blue of the sky. Describing the test as "pretty sophisticated," he said he could not imagine anybody being able to fool it.
"One conclusion I made was that it certainly hadn't been dubbed in," Eliason said later. "There was just a natural transition. If you had a sharp contrast boundary, you might think, Well, that looks pretty hokey. But right along these boundaries there were no sharp breaks where you could see it had been somehow artificially dubbed. And if that dubbing was registered in the film, the computer would have seen it. We didn't see anything.
"That doesn't eliminate the idea of somebody taking a little model and throwing it out there," he added. "That's a hoax, but you couldn't tell that with image processing."
But Eliason wanted more information about the film.
"You need to start with the original if you're going to play games like this," he said. "So in a sense this is not really a scientifically valid statement."
Eliason's concern was that superimposure, double exposure, or any other laboratory technique used to fabricate a photograph could occur right at the limits of the film-then by carefully rephotographing the doctored print, any obvious contrast would now be gone.
What bothered Eliason, and had bothered other scientists as well, was being viewed as an authority figure. "I really don't like being in a position of so-called expert on things like this. The guy who came in here kind of struck me as whatever I said about a particular issue would be the all-encompassing truth. I don't like that because the world just isn't that way. There are too many uncertainties."
He cautioned Dilettoso that although he had expertise in image processing and worked with sophisticated equipment, his testing of the Meier photos could not be considered definitive. He needed concrete information about the film. "But the guy wanted so badly to believe that this was the real thing," said Eliason, "he went ahead and believed it anyway. There is no doubt about it," he continued, "it is emotionally charged. But it is intriguing, and I'm sure it's one of those cases you'll never know one way or the other. All I can say is that whatever I started with, I didn't see anything hokey going on there in terms of dubbing. If it was dubbed, it had to be pretty clever."
At Arizona State University in Tempe, just outside Phoenix, thirty-one-year-old Dr. Michael Malin taught in the Department of Geology. He had a degree in physics from Berkeley and a Ph.D. from Cal Tech in Planetary Sciences and Geology, and had written his doctoral thesis, much of which involved the science of image processing, on the analysis of spacecraft images of Mars. He then had worked at Jet Propulsion Laboratory for four years before joining the ASU staff in 1979, where he now taught Geology of the Moon, Geology of Mars, and Geomorphology.
A few weeks after Dilettoso spoke with Eric Eliason, he discovered Malin and the Image Processing Laboratory at ASU. With joint funding from NASA and the university, Malin and a colleague had acquired for the lab the equipment for analyzing spacecraft images. Local papers often carried articles about the analyses the two scientists performed on photographs beamed back from space, and Dilettoso happened to see one of the articles and called Malin.
At their first meeting in mid-May 1981, Dilettoso lay before Malin the array of photographs in the photo journal, plus digitized images of two of the Meier photographs. As Malin's business was the analysis of pictures, he found the photographs interesting, "very pretty, very clear, very nicely processed." And he liked to study photographs, so Dilettoso did not have to try to persuade him to look at them.
"These pictures are much nicer pictures of UFOs than any I'd ever seen before," Malin said later, "in terms of the number and the quality for that number. You can see they look like real objects. Not just on the impression level, but on a demonstrable level. They glint in the sun, there are distinguishable reflections in the metallic objects, things like that that make them much better pictures. I don't think there's any question that, at least in the things that I've ever seen, these are by far the best UFO pictures taken. Whether they're authentic or not, that's a totally different matter."
Malin tried to keep an open mind, willing to consider topics often avoided by his colleagues; but he demanded facts and rendered his opinions with cold objectivity. The senior science editor at National Geographic once remarked, "If Malin says it, you can believe it."
Like Eliason and others before him, Malin wanted far more information than Dilettoso could provide. He told Dilettoso he wanted to see "the stuff that actually went through the camera." He wanted the camera itself, to study the lens and metering system. Because of the apparent clarity within the image, he was not bothered by the focus on the camera being jammed just short of infinity.
