Jim Wilson on the Todd Mundt Show
National Public Radio
July 10, 2003

This is the Todd Mundt show.  Popular Mechanics sent Science Editor Jim Wilson to look over the Rockwell (sic) files.  He says the newly released documents shed more light on what really happened that mysterious night in 1947.  We'll talk to him.  The government has declassified some of the files connected to the crash of an object near Roswell, New Mexico in 1947.  Declassified material can produce surprising findings.  Researchers pore over the documents looking for previously unknown details, and who knows, there might be a major revelation.  Popular Mechanics sent Science Editor Jim Wilson to look over the Roswell files.  He wrote about what he found for the June issue, and he's here to talk about it.  First of all, what's Popular Mechanics doing investigating Roswell? 

Wilson:  Well, Popular Mechanics has been writing about interesting technology for more than a hundred years, and in the public mind there's probably no greater technological mystery than the infamous crash at Roswell in 1947.

Mundt: And how much work have you done personally on it?

Wilson:  Quite a bit, beginning with the 50th anniversary of the episode, in 1997, and we've done three separate stories on this particular episode, beginning with a major piece on the 50th anniversary, in which we concluded that there were no aliens landing there, but something had happened.  When the Air Force, several months after that came out with their major study, Roswell Case Closed, we had critiqued that rather extensively in terms of what it had omitted, and when we found out that the National Archive was going to make public what they said was the last of the Roswell material, which consisted of quite a number of boxes and material, we decided we really wanted to have a look at this because there were a number of open questions.  So we put a fairly substantial number of hours on this, and I think it's fair to say that we've probably looked longer and in more detail at this story than any other major news outlet. 

Mundt:  What do you think was missing from the Air Force's report?

Wilson:  A certain level of candor as to the scope of all the activities that were going on at that time.  They focused chiefly on Air Force activities in 1947 onward.  The Air Force was created in 1947 out of a branch of the Army that had been handling flying assignments in World War II.  And the Air Force just narrowly focused on its mission.  What they left out were the projects that were being done by the Atomic Energy Commission which existed at that time, and also the CIA, which was also created back in that era.
Mundt:  So, as you come to look at this new information, what were the primary questions in your mind that you wanted answered?

Wilson: What the archive contained, and what we have never been able to see before, was the primary reference material.  And this is very important if you're trying to get down to the facts in the story.  Up to this point, everything that was known about Roswell came through second hand, from people who knew people who were there.  There were several individuals who alleged to  I'm going to use the wording very carefully here  there are several individuals who claimed to have seen events taking place.  But when we interviewed them, when I interviewed them back for the '97 story, their stories just didn't check out.  There were too many internal inconsistencies.  And we've since learned that a lot of what they said had been fabricated.  But the core of the story was looking at the original materials that were created, on a moment by moment basis, at the air field on the Fourth of July weekend.  And let me give you a local analogy.  If your home is broken into, you come home and you find your house has been vandalized or something's been stolen, you'll call up the local police, and the local police will then make an entry of that phone call into what they generically refer to as a police blotter.  If years from now you go back and you look at that public record, you'll know that you got a call from this address, and this was taken.  An analogous activity is taking place all the time at air bases, when people are put on assignments, when people call in for sick call, when people are on leave, you have a paper trail for everything that happens.  These paper trails are created in real time, and they are very hard to alter, because they are created in different places.  What was available at the National Archive for the first time was a collection of these handwritten notes, principally by noncommissioned officers, as to who was working that day, what trucks had been assigned where, who was being sent on what type of duty for that day.  And when you look at that particular weekend, and you look at it in the context of what was happening, say, in the month before and the month afterward, and these records were also there.  You see it was a very unremarkable weekend.  You did not see any deployment of special emergency vehicles, you did not see any calls out for people to come in off leave, or off their regular weekends.  You do not see calls for additional support from other units.  None of the types of activities that you would associate with an extraordinary event occurred.  

Mundt:  What entries are made that are actually related to the incident itself?

Wilson:  Absolutely none.  There's absolutely nothing there that would indicate anything unusual had happened at the base that weekend. 

Mundt: Why do you think there's absolutely nothing?  I mean, something apparently did happen.

Wilson: Well, the explanation is that nothing did happen.  When I say there were no entries, the entries were you know, this person reports for duty, this individual is being reassigned to work for the Air Force, this person is on sick call.  So you have the normal parade of entries, on a daily basis.  But there's no deployment of special equipment, which leads to believe (sic) well, why did this happen?  And that sort of gets into the second part of our story.  This then led back to the question of well, if nothing happened, if there's no paper trail, why is there no paper trail?  And this is where it ran into a sort of interesting explanation, because the first thing I did when I got back, was I placed a call to Frank Kaufmann, who I had interviewed as part of the original story, and who is really a core character in the entire development of the Roswell episode.  And this is where the story takes sort of an interesting turn, because Kauffman had died in the interim.

