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In UFO conspiracy theories, Majestic 12 (or MJ-12) is the codename of an alleged secret committee of scientists, military leaders, and government officials, formed in 1947 by an executive order by U.S. President Harry S. Truman to facilitate recovery and investigation of alien spacecraft. The concept originated in a series of supposedly leaked secret government documents first circulated by ufologists in 1984. Upon examination, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) declared the documents to be “completely bogus”, and many ufologists consider them to be an elaborate hoax. Majestic 12 remains popular among some UFO conspiracy theorists and the concept has appeared in popular culture including television, film and literature.
The story of how the original MJ-12 papers came to light is an interesting look into the mindset of some of the leading UFO researchers, and an excellent example of the quality of UFO evidence that is acceptable to some people.
The concept of “Majestic Twelve” emerged during a period in the 1980s when ufologists believed there had been a cover-up of the Roswell UFO incident and speculated some secretive upper tier of the United States government was responsible. Their suppositions appeared to be confirmed in 1984 when ufologist Jaime Shandera received an envelope containing film which, when developed, showed images of eight pages of documents that appeared to be briefing papers describing “Operation Majestic Twelve”.
In December, 1984, Jaime Shandera, a Hollywood movie producer and UFO researcher, received an unusual package through the post. Inside was just one roll of undeveloped 35mm black and white film. There were no accompanying letter or return address, the only clue to where the package came from was by the postmark which was Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Once developed, the film contained negatives of what appeared to be an eight page briefing paper, prepared on 18th November, 1952, for president-elect Dwight D. Eisenhower. A warning on the first page read, ‘This is a TOP SECRET – EYES ONLY document containing compartmentalized information essential to the national security of the United States’. On page two was a list of 12 influential US scientists, military leaders and intelligence advisors. It was not until viewing page three that the subject of the papers became clear, ‘the recovery of a crashed flying saucer and alien bodies near Roswell, New Mexico, in July 1947’.
The final page of the briefing paper was a memorandum, dated 24th September,1947, from President Harry Truman to his secretary of Defence, James Forrestal. In it, Truman instructs Forrestal to proceed with ‘Operation Majestic-12’, but gives no hint at what that might be.
Alone, the Forrestal memo was meaningless. But when read next to the 1952 briefing paper, the story behind them became clear: in July 1947, a ‘flying disc-shaped aircraft’ crashed landed in Roswell, New Mexico, and ‘extra-terrestrial biological entities’ (EBEs) are recovered by the military. When President Truman is informed about the crash, he authorizes Defence Secretary Forrestal to set up a committee to investigate and deal with the situation.
In 1952, when Eisenhower becomes President-elect, he is briefed on Operation Majestic-12. The briefing paper lists the 12-man committee and gives details of the saucer crash. The final paragraph stresses the need to ‘avoid public panic at all costs’, confirming that the government is covering up the truth about UFOs.
The Majestic-12 documents consisted of an eight page briefing paper to President Eisenhower detailing a UFO crash at Roswell, New Mexico in 1947, another crash at El Indio, Texas in 1950, and listing the members of the government’s special Majestic-12 or “MJ-12” UFO group. It was dated “18 November, 1952”, and it named “Admiral” Roscoe H. Hillenkoetter as the briefing officer. There was also a memo from President Harry S Truman to Secretary of Defense Forrestal that authorized the creation of the MJ-12 group.
However, what is often ignored, glossed over, or has just been lost to obscurity, is the fact that the first mention of MJ-12 was in a document that was alleged by Richard Doty, an ex-special agent for the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI), to have been created as disinformation. He says he gave the document to UFO researchers while he worked for AFOSI, and was order to do so by his superiors. He says this was only one incident in a campaign that lasted years.
Hesitant to take his word for it, I requested documents related to his claims from AFOSI via the Freedom of Information Act Request (FOIA). The documents I received supported some of what he said, but told a different story. They do document the interactions with AFOSI and one UFO researcher, but do not include passing him disinformation. In fact, they say two New Mexico state senators requested information about the nature of their interaction with the UFO researcher, to which AFOSI replied they received his information, but did not engage in any sort of formal investigation.