"Absolutely not," he said. "It shouldn't have an effect on whether you're hoaxing it or not." But he wanted to know the shutter speed, the aperture setting, and where the lens was focused.
"The important thing would have been the original film," he said. "Without the very detailed information about the originals, there's almost nothing you can say."
One more thing he pointed out: Photographs are pretty, fun, and impressive. But photographs of anything are poor evidence. In a hierarchy of probative value, photographs and sound lie at the bottom, because they both are "a recording of an ephemeral event, subject to manipulation after the fact. The only real physical evidence," said Malin, "would be some physical manifestation that could be tested and measured and physically examined. If you had a piece of metal whose manufacture could not be done on earth, that would go a long way."
As Malin considered the photographs, he also sized up Dilettoso. His first impression was that the young technician was a smooth and fast talker.
"My guess is that he was using my name to JPL and their name to me in an attempt to get something done, but I don't fault him for that. I think he's a pretty bright guy. I think he was perhaps more in favor of this thing being real than he was in favor of debunking it. But he was quite bright, and obviously had worked around computers. For the most part, he knew what he wanted to say, and I don't think he misrepresented anything."
Dilettoso met with Malin several times, in the professor's office, in front of computer screens in the image processing facility, and once at his own studio in Phoenix, where Malin had driven to see the image processing system Dilettoso had assembled for himself during the course of his research on the Meier case. Malin was impressed with the system. Dilettoso's computer setup, an estimated $50,000 worth of equipment, was as sophisticated as what Malin regularly worked with at ASU's image processing center.
"I'm not sure that he could do with it what I could do with it," said Malin, "but he could do things with it." And Malin felt that he himself could do "some real science" on the equipment.
Back in his own lab, Malin entered the digitized images Dilettoso had given him into the computer and began studying them with Dilettoso, and sometimes Stevens, present.
"I zoomed up a given section and then just looked for edges," he said. "I looked for contrast differences between various parts of the sky. I looked at the color of the sky reflected in the object versus the sky immediately around it. People say the sky is blue, but it isn't uniformly blue. So I did things like that. And what I found was that the quality of the data he gave me was insufficient to do a detailed analysis, a numerical analysis, of what these things were. But to the level of the quality of the data he gave me, I could not see anything obviously wrong with the images. Couldn't see any hoax to it. There was a proper amount of blurring of edges and distance fading and things like that. To the level that I saw it, I can say that the thing was not a photographic fake. But that doesn't mean that it wasn't a photographic fake. If I had the details of everything I wanted I might still say there is no obvious thing in it that is fake. But that's 'photographically fake.' It could still be an object twenty feet across held up by a helicopter above it on four strings.
"I wouldn't know what would motivate someone to fake them so I don't know how much trouble it's worth, what they expect to get in return. But my opinion would be that it would probably take more than a little camera and more than sending it to the local drugstore. It requires a lot of time. A person's got to want to do this.
"If they are hoaxes then I am intrigued by the quality of the hoax. How did he do it? I'm always interested in seeing a master at work. On the other hand if they're real, then I also have an academic interest in that my own research is involved in exploration of other planets. And if there were other organisms visiting our planet, they must be doing that for the same reason we explore other planets. Why do we explore other planets? We have a need to expand the sphere of human perception and thought and so on. Maybe that's what aliens do as well. So either way I win. If they're a hoax I win by learning a neat technique. If they're not a hoax I win by having potential colleagues from another planet.
"I find the photographs themselves credible," he concluded. "They're good photographs. They appear to represent real phenomena. The story that some farmer in Switzerland is on a first-name basis with dozens of aliens who come and visit him ... I find that incredible. But I find the photographs more credible. They're reasonable evidence of something. What that something is I don't know."
Though Dr. Nathan at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory had refused to analyze the Meier photos because they provided him with too little information, he consented one morning to view several of the Meier films recorded on a half-inch video cassette. The first sequence was black and white, a beamship moving from side to side above a tall evergreen. At one point the ship appeared to cut in front of the tree, and the upper branches at the same instant blew as if caught in a sudden stiff wind or a backwash. Nathan laughed.
