NORAD And The UFO Smokescreen
In Part 6, Part 7 and Part 8 of my “NORAD and the UFO Smokescreen” series, I discussed the possibility that the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD), as well as other commands and their space components, may have detected and tracked UFO’s outside Earth’s atmosphere. I discussed NORAD’s early efforts, starting in the 1950’s, and brought us through to the 1990’s and 2000’s, where the old US Space Command (SPACECOM), and then the US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) partially took over space surveillance from NORAD. I have introduced the core topic of “Uncorrelated Target” (UCT) detection and tracking, and highlighted examples of declassified military doctrine that relates to such events. I also presented the work of UFO researchers in years gone by to obtain space object tracking data, and will continue to do so in this entry in the series, plus raise some new topics which are key to understanding NORAD’s role in space, and what it means for UFO research. As I have stated before, I use the term “UFO” to describe unknown and unidentifiable bodies which are above-and-beyond natural and manmade objects.
“Uncorrelated Event Report”, or, “UER”
It is apparent, at least in the 1990’s, that “Uncorrelated Target” (UCT) was not the only term to describe an unidentified object in space. As we know, when the Space Surveillance Network (SSN) detects and tracks a new or uncatalogued object in space, it is labelled an “Unknown Observation” (UO). If routine attempts to identify the UO are unsuccessful, it is “tagged” as a UCT. In the mid-1990’s, there were rumours within the UFO community that SPACECOM and NORAD were designating the oddest space events with a special term called “Event Reports”. Either “Unknown” or “Uncorrelated”, any discussion of these “Event Reports” in official literature has so far been impossible to find, with the exception of two pieces of correspondence with UFO researchers.
Veteran UFO researcher Walter Webb, while studying the 1995 American West Airlines Radar-Visual UFO case in New Mexico, asked a number of questions of NORAD in a November 27th letter. Nearly a month later, on the 19th of December, 1995, S. W. Johnson, of NORAD/USSPACECOM Directorate of Public Affairs, replied to Webb. Their letter, in part, stated:
“NORAD uses the term “Unknown Track Report” (UTR) for events within our atmosphere and the United States Space Command (USSPACECOM) uses the term “Uncorrelated Events” for objects in space. UTR’s are considered sensitive and are not releasable to the public. Uncorrelated Event Reports (UERs) are classified SECRET until downgraded by proper authority. The term “UFO” has not been used by this headquarters since the “Blue Book” was permanently closed in 1974.”
As mentioned in previous posts, NORAD designates an atmospheric detection as an “Unknown Track”. In this reply letter, however, the NORAD/USSPACECOM PA officer, S. W. Johnson, calls them an “Unknown Track Report”, with the acronym “UTR”. This may be nothing more than a slight error. Further, so-called “UTR” events are “...considered sensitive and are not releasable to the public...”. For objects in space, SPACECOM uses the term “Uncorrelated Events” or “Uncorrelated Event Reports”. The later comes with the acronym “UER”. Either way, there is no discussion of the aforementioned space tracked “Uncorrelated Targets” (UCT) which appear in other NORAD and SPACECOM doctrine. Moreover, such “UER” incidents are classified SECRET. Further, Mr. Johnson mistakenly states that Project Blue Book was closed in 1974. This is incorrect. It was late 1969 that saw the closure of the flawed USAF program of UFO report collection and investigation. Errors like this are not unheard of in FOI correspondence, and can cause confusion, if not a degree of contempt for the health of military public relations. Regarding the issue of spaceborne “Uncorrelated Event” reporting, this could been another mix up with the more utilized term “Uncorrelated Target”. The two terminologies, though, are actually quite specific and quite different, so its hard to say for sure. If, indeed, so-called “Uncorrelated Events” or “Uncorrelated Event Reports” are an entirely different subset of space detections than “Uncorrelated Targets” then further investigation will be more cumbersome. I have imaged Page 1 of the Mr. Johnson’s NORAD/USSPACECOM PA FOI reply to Webb below.
