Mirage Men: A Review
By Lee Nicholson
(Originaly posted at Open Minds Forum and American Chronicle, August, 2010.)
In early 2006 Mark Pilkington, former staff writer for popular UK based journal of the strange Fortean Times, and self proclaimed "circle maker" John Lundberg, travelled to the United States on the trail of Project Serpo and in an attempt to track down and interview former AFOSI Special Agent Richard C. Doty. This was to be the beginning of a project which, four years later, would result in the publication of a book Mirage Men: A journey in Disinformation, Paranoia and UFOs and an upcoming feature length documentary of the same name.
The book begins with Mark sharing his personal UFO sighting experiences, along with his perspective and opinion of the phenomena in general. He continues with a review of classic cases from the early years - such as the Foo Fighters, Ghost Rockets, Aztec and the Washington flap of 52 , and charts the involvement of the US Government, in particular the Intelligence Services.
He includes some little known, surprising and often bizarre examples of psychological warfare operations (PSYOPS) , which were carried out all over the world before, during and after World War Two. Often PSYOPS personnel would exploit the beliefs and superstitions of the indigenous populations, sometimes even encouraging them to believe in Curses, Vampires and other strange phenomena in order to protect ongoing military operations.
As an example of how this approach may have been used in relation to UFO sightings, Mark makes reference to a Project Palladium which was reported to be capable of distorting RADAR returns. Apparently the system could be used to create false (or 'ghost') RADAR returns, giving the impression of aircraft moving at impossible speeds and altitude and was even capable of distorting scale. Given the propensity for inter agency rivalry and compartmentalization we are told it is not impossible that many well known RADAR UFO cases may actually have been covert tests of this system.
In what could be regarded as an ironic twist, it seems that the journey was initially inspired by a discussion between John Lundburg and an unnamed CIA contact. Mark quotes from a conversation he had with John in a London Café: "I've been talking to someone at the CIA ... Everything he's told me so far turned out to be a lie, but he's a friendly guy and I'm sure he knows a thing or two .... he said that if I was interested in UFOs I should talk to somebody called Richard Doty..."
Rightly or wrongly Rick Doty has become something of mythical character in the field of ufology, he is despised, reviled, revered and respected in equal measure and the reasons are explained in this book. The story of Paul Bennewitz and AFOSI is well known in ufological circles and is certainly the reason for much of the resentment towards him. Suffice to say that it is covered in full in the book and in many ways is central to the story of the "Mirage Men". We are also told of how AFOSI and Rick Doty engaged Bill Moore, Linda Moulton-Howe, and several other researchers in official disinformation operations, how this might relate to the origins of MJ-12, rumours of an underground alien base at Dulce, New Mexico, and many other staples of ufological lore.
One refreshing aspect of this book is the way the author intersperses historical research with a travelogue type journal; we read of their journey to the Laughlin UFO conference and meetings with some of the many fascinating characters that follow the scene. As mentioned previously one of the key motivations for the book was to meet and interview Rick Doty and not only did Mark and John achieve this, they also repeatedly state that they grew to "like him" and appear to have become friends of sorts. True to form, (current) New Mexico State Trooper, Richard Doty delivers many thought provoking statements during their conversations and appears to drop more than a few bombshells. Details can be found in the book, but obviously US government involvement in the UFO subject, ET technology, and Project Serpo are all discussed.
Those that followed the Project Serpo story can not have failed to notice the importance online UFO forums played, this was not missed on Mark either as we can see from the following excerpt, which will be of particular interest to members of Open Minds Forum:
"Whatever it's origins, Serpo provided the UFO culture with a much-needed shot in the arm and brought many of it's key players from the previous decade's heyday crawling out of the woodwork. It also gave rise to a pair of extremely popular UFO and conspiracy theory online message boards, Open Minds and Above Top Secret. These acted simultaneously as transmitters and receivers of UFO information and, like Martinez's list, corralled disparate UFO hunters and Parapolitical enthusiasts into one place. Here people shared views on everything from the origins of 9/11 attacks and secret US bases on the moon, to the latest developments in military technology. A useful place then for both American and international intelligence operators to hang out and monitor geeks and extremists of many stripes. And, perhaps, to get involved..."
Following this Mark continues by describing how, in 2006, FBI cybercrime specialist J. Keith Mularski infiltrated a forum called 'Darkmarket' using the screen name 'master splynter', he then proceeded to take control of the forum before finally taking it offline as part of an operation to close down an international Credit Card fraud ring. This clearly illustrates how government operative have at times infiltrated online organizations for operational purposes and Mark further states:
"Whether Above Top Secret, Open Minds, or indeed any of the myriad other UFO and conspiracy websites owe their existence to similar operations we can't say, but wherever advanced military hardware and UFOs are being discussed, the intelligence world will always be listening."
Thankfully, as one of the co-owners of Open Minds Forum, I can say with absolute certainty that we have never received any funding from government or intelligence sources, nor has anybody outside of our private civilian group ever had any influence over how we run the forum. Unfortunately, this kind of mistrust, paranoia, claim and counter claim is not uncommon in the field of ufology and Mark Pilkington and John Lundberg know this only to well. Both have been on the receiving end of similar accusations in the past.
Mirage Men is a fascinating read and an essential addition to the library of any self respecting UFO researcher or indeed anybody with a serious interest in the subject. In many ways the book serves as a cautionary tale, and warns against emotional attachment to any given story, case file or belief system. Skeptics and believers alike will find much to challenge their faith, while those with an objective approach will find the book both entertaining and informative. Ultimately we are left to ponder not only what lies at the heart of the UFO mystery, but to what extent the 'core story' has been obfuscated by those who's job it is to keep secrets.
Mirage Men is currently available from all good book shops.
Look out for an upcoming question and answer session with Mark Pilkington.