"That's pathetic! Ha, ha, ha. Oh, for God's sake! Look at that thing oscillating! Did you see that? That's the response you'd expect of an extremely light, small object that doesn't have any serious amount of mass associated with it."
To Nathan the object seemed to be oscillating on a very short tether from a point just above its dome. But it would take "a tremendous amount of analysis" to determine that. "My concern," said Nathan, "is that if we show him at any time involved with a hoax, then it's all a hoax. All you have to do is catch him in one lie and the whole thing goes to hell."
Two sequences later, a beamship seemed to disappear from a point fifty feet above a hillside and reappear only a few feet above the ground almost in the same frame. As far as Nathan was concerned it could be a model tethered on a long pole held by an assistant standing behind the photographer. The sites, however, had been described as wide open, with no place to hang models or to stand in such a position to extend a long-enough pole into the scene. Nathan said it could be a helicopter.
Then three ships hovering behind tree limbs appeared in the sky.
"Oh boy," laughed Nathan, "look at that."
He surmised they were small objects perhaps ten feet beyond the branches, and possibly suspended from a long pole with something like a puppeteer's wrench.
With his arms folded across his chest, he stood and watched a few more sequences on the television monitor until he saw one where the ship flies in front of snowcapped mountains at Hasenbol and comes to an abrupt halt. It then hovers motionless.
"The concern here," said Nathan, "is how he could very steadily move the object from one side of the scene to the other and have it come to an abrupt halt without it appearing to swing. If it were hanging from a long string, and you went ahead and moved the pole and then brought it to a halt, the whole object would tend to move back and forth. But it doesn't."
An assistant asked, "Do you think it could be tethered from someplace?"
"I have no idea," said Nathan. "He would still have to be awfully clever, because that's a very steady holding. It would have to be a very, very good tethering."
"I could imagine him filling a weather balloon with helium." speculated the assistant, "and then dropping a piece of monofilament, tying it to the object, and then dropping another piece of monofilament from the object and holding that from the ground."
"It would have to be a set of balloons," said Nathan, "because he's able to make the thing go back and forth and it doesn't blow like this off the boom. So it's got to be held rigid somehow, from a point right above the object. Apparently he's a sharp guy, very clever. So he should be given some points for effort."
Another intriguing aspect of the Hasenbol sequence appeared subtly in the lower right corner of the film - the branch of a pine tree blown continuously by a stiff wind as the ship hovers motionless over the valley.
"If this is a hoax," Nathan remarked, "and it looks like it is to me but I have no proof, this is very carefully done. Tremendous amount of effort. An awful lot of work for one guy."
Nathan suggested that maybe Meier was utilizing something like a clothesline with two poles set about twenty feet apart and a model operated by pulleys. "The camera can be alone," he noted, "and he can be the one all by himself moving the string."
But how did Meier transport all that equipment to the site and get those poles in the ground so they provided steady support by himself without being seen?
"That's his problem," said Nathan. "I'm sure he's clever. He's sharp. He's a sharp guy. We're still challenging whether or not this is a hoax. And whether or not that kind of thing is involved is no longer a scientific question. Now you have to bring in people with a detective mentality."
"My training has always been not to make models which are features in themselves, but rather something that melts into the woodwork so people don't notice."
Wally Gentleman had been involved with special effects for over thirty-five years. As a teenager in England he had begun his film career developing techniques for "shooting down planes" by using photographic images on a dome.
He studied animation and eventually joined the special effects team at the famous Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, working with rear projection and using photographic means to create backgrounds and avoid expensive sets. From England he emigrated to Canada in 1957 to serve on the National Film Board for ten years as director of special effects.
While in Canada in 1961, Gentleman made a short film of mostly visual effects titled Universe, which was later discovered by Stanley Kubrick, who contacted Gentleman: He wanted to utilize the techniques Gentleman had created for Universe in his new film 2001. For the next year and a half, Gentleman had served as director of special photographic effects for the Kubrick film. In 1977 he moved to Hollywood and, among other projects, served as an expert visually re-creating actual flying saucer reports on the new Jack Webb series Project UFO.