Mundt:  He died about two years ago?

Wilson:  Two years ago, yeah, I had interviewed him in '97, and he was not, he did not appear to be a well man then.  He was ambulatory, and we went out to dinner, and we had a very nice evening.  But you could tell he was an older gentleman, and he did not appear to be a picture of health as we said in the magazine.  After he died, his wife allowed UFO researchers, and these are people from the UFO research center, to go in and have access to his files.  One of the reasons why journalists had always trusted Kauffman, or probably, I won't say trusted him entirely, as much as I would say treated him as a credible source, was that he was fairly well respected in the community, he was a business leader in his community.  And also, he produced bona fides in the form of separation orders, that indicated the type of work he was doing when he was in the military.  He never, however, let people make copies of the orders.  He would say, "This is the only one I have."  In my particular case, we went out in the evening, so there was no place to make photocopies.  He said he would send them, we never received them.  And this was a pattern that repeated. 

Mundt:  I wonder if you could maybe just for a moment.  I'm going to have you pick up the story in just a second.  But just for those of us who may not understand entirely Frank Kauffman's connections and the kinds of claims he made, if you could just for one moment kind of summarize and capsulize (sic) it.

Wilson: Frank Kauffman had in the course of the telling of the Roswell stories identified himself as several different people, finally identifying himself as Frank Kauffman.  And he indicated that he had worked for the military, specifically the Army, in an intelligence capacity, and produced orders to that effect.  As he told the story, he was the chief contact person for the entire Roswell episode, engineering how things would be moved, according to one version of the story.  And he told several versions of the story in different books.  In one version of the story, he was operating a radar at White Sands Missile Range, and he goes on to explain, he explained to me, that he had engineered the entire recovery effort, getting the trucks together, making sure the debris field was cleaned up.  In the original story I have a wonderful quote from him saying how the beauty of it was it was done with such great simplicity and so thorough, and the truck came through town and the people were looking at it, and they thought it was just another crashed airplane or something.  So, all of the various strings of the Roswell story, in some way or other, lead back to Frank Kauffman.  So, he's really the pivotal person you want to talk to.  And everyone who's done a Roswell story at some point interviewed Kauffman.  And he was a person very willing to talk to you, a very amicable gentleman, very nice guy to talk to.  It turned out when the UFO researchers looked at his documentation, they found that he had basically altered them.  And his real job, he was in fact in the military, he was in fact attached to an intelligence unit, but his job was only as a clerk.  And he indicated that, he had changed some of his military occupational numbers on his documentation to indicate that he had a higher investigatory status than in fact he did.  He was a clerk, is what it amounted to, and he was there, he provided some basic bona fides, and a lot of people didn't look behind it, beyond that.  He was just inventing a lot of, what he made up over the years. 

Mundt:  So, that's a major development.

Wilson: It's a major development in the story. And actually, the story had been circulating around for some time, and right from the beginning there were a number of people who were involved in creating the Roswell story, including Stanton Friedman, who is actually very well respected in the field, and very well respected outside the field.  He is a trained physicist who is responsible for really bringing the Roswell episode to the public's attention.  And toward the end, he had interviewed Kauffman shortly before his death, and I had spoken to Stanton, when I had learned of Kauffman's death, I had spoken to Stanton Friedman, and one of the things he had told me was that he had the opportunity to speak with Friedman relatively soon before his death, and at this point Kauffman was making what were essentially deathbed confessions.  And he put a couple of questions to Kauffman in terms of, did you take this general up to this site, did you take this person up to this site?  And Kauffman said, no.  He backtracked on some of his earlier statements.  The net result of this is that once you remove Kauffman from the entire scenario, the events surrounding the Fourth of July at Roswell disappear.  When you look at the lack of any kind of extraordinary activity being documented by way of a paper trail, everything else turns out to be perfectly normal.  And what's very curious, and maybe a little bit coincidental, is that on my way over to your studios today, I received a ;pone call just as I was leaving, from someone who picked up the magazine article and finally read it.  And they were stationed at the airfield back in between '46 and '49, and they said, my God, you've got it entirely right, nothing happened that weekend.  So now you're beginning to see people come forward saying yeah, well you know, maybe nothing really did happen there. 