Four years later, the issue of “Uncorrelated Events” and “Uncorrelated Event Reports” came up again. On August the 27th, 1998, Robert Todd submitted an FOI request to SPACECOM for various records. In it, he asked for a search of NORAD/SPACECOM Command Directors Logs for:
“...entries therein pertaining to Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs), Fireballs, Meteors, Unknown Event Reports (UER), and Uncorrelated Targets (UCT)…”
On the 22nd of Feburary, 1999, Todd was sent a reply from SPACECOM’s Colonel Rodney S. Lusey. The Command Directors Log entries that Robert Todd had asked for were totally denied. There was no correction of Todd's terminology, so one wonders if the terms “Uncorrelated Events” or “Uncorrelated Event Reports” are distinct from “Uncorrelated Targets”. Either way, SPACECOM kept whatever documentation they had classified. I have imaged Page 1 of the FOI reply to Todd below.
We do not yet know if Todd appealed or otherwise took the issue further. He was the most prolific FOI requester in history for records related to UFO’s, so its like he did. His vast correspondence with government agencies is slowly becoming available to researchers, and, when added up, numbers in the tens of thousands of pages. At one point, according to researcher Barry Greenwood, the number of FOI requests and appeals Todd sent a week was in the dozens.
To sum up, during a four year period we see official correspondence involving both Walter Webb and Robert Todd that uses the terms “Uncorrelated Event Reports” and “Unknown Event Reports”. As I alluded to above, we cannot find anything in any SPACECOM or NORAD doctrine on these terms. So we do not know the validity or importance of the information beyond what I have highlighted.
It is also worth noting that in the above mentioned reply letter to Todd, Col. Rodney S. Lusey partially released a copy of a special SPACECOM regulation titled “USR 55-20, Warning Verification of Hostile Space Events”. Researcher David Charmichael and I recently secured a copy of this publication through the US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) in the hope it related to unknown objects in space. Promulgated on the 31st of January 1990, and classified SECRET, the first page states:
“This regulation establishes procedures to provide timely and accurate status reporting, warning and verification of hostile space events to National Command Authorities (NCA), collateral agencies, space system owners and operators, and defense forces from Headquarters, US Space Command, Space Defense Operations Center (SPADOC).”
This looked encouraging, but unfortunately our review of “USR 55-20, Warning Verification of Hostile Space Events” does not reveal anything specific about the detection or tracking of unknown objects in space.
“Unidentified Satellite” or “USAT”
In the 1980’s and 1990’s, some “Uncorrelated Targets” (UCT), after already being tagged as either “Critical” or “Significant”, were sometimes further labelled “Unidentified Satellites”. Abbreviated to “USAT”, the term appears in the obsolete SPACECOM regulation “US 55-12 Space Surveillance Network (SSN) Operations” dated 1st June, 1992. On Page 113, under point 17.7, a definition for “Unidentified Satellites” is given:
“Unidentified Satellite (USAT). A USAT element set is an analyst element set generated by the SSC consisting of at least three tracks of UCT’s from three separate sensors (when possible) that cannot be associated to any space launch. This object would be published by SSC as an 87000 through 88999 analyst satellite.”
This is saying that any UCT that appears, preferably, on three different SSN sensors, is labelled as a USAT. There is nothing about this which would point towards USAT’s being UFO’s. This term is unlikely used today, as I cannot find any mention of it in more recent doctrine. Obtaining detailed records regarding USAT’s would be useful, however. STRATCOM is currently unable to locate old SPACECOM records, as I have discussed, so it is unlikely we will get the chance. The relevant page of the above mentioned SPACECOM regulation is imaged below.
The UFO community have, for some time now, latched on to a curious term. That term is “Fast Walker”, and UFO enthusiasts have variously claimed that Fast Walkers are alien spacecraft zooming around Earth, and that these events are detected in space by American reconnaissance satellites. Another claim is that the topic is very highly classified. Interestingly, there is actually some truth to these fantastic assertions. Firstly, “Fast Walker” is an official term. It wasn’t just made up by enthusiastic UFO buffs. Secondly, it does indeed refer to objects in space whose identity may not, at least initially, be known. Thirdly, the topic is actually very highly classified. Almost no documentation has ever been released, and no public statements have ever been made. In fact, there appears to be a whole “Fast Walker Program”. Beyond those points, nothing I can verify supports the more outlandish claims that these detections are other-worldly spacecraft.