"You can build a model to fit a certain background, even though it's a scale size," Gentleman said. "These are called 'foreground hanging miniatures' in the trade. And if you do it very skillfully, no one can tell the difference. But the skill that you need for that is really quite specific, because when you reduce the size of a model you are still building with full-sized textured pieces of wood, plastic, whatever. The trick is to render a model with the right microscopic textures that will fit the true scale of the situation. And then you have to worry about things like the scale of movements, the movement of the background, the simultaneous activity that's going on. Models that are done badly show up like a sore thumb."
In early 1980, Bill Jenkins, who hosted a popular Saturday night talk show on KABC radio, Los Angeles, called Gentleman.
"I have some interesting stuff to show you," he said. "Can you tell me if it's authentic?"
At the time, Gentleman worked for Film Effects of Hollywood. When Jenkins brought by the photo journal, UFO . . . Contact from the Pleiades, Gentleman perused the photos and told Jenkins, "I'd like very much to see more of this."
With Jenkins's help, Gentleman located the Elders in Phoenix and a few weeks later flew over to meet them and to view their video tape of Meier's movie footage. After watching each of the eight segments several times, he said to the Elders, "They have a ring of authenticity. But I'd like to examine them to be really sure."
In addition to examining the films, Gentleman subjected several of the Meier photos to "perspective interlock," a drawing board geometric analysis which he had applied in the independent frame process at Pinewood Studios. If Meier maintained that the beamships he had photographed measured approximately twenty-one feet in diameter, Gentleman could take the size of a known object in the scene, a measured tree trunk for instance, and locate where in the scene a beamship of that size would have to be. The photograph could appear to be authentic, but perspective interlock would expose subtle inconsistencies. Placing the photos on his drawing board and then tracing perspective lines, Gentleman calculated that the beamships were exactly as Meier had said they were, in size and location.
"My big problem area with the Meier pictures," said Gentleman, "is that I have never seen an original negative. And without that I could never really be sure that it had not been doctored in any way at all. But given my particular background, I know it would take an expert of many years of experience even to doctor a picture to make it look authentic."
Holding one of the Meier photos in his hand, Gentleman said, "My greatest problem is that for anybody faking this [he points to the photograph], the shadow that is thrown onto that tree is correct. There are many things that are correct on many of the shots. Therefore, if somebody is faking them they have an expert there. And being an expert myself, I know that that expert knowledge is very hard to come by. So I say, 'Well, is that expert knowledge there or isn't it there?' Because if the expert knowledge isn't there, this has got to be real."
Gentleman explained that if you throw a model into a scene it will be frozen by the camera in a certain position, and the scale of the lighting on the model's surface (the angles and intensity of reflection) will indicate its small size and its relatively close proximity to the camera. Besides, he could see no way for a one-armed man to throw three or four models into the air at once and photograph them.
"Some of them are behind the twigs on a tree," he noted. "You've got to be some special effects man to do that, I can tell you. And the objects that were behind the tree appeared to be at the right distance for ships that were a long way away. That's called 'aerial perspective.' When you look at mountains you see different colors that deepen in blue as you go farther away, and all of these photographs had that aerial perspective indicating distance. If you threw a lot of little silver things in the air at once, they'd all be lit within the space that you could throw them, which might be, what, twenty feet? But these certainly had the aerial perspective in the change of hue and tone on them. If the photographs were a 'cheat,' they were superbly cheated, but I don't think they were."
After studying the films, Gentleman concluded that considering the expertise necessary, the logistics, and the expense, a one-armed man with no assistance could not possibly have produced the footage.
"That's the bottom line of everything," he said. "This Meier really had to have a fleet of clever assistants, at least fifteen people, who would know what the interface reflections of a shiny object were at certain times of the day, how to support these objects so that wires are not seen, how to rig it, how to watch it and stand by with their little air guns to spray the strings when they begin showing up.