Mundt:  With me is Jim Wilson, Science Editor for Popular Mechanics magazine.  When we come back we'll continue our discussion of what he's found in the Roswell files.  It's the Todd Mundt Show on NPR.  [NPR announcements inserted here]  I'm Todd Mundt, and with me is Jim Wilson.  He is the Science Editor for Popular Mechanics magazine.  In its June issue it has produced a report about the release of many government files related to the Roswell Incident in New Mexico in 1947.  We have been talking about some aspects of that incident, and let me ask you about the weather balloon.

Wilson:  Well, there are a couple of weather balloon stories.  The interesting thing about Roswell is that while we can mark closed the whole sort of alien crash explanation for it, and we can pretty much put to rest any events that happened over the Fourth of July 1947, certain things were very clearly happening in that area.  The weather balloon story is probably true.  Whether or not it was one of these Mogul balloons, which were designed to spy on the Soviet Union, and determine whether or not they were setting off high altitude blasts, we can't really pin that down.  In the records that they have in the National Archives, they have interviews with various individuals.  And they have some interviews with General Ramey's staff people.  And he was the Commander of the Eighth Army Air Force, which was in Fort Worth, Texas.  And they also have interviews with some of the other key figures involved.  There was a great uncertainty as to what had happened out there.  And there was a suspicion that it might be no more than a weather balloon.  And for this reason, a weather expert was actually brought out to look at the debris, and they identified it as a weather balloon.  It wasn't until years later, when they declassified the work as far as Project Mogul, that these other explanations that it was a more complicated balloon, came to the fore.  There's still another area that we're sort of looking at at Popular Mechanics magazine that may cast some insights into what happened in Roswell some time in the late '40s, early '50s, we can't really put a date on it then.  But we know that both the Germans and the Japanese were doing work with very high altitude manned balloons.  And it's quite possible that at some point, one of these experimental vehicles crashed.  Now, we've looked at some other documentation in the course of doing the 1997 story, and we've found that some of the German designs were what you would describe as a lenticular or lens-shaped craft, which has some pretty good aerodynamic lift capabilities, if you're going to return to the atmosphere.  One of the scenarios that has not really been ruled out yet is that what crashed at Roswell is an experimental vehicle that was aimed at spying on the Soviets, and it was one of these things that just never really developed, because the technology did not mature in time.  Remember now, we also had a rocketry program going, we had a U-2 program going, later on we had the SR-71 program going.  But early back in the '50s, the early '50s, there was a belief that we could spy on the Soviet Union with very high altitude balloons.  And I should point out that this idea is now being revived again, so it may be another explanation for the Roswell episode, even though it is somewhat detached from that particular weekend in 1947.

Mundt:  Do you think that would be what people are referring to as the flying disk?

Wilson:  Yes, almost certainly.  Because if you look at the diagrams, actually going beyond diagrams, we were able to get sections of blueprints of some of these craft.  They are lenticular shaped, they look like flying disks.  They're fairly large.  In one version of them they have a small amount of nuclear power that they use for some navigation purposes, so I can see how it could be misunderstood for that.

Mundt: I suppose that if someone believes in the conspiracy theory, there is no way to ever convince them otherwise, but what if all of this information that was recently declassified is not all that there is?  There is something else somewhere else at the CIA or at some other agency hidden away that no one knows about?

Wilson:  Well, this is the point that Stanton Friedman makes, and in which we actually end our article.  He maintains that there are actually many more files that exist at the CIA, that will goon to explain what happened over that weekend.  It's quite possible these files are there.  The CIA has always claimed that.  The CIA's position has changed over the years.  Initially it claimed they had nothing, and then around, in the late '90s in their in-house magazine which is called Studies in Intelligence, in a fairly lengthy article about how the CIA had used the belief in UFOs to cover up the existence of U-2 and SR-71 aircraft.  What you have to remember now that's different now from then, is that when you get on an airplane now and you're flying across the country, you're flying at maybe between 32 and maybe 38 thousand feet, something like that.  Back then you were flying at maybe 20 thousand feet.  And all of a sudden a commercial pilot is flying along at say 20, 25 thousand feet, and he sees this object that's twice as high as he is, 50, 60 thousand feet, he has no explanation for it, he has nothing in his base of experience that will explain what this is, so it appears to be a UFO.  Well, what it in fact is, it is a spy plane.  And if you will look at position reports being called in, and you're doing good intelligence work, you'd get a pretty good idea where it's flying toward.  So if you dismiss these as UFOs, people don't take them seriously, commercial airline pilots don't take them seriously, and you protect the national assets, which was in this case not UFOs, but U-2 aircrafts.