The issue, however, is worth discussing. The Defence Support Program (DSP) is a long-life, space-based network of satellites that use infrared detectors to sense the intense heat invariably associated with missile launches, nuclear detonations, and even the afterburners of combat jets. The Federation of American Scientists (FAS), says:
“DSP satellites have been the space-borne segment of NORAD’s Tactical Warning and Attack Assessment System since 1970. The satellites feed warning data, via communications links, to NORAD and US Space Command early warning centers within Cheyenne Mountain. These centers immediately forward data to various agencies and areas of operations around the world. Members of the Air Force Space Command 50th Space Wing's 1st Space Operations Squadron provide command and control support for the satellite.”
Sometimes a DSP satellite will detect and track an object in space, and this is where the term “Fast Walker” appears. Fast Walkers appear to be foreign satellites that briefly come into the field of view (FOV) of DSP satellites. Jeffery T. Richelson, in his indispensable 1999 book, “America’s Space Sentinels: The History Of The DSP And SBIRS Satellite Systems”, states, on Page 107:
“Most Fast Walkers have been routine observations of foreign spacecraft. The infrared readings obtained by DSP, resulting from the reflection of sunlight off the spacecraft, provided analysts at the CIA, DIA and Air Force Foreign Technology Division (now the National Air Intelligence Center) with data on spacecraft signatures and movements. Such data allowed analysists to estimate where the satellite was going and its mission.”
The reason the UFO community latched on to is due to the claims of UFO researcher Joe Stefula in the mid-1990’s. In 1996, for example, Stefula stated:
“At 1126Z, 5 May, 1984, a DSP platform detected an object with heat in the 9,000 KW/SR range coming out of deep space and passing within 3 kilometers of the DSP. Its star tracking telescope first detected the object. The observation lasted nine minutes... …A detailed investigation failed to explain what caused the sensor reading, other than a real object of some type.”
However, Jeffery T. Richelson reported that there was a more mundane explanation. In his above-mentioned book, he states:
“The object that came perilously close to Flight 7 [DSP satellite] was not a UFO but a signals intelligence spacecraft, probably the VORTEX satellite launched on Jan. 31, 1984, from Cape Canaveral by the publicity-shy group of terrestrials who constituted the National Reconnaissance Office. The spacecraft in question, had failed to enter its proper geostationary orbit.”
Obtaining records regarding Fast Walkers has been extremely hard. But there are a few examples. An interesting Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) regulation, titled “AFSPACECOM Regulation 55–55 – Operations – Space Based Sensor (SBS) Large Processing Stations (LPS) And European Ground Station (EGS) Tactical Requirement Doctrine (TRD)”, which is dated the 30th of September, 1992, describes, on Page 38, a Fast Walker as a “detection of a space object in satellites FOV”. I have imaged the page below.
There are two unclassified USAF theses, both written for the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT), that discuss Fast Walkers. Neither discusses UFO’s. The earliest one, published on June 20th, 1989, is titled “Orbit Determination of Sunlight Illuminated Objects Detected by Overhead Platforms”, and was written by Captain Richard P. Osedacz. He states in his introduction:
“Due to the multitude of objects in the geostationary belt, overhead platforms are being saturated by reflected sunlight from orbiting objects passing through the ’sensors field of view. These objects, known as fastwalkers, are creating a suspicion that some uncatalogued objects may exist or are being cross-tagged within the data base. The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) tasked the Foreign Technology Division, Flight Performance Division (FTD/SQDF) to analyze these 15 to 30 minute data tracks and determine the element set, identifying the object.”
I have imaged the relevant page below.