"What we would do is go out and shoot the scene, and then bring it back to the studio, and then shoot the object onto that film by duplication processes, which is a very sophisticated procedure. It's difficult to do on 35mm, even worse with the 8mm film he was using. And the equipment was totally out of his means. If somebody wanted me to cheat something along those lines, $30,000 would probably do it, but this is in a studio where the equipment exists. The equipment would cost another $50,000.
"I think the one telling part of all this is that a single man with one arm, if he indeed was on his own, could not have done it. I think it would be well nigh miraculous for a person with even two arms to do that sort of work by himself up on a mountaintop. Even if you get a balloon and you hang your object on a fine piece of thread underneath, it's going to blow in any direction it wants to go. And with a lot of those pictures where you've got three or four flying saucers, you would need balloons with strings of varying length, otherwise you could pick out where the string comes from. It would be very difficult to do those shots in that sort of condition outside. And the fall of the land makes it very risky to do anything like that. It's all that sort of complication that leads me to think that the objects he's photographed and filmed were there independently and he simply snapped the shutter."
Irina Froning, the woman who had discovered the photo journal on Meier in her friend's office late one night, was married to H. David Froning, Jr., an astronautical engineer at McDonnell Douglas Corporation for twenty-five years who worked primarily in the highly classified field of military defense. A staff manager, he had helped to develop missiles for ballistic missile defense, and had done exploratory research to develop ideas and technology for advanced spacecraft design. A longtime member of the British Interplanetary Society and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Froning had presented many papers on interstellar flight at technical conferences in Europe and the United States.
The idea of actually transcending vast interstellar distances had intrigued Froning for fifteen years. Searching for a way to take humankind beyond the speed of light, he spent much of his spare time examining Einstein's theories of relativity and considering new ways to encompass those theories in a more general law, much as Einstein's laws of relativity had not violated, but encompassed Newton's laws of motion.
As far back as 1966, Froning, among others, had maintained that the barriers of space and time were not insurmountable, that someday humankind would indeed surpass the speed of light. In an article he wrote that year, he pointed out that only twenty years earlier hardly a scientist or engineer believed that man could break the sound barrier and survive. Many pilots had been killed trying. Yet, predicted Froning, in the late 1980s hypersonic airliners would fly from New York to Madrid in less than an hour, or five times faster than the speed of sound.*
In his early research, Froning immediately had concluded that rockets consuming terrestrial fuel would be too heavy and costly to achieve the speed of light. He also had considered and discarded the feasibility of interstellar ramjets that would scoop up hydrogen atoms and convert them to fuel as the craft traveled through cosmic space: The "scoop" would have to measure sixty miles in diameter. But Froning continued to search.
When Irina returned home that Monday, David was still out of town. Looking for the photo journal she had seen at her friend's office, she called around to several bookstores before locating a copy. When her husband returned home she presented it to him before saying hello.
"I guess I was never so impressed by a book," said David. "If what this Meier is saying is just a hoax, he's being cued by some very knowledgeable scientists."
*In 1986, President Reagan announced plans to develop the technology for a hypersonic airliner called "The Orient Express."
Later he said he felt "numb." "But it was exciting," he added. "Kind of like a tingling and a numbing at the same time. It was a revelation. All of a sudden many things made sense. It had never occurred to me that tachyons might exist completely outside the dimension of time."
Froning had designed a theoretical quantum ramjet that could power starships to nearly light speed in a matter of hours by ubiquitous energy pulses that some scientists believe exist in the "fabric" of space. He also had theorized on the other side of the light barrier and had developed a conceptual model of what a craft might look like traveling faster than the speed of light.
"But I didn't have anything to tie these two concepts together," he said. "What hung me up was the seeming impossibility of being able to cover these tremendous interstellar distances within a matter of minutes, rather than centuries here on earth. Then I read the Meier book, and suddenly it all seemed plausible."