Mundt: Why do you think this information was classified for so long?

Wilson:  There's one reason for it that came to the fore, and that has to do with, involves a court-martial that took place involving a doctor at the base there.  And it involved a very messy love triangle.  And it's something that's really peripheral to the whole story.  However, it got mixed up, it was put with the files of the Roswell files, and I suspect that's why the whole thing was pretty much kept classified. 

Mundt:  Because they were, tied together in some way?

Wilson:  They were tied together by location.  In other words, you have, they were tied together by location and time.  You had this particular court-martial involving a very high ranking officer at the Roswell base, involving charges of basically of adultery, and some other charges.  And you have these other mysteries about Roswell, so everything winds up in the same box.  And when I talk about the same box, what I'm really talking about, and we show this in the article and we show this on the Popular Mechanics website, is a cart filled with about a dozen of these banker boxes that you know you use when you move out of your house or you move from office to office.  And it's just packed with materials in there.  And there's not, not only are there the primary research materials that we were after, but there are a lot of articles about UFOs, there are books about UFOs, there are photos that people sent in of things they thought were UFOs, and there are copies of, there are great volumes of material about this particular court-martial.  And that was really considered to be very sensitive.  A lot of documentation related to that case.  That was, I think, the most sensitive material in there, and kept until the people involved were no longer living. 

Mundt:  Were you surprised to find so much ancillary material in there?  The video cassettes, the newspaper clippings about UFO sightings and Roswell?  Those kinds of things in government records?

Wilson:  Yes and no.  Not in this particular case, but only because I had done this many times before in the context with other stories.  And I don't think people realize just what a massive vacuum cleaner the whole security apparatus is.  I was once on a visit to the CIA, and saw stamped classified back issues of stories in Popular Mechanics.  Why this was considered to be classified, I don't know.

Mundt:  What kind of stories? 

Wilson:  These were some early stories about aircraft.  We've always had this tradition of reporting on things many, many years ahead of time.  And they just showed it to me and they thought it was rather amusing, too.  So, what you had in the Roswell file, you know, archivists are saving things for posterity.  They're not making a judgment necessarily of what is really important and what isn't.  They're preserving the record so that historians can make this judgment.  So here you have a lot of videos that were sent in, there were copies of things that you've seen on TV, there were copies of UFO magazines.

Mundt: Have you heard from many readers who have written to you directly to debunk what you have written? 

Wilson:  I haven't.  I had only that one phone call, which coincidentally came in just before I came over to the studio today.  Which is unusual, because in the past, whenever I've written about UFOs, I've just created this tremendous hue and cry.  If you go into a search engine and put in Jim Wilson and UFOs, you'll get just thousands and thousands of hits, and most of them are people writing for tiny little "we believe in UFOs" websites saying what an idiot I am, and how I've been misled, and how I'm a tool of, you know, the Establishment type of thing, which is sort of amusing.  But there was great silence as far as the UFO community was concerned.  Part of the reason may be is that among the insiders, Kauffman (sic) and some others had written a little bit in their very specialized newsletters as far as what happened as a result of the Kauffman revelations.  And that had sort of a chilling effect.  And I believe Friedman, Stanton Friedman, is working on a book looking at this a little more.  He no longer considers Kauffman as being central to the whole episode.  Now, Stanton and I differ on the conclusions we draw.  He believes that there was some type of alien visitation from this.  I tend to follow the track that what we are looking at is a lot of development of secret aircraft.  And peripheral to this, I was invited to a meeting of designers who had just worked on lenticular aircraft, these lens-shaped or saucer-shaped disks.  And they were having a conference.  They got all the designers on this together in Washington about two years ago.  And one of the remarks they made, which struck me as being very remarkable, is that they said there were probably about twice as many X planes as had been given designations.  We're up now to the high forties, I think.  And the reason they gave was that the budgets for developing the saucer-shaped craft were so limited that they would build one, test it, and build another variation of it.  So I think saucers are going to be with us for some time to come, only because they're pretty sound aerodynamic shapes for making flying machines. 

Mundt:  Fascinating article.  Jim Wilson, thank you for talking with us. 

Wilson:  Thank you for inviting me on the show. 

Mundt: Jim Wilson is the Science Editor at Popular Mechanics magazine. 


Transcribed by Robert Durant, rjdurant@aol.com
Words that seem inappropriate are followed by (sic). Punctuation is arbitrary. 

Durant's critique of interview here.