The other thesis, published in March 2008, and written by US Army Captain Bradley R. Townsend, likewise discusses the detection and imaging of Fast Walkers. Titled “Space Based Satellite Tracking and Characterization Utilizing Non-Imaging Passive Sensors”, Cap. Bradley’s introduction states:
“Satellite based sensors looking down at the Earth’s surface occasionally observe reflected light from an object passing through the image which is moving too fast relative to the background of the image to be located within the atmosphere. These objects are commonly called fastwalkers. This term refers to any orbital object seen passing through the field of view of an Earth observing sensor which is suspected of being in orbit.”
To sum up, we do not know much about Fast Walkers, or the associated “Fast Walker Program”. But what we do know, from the available, if limited, information, is that America’s DSP satellites do sometimes detect bright sunlight which is reflected from satellites that rapidly pass by. We don’t even know if the program, or even the term “Fast Walker” is currently used. The UFO community still, however, claim that this issue is somehow part of a cover-up, by NORAD, to monitor UFO’s as they travel about. This is simply speculation, and has no basis in reality. It is possible, of course, that if UFO’s do exist in near-Earth space, then they could be detected by dedicated space assets and labelled a “Fast Walker”. What happens after that is unknown, except that more investigations would surely be embarked on. But, for now, the assertions of some UFO buffs cannot be substantiated at all.
A Long Way To Go
Having said that, it is still interesting to see the term “Unidentified Flying Object” or “UFO” appear in declassified NORAD doctrine or, similar doctrine published by the old SPACECOM, and its successor STRATCOM. These terms were supposed to rapidly fall out of favour with the USAF’s closure of Project Blue Book, in 1969. A SPACECOM publication, promulgated on 30 June, 1994 clearly references “UFO” as translating to “Unidentified Flying Object”. Titled “USSPACECOM Lexicon”, and coded “UPAM 13-1”, the document is a 160 page booklet of acronyms, and their definitions, which were used by SPACECOM in the 1990’s. Page 152 contains both the terms “UCT”, and, “UFO”. I have imaged the page below.
Note that the term “UCT” is listed, and its translation is, as we know, is “Uncorrelated Target”. Also, the definition has the term “GEODSS” in brackets behind it. This refers to the “Ground Based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance System”. I have discussed previously how this network of special surveillance cameras is particularly adept at picking up unknown objects in space. On the same page, the term “UFO” is listed. While “UFO” has two definitions, the first one listed is “Unidentified Flying Object”. This means that someone, somewhere, in SPACECOM, and I dare say NORAD too, was using the fabled term. Seeing as UFO’s are not part of the US military’s official responsibility, one can only wonder why the term is listed in a once classified document.
If researchers had more access to old NORAD and SPACECOM documents, many of these issues would be solvable. A good example of this frustrating roadblock has been our search for records created by the 1st Command and Control Squadron (1CACS). Only one record has ever been declassified and released. It is a three page “mission directive” titled “Air Force Space Command Mission Directive – Organization and Mission – Field”. Dated 1st of July, 1994, and coded “AFSPCMD 5-73010”, it describes the mission, organisation and responsibilities of 1CACS. The squadron was, until its reorganisation in 2001, organizationally subordinate to Air Force Space Command (AFSPC), but functionally supported the Cheyenne Mountain Complex (CMC), and hence, NORAD. They were responsible for tasking the Space Surveillance Network (SSN), and processing incoming space surveillance data. Vast records must have been created by 1CACS, but STRATCOM, who now are in administrative control of 1CACS records, cannot locate, other than the above mentioned document, a single record of this squadron. Page 1 of “AFSPCMD 5-73010” is imaged below.
To date, the efforts of past researchers reveal little evidence that truly unidentifiable UFO’s are being detected and monitored in space by NORAD, or were by the old SPACECOM. This doesn’t mean that it hasn’t happened. The issue would be highly classified. In my next entry into this series I will highlight current work being done by myself, and my colleague David Charmichael, to obtain more information on this intriguing matter. We have seen, I can happily say, that some records have been released to us after years of complex FOI work and appeal actions.