Within two weeks, Froning conceived a possible way to reach the speed of light and then make the transition to faster-than-light travel. "Most people think that faster-than-light speeds occur on our normal space-time realm of existence," he explained. "But when Meier mentioned that the trip took seven hours and the longest part lasted only several seconds, it occurred to me that during that interval almost no time at all passes. And this gave me the further idea that you could actually arc above our space-time plane of existence and travel trillions of miles through space with only several seconds passing. I had never thought of that possibility."
With the help of a bookstore owner, Froning located Wendelle Stevens in Tucson and called him for additional information on the reputed propulsion system. One thing impressed him about the more detailed contact notes sent by Stevens: The voice of Semjase addressed each of the major scientific requirements to accelerate to the speed of light, make the jump or hyper-leap, and then decelerate.
"Though she doesn't say specifically how it's done," Froning recalled, "she gets technical enough to satisfy me as a scientist. And that's very convincing when someone does that."
What further impressed Froning was that almost a year before Irina discovered the photo journal, he had calculated the propulsion efficiency of his new quantum ramjet and determined that typical times for such a craft to reach light speed would be about four hours. According to Meier's figures, the Pleiadian ships required approximately 3.5 hours to accelerate to the speed of light, only seconds to traverse a distance of nearly five hundred light years, and then another 3.5 hours to decelerate and fly to earth. The credibility of Meier's numbers amazed Froning. To arrive at his figures, Froning had utilized complex formulas involving acceleration rates. Then he discovered that not only did Meier claim it required 3.5 hours for the Pleiadian beam-ships to reach the speed of light, but that at that point the ships would have traveled approximately 92 million miles. That figure, too, was within 20 percent of his own previous calculations.
"I think it would be very improbable for someone with Meier's educational background to hit on this combination of figures and have them be within a scientifically acceptable range," said Froning. "He would have to be coached by someone who's very knowledgeable in the sciences, who has knowledge of special relativity and of flight mechanics to know what kinds of times and distances make sense. If this is a hoax, it has to be with the assistance of someone like myself who could account for the plausible things that take place.
"I've only discussed this Meier case with scientists who are fairly open-minded about interstellar flight, but I'll tell you, the majority of them think it's credible and agree with at least part, or sometimes all, of the things talked about by the Pleiadians."
Before the golden-silver triangle had disappeared from the possession of Marcel Vogel, the IBM scientist had placed it under his $250,000 scanning electron microscope and turned on a video tape to record his findings. The tiny specimen held very pure silver, and "very, very pure" aluminum, plus potassium, calcium, chromium, copper, argon, bromium, chlorine, iron, sulphur, and silicon. One microscopic area revealed "an enormous melange of almost all of the elements in the periodic table." And each was exceedingly pure.
"It's an unusual combination," Vogel said later, "but I would not in any way, shape, or form say that this would make it extraterrestrial."
What intrigued Vogel more than the number of elements and their purity was their discreteness: Each pure element was bonded to each of the others, yet somehow retained its own identity.
"It is uncanny when you look at the juxtaposition of the metals," he said as he looked through the microscope and talked out his findings for the video tape. "One layer against another is very pure, but they do not interpenetrate. You have a combination of metals and non-metals together, very tightly bonded. I don't know of anybody even contemplating doing something like this."
In one small area in the middle of the sample blown up five hundred times, he found two parallel grooves joined by furrows, precise hairlines somehow micro-machined into the metal. But even more surprising to him was that the major element present in that small area was the rare-earth metal thulium.
"It is totally unexpected," he said. "Thulium was only purified during World War II as a by-product of atomic energy work, and only in minute quantities. It is exceedingly expensive, far beyond platinum, and rare to come by. Someone would have to have an extensive metallurgical knowledge even to be aware of a composition of this type."
The magnification of the half-inch piece went from 500 to 1,600, and Vogel saw things he had never seen before. "A whole new world appears in the specimen. There are structures within structures - very, very unusual. At lower magnification one just sees a metallic surface. Now one sees a structure composed of various types of interlacing areas. This is very exciting."
Vogel probed deeper and deeper into the metal.
