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updated 11/16/2005 3:15:42 PM ET 2005-11-16T20:15:42

There is one question that persistently circles the community of Unidentified Flying Object true-believers: If the government has nothing to hide, UFO fans often ask, then why is it keeping so many UFO records under lock and key?

“Well, it turns out that the government does have something to hide, but it has nothing to do with extraterrestrials,” said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, D.C.

A document has surfaced that had been stamped “Top Secret Umbra” — the codeword for the highest, most sensitive category of communications intelligence.

The once-classified affidavit was originally filed by the National Security Agency (NSA) in a 1980 lawsuit to justify the withholding of records on UFOs. The document is largely declassified — with certain sections cut out, ostensibly to protect employee names, and keep NSA technologies, skills, and foreign connections out of the limelight.

The document — In Camera Affidavit of Eugene F. Yeates: Citizens Against UFO Secrecy v. National Security Agency, October 9, 1980 — was released in redacted form on November 3 in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from researcher Michael Ravnitzky and posted on the website of the Federation of American Scientists.

Foreign signals
A read of the document yields insight into how a super-secret agency like the NSA became caught up in the UFO phenomenon.

Created in November 1952, The National Security Agency/Central Security Service is America’s cryptologic organization. It coordinates, directs, and performs highly specialized activities to protect U.S. government information systems and churns out foreign signals intelligence information.

Being a high-tech organization, the NSA is a cutting-edge home for communications and data processing. It is also a center for foreign language analysis and research within the government.

The just-released 1980 document explains that a total of 239 documents related to UFOs were located in NSA files, with 79 of those documents originating with other government agencies. One document is an account by an NSA official attending a UFO symposium. A healthy chunk of these reports were produced between 1958 and 1979.

Deceptive data
The titles of NSA-related UFO documents that are noted in the declassified document are intriguing, such as UFO Hypothesis and Survival Questions.

Another title cited is UFO’s and the Intelligence Community Blind Spot to Surprise or Deceptive Data. In this seven-page, undated, unofficial draft of a monograph authored by an unnamed NSA employee, the author reportedly points out what he considers to be “a serious shortcoming” in the NSA’s communications intelligence (COMINT) interception and reporting procedures. That is, “the inability to respond correctly to surprising information or deliberately deceptive data.”

The unidentified author uses the UFO phenomenon to illustrate his belief that the inability of the U.S. intelligence community to process this type of unusual data adversely affects U.S. intelligence gathering capabilities.

Within the pages of the newly-released affidavit — and between sections of excised copy — it shows NSA intercepted in 1971 communications between two aircraft and a ground controller discussing a “phenomena” in the sky, as well as radar screen observations, labeling what was viewed as “unidentifiable” objects.

Other intercepted and decrypted reports of bright lights, luminous objects, and unidentified aircraft — along with an elongated ball of fire — scooting through the skies over non-U.S. countries are noted too.

Intercept operations
The 21-page affidavit makes clear that release of documents for public scrutiny, for a variety of reasons, “would seriously damage the ability of the United States to gather this vital intelligence information.”

Furthermore, how the NSA works with a network of foreign sources, organizations, and other governments to secure intelligence data would be adversely affected.

The majority of these records, explained NSA official Eugene F. Yeates in the 1980 affidavit, were communications intelligence reports that “are the product of intercept operations directed against foreign government controlled communications systems within their territorial boundaries.”

According to Aftergood, the newly declassified Yeates affidavit provides new insight into the types of records sought by UFO researchers that have been withheld by NSA.

“Even with all of the deletions, one can get a sense of the enormous scale — and the apparent success — of the worldwide electronic intercept operations conducted by NSA at the height of the Cold War,” Aftergood told SPACE.com.

“Unfortunately it is not clear from the affidavit how the withheld documents might have related to UFOs,” Aftergood said. “There must have been some connection in order for them to be within the scope of the original FOIA request ... but I have no idea what it was.”

But for those hungry to show a great government conspiracy is at work and that alien-driven UFOs routinely cruise through our skies, the just brought to light document won’t help you.

“The affidavit does not discount the UFO phenomenon ... it simply doesn’t address it one way or the other,” Aftergood concluded.

To view the affidavit, check out: http://www.fas.org/irp/nsa/yeates-ufo.pdf

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