The documents purported to reveal a secret committee of twelve, supposedly authorized by United States President Harry S. Truman in 1952, and explain how the crash of an alien spacecraft at Roswell in 1947 had been concealed, how the recovered alien technology could be exploited, and how the United States should engage with extraterrestrial life in the future.
Shandera and his ufologist colleagues Stanton T. Friedman and Bill Moore say they later received a series of anonymous messages that led them to find what has been called the “Cutler/Twining memo” in 1985 while searching declassified files in the National Archives. Purporting to be written by General Nathan F. Twining to President Eisenhower’s assistant Robert Cutler and containing a reference to Majestic 12, the memo is widely held to be a forgery, likely planted as part of a hoax. Historian Robert Goldberg wrote that the ufologists came to believe the story despite the documents being “obviously planted to bolster the legitimacy of the briefing papers”.
Moore, Shandera, and Friedman altered the appearance of the MJ-12 documents in their first release of the Focus newsletter to give the appearance of government censorship. They later had to admit that they did it themselves.
At the ON UFO Symposium Proceedings, “MJ-12 and Phil Klass: What are the facts?” by William L. Moore and Stanton T. Friedman: They included a reproduction of the mail packet addressed to Jaime Shandera. The bottoms of the postmarks were blackened out on all three postmarks. This would have shown the state and city that the mail packet was mailed in. In the presentation, Moore and Friedman stated the package “bore no return address”.
In reality, there was a return address. It was Albuquerque, NM! Guess who lived in Albuquerque, NM. Richard Doty- associate of William Moore! If the address had been shown, people might have started checking more on Doty. But Moore and Friedman stated that the package bore no return address.
Aside from the suspicious origins of the Majestic-12 papers, there are several problems with the documents themselves.
The Date: Military documents were formatted using strict guidelines, including the structure of dates. At the time the MJ-12 briefing was alleged to have been written, the format was day month year. No commas, no place-holding zeros. But the date in the MJ-12 document used a day month (comma) year format. This brief was supposedly generated at the very highest level of the military; a level that would not have made such a fundamental error in format.
Hillenkoetter’s Rank: The document refers to “Admiral” Hillenkoetter, when his true rank was REAR Admiral. In casual speech or among civilians this error might occur, but a military man would never make such an error. It was the military that wrote the brief.
Verbiage: Two terms used in the document were not in use during the 50’s. The word “media” to refer to the Press did not appear until the 70’s. Likewise the term “impacted”.
Security: The Cutler-Twining memo is stamped “Top Secret Restricted Information”. There was no such classification in 1954. Not until the Nixon era was this classification used.
Code Word MAJIC: This appears to be the code name assigned to this project. However, this would constitute a major violation of the code naming scheme used by the military for well over a decade.
Secure projects are assigned code names from a one-time use list that is shared by all parts of the military and civilian government bodies. Just prior to WWII, the code name MAGIC was assigned to the effort to break the high security Japanese diplomatic code. The project was still under the wraps of Top Secret in the early 50’s so it could not be “re-used”. Yet, here we have the term MAJIC being applied to the Majestic-12, an assignment that clearly could not happen.
MJ-12 proponents point to the different spelling, but the code list was constructed to avoid phonetic similarities that could cause confusion in oral communications. It would appear that the author(s) of the Majestic briefing papers were conscious of the newly de-classified story of the MAGIC operation when this was concocted.
There are several other points that one might accurately call minor, but when you take all these errors together in one set of documents, the coincidence level redlines.
The most spectacular new MJ-12 document was posted in 1994 to Don Berliner, a longtime UFO investigator and science writer. The anonymous roll of film contained 23 pages of a ‘Majestic-12 Group Special Operations Manual’, dated April, 1954. It was a detailed instruction manual entitled ‘Extra-terrestrial Entities and Technology, Recovery and Disposal’.
Because most of the MJ-12 documents are on film, the original paper or ink cannot be analysed. However there are many factual details that can be checked, such as the background of the 12 members of the committee, the dates of meetings, the style and format of similar documents, and the validity of the signatures. Clearly, MJ-12 had an all-star cast, as well as Secretary of Defence Forrestal, there were the first three Directors of Central Intelligence, an Air Force General, an Army General, the Secretary of the Army and five of the US’s most influential scientists. This was the cream of the US’s military, scientific and intelligence communities. If there was to be a top-secret government group investigating UFOs, this would have been it.