"We are now at over 2,500 diameters and one can see birefringent structures. Very exciting! It is very unusual for a metal to have these birefringent areas. When you first take a section and grind it off, it looks like a metal, it has the lustery appearance of metal, but now when you take it and go under the polarized light you find that, yes, it is metal, but at the same time ... it is crystal!"
For hours, Vogel continued to roam through the interior of this tiny specimen, fascinated by what he saw. The next morning, he called a research scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center, Dr. Richard Haines.
"Why don't you come down," he said. "I want to show you something."
"He gave me just enough information on the phone to tantalize me," recalled Haines. "So I went down."
Vogel's office was next to the stairs on the second floor of one of the many buildings at the IBM Research Center. When Haines entered the office, Vogel said, "I want to show you something." Then he reached into his pocket for a small plastic bag in which he had carefully placed the triangle fragment the night before.
"He reached in his pocket," recalled Haines, "and couldn't find it... he looked at me with a blank expression I will never forget, he was flabbergasted. He's either a very good actor or he was telling the truth, and I think he was telling the truth."
Somewhere between the lab and Vogel's office the small metal fragment had disappeared. "He said he must have misplaced it somewhere. So we frantically looked all over the place. He checked his desk in his main office, and we went into the lab and looked around and couldn't find it there. He apologized profusely because he felt that he had gotten me all the way down there just to see the metal that now he couldn't produce. He did show me some photographs, color photographs, that he had taken of the sample and he alluded to something anomalous about the specimen. That's one of the reasons I went down. Because that's quite an offer, to have somebody like that with that kind of reputation making a claim like that."
Vogel never recovered the lost piece of metal, nor could he explain its disappearance. He hoped that Stevens could provide him with another, but that was the only sample that allegedly represented one of the final steps in the manufacture of the beamship hull.
"I needed additional pieces to look at to be sure there was something really unique," said Vogel. "I was enthusiastic. I was emotionally wound up in the study of it because it was an ideal challenge, something that many scientists would have very eagerly gone into. What was unusual was the purity of the individual spots of metals in the tiny specimen. Their discreteness. That's what intrigued me and that's why I wanted more specimens to look at. I would have gone much further into metallurgical analysis, looking at bending action and melting characteristics. I wanted a second opinion from another person at MIT, so we could compare notes on this before we put anything into print. It was a virgin opportunity, and I had gone to NASA to elicit as well the support of their own scientists who were interested, because here was a bit of material that could be looked at. I had many contacts within IBM who were deeply interested in exploring this with me. I could have had about an eight- or nine-man team. But I shut it all down."
The disappearance of the unusual metal disappointed Vogel, but he was equally disappointed that Stevens and Elders, eager to establish support for the case, had published his preliminary findings in their photo journal before he had been able to complete the testing, and without giving him an opportunity to review for accuracy what they had written.
"It was garbled-up bits and pieces of remarks," he said later, "not a cohesive way of presenting anything. It was technically wrong, and I resented it. It's unfortunate because I was willing to use all of the technology I had to find a real answer to this."
Vogel lost his enthusiasm for the project. "Not because of the metal," he said later, "but the way people acted." Of course, the metal was now gone anyway.
"I was enthusiastic," concluded Vogel, "I was interested, I went through a lot of effort. But the case is incomplete. That's the best way you can report it."
Just after the metal sample had disappeared, and before the photo journal had been published, the Japanese crew from Nippon Television had flown to San Jose to film Vogel for their documentary on the Meier case. Vogel had spoken openly with interviewer Jun-Ichi Yaoi about the results of his initial findings.
"I cannot explain the type of material I had," he told Yaoi. "By any known combination of materials I could not put it together myself as a scientist. With any technology that I know of, we could not achieve this on this planet! I showed it to one of my friends, who is a metallurgist, and he shook his head and said, 'I don't see how this can be put together.' That is where we are right now. And I think it is important that those of us who are in the scientific world sit down and do some serious study on these things instead of putting it off as people's imagination."