"OPREP-3" - A Classified US Military Reporting
Channel For UFO Incidents?
In Part 5 and Part 6 of this series, I discussed the US military and intelligence community’s responses and concerns regarding a series of provocative UFO events which occurred in the mid–1970’s over United States Air Force (USAF) bases which were assigned to the Strategic Air Command (SAC). Previously, in Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3, I looked the US military’s OPREP–3 reporting system which was one of the methods used to alert top–level military commands and components of these, to put it mildly, unusual events. In Part 4, I highlighted a special category of OPREP–3 reporting which was explicitly designed for the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) and Aerospace Defence Command (ADCOM), to report general unknown radar tracks, and, “Unidentified Flying Objects – UFOs”. In summary, what started out as a dialogue about UFO’s being reported by the OPREP–3 reporting system, has expanded into a much wider appraisal of myriad declassified documents which deal with UFO case investigation, evaluation and high level concern long after the US government apparently gave up on the UFO issue.
In this Part 7, I will continue to focus on declassified records released by the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and the National Military Command Center (NMCC). The release of these records came about due to the once–powerful Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), or, rather, its implementation by researchers Barry Greenwood, Robert Todd, Lawrence Fawcett, Todd Zechel and others.
As mentioned in my Part 6, on the 24th of December, 1979, Robert Todd submitted an FOI request to the Office of the Organisation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (OJCS) asking to be provided with any records which contained references to “unidentified flying objects”, “unknown objects” and “UFOs”. Todd restricted his request to only include records created from 1975 to 1979. On the 18th of January, 1980, Charles W. Hinkle, the Director, Freedom of Information and Security Review, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defence, replied to Todd, stating:
“The Office of the Organisation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (OJCS) is prepared to provide the 123 NMCC memorandums for the record…”
As I have discussed, Todd indeed saw that the OJCS release these records, and, many were subject–lined with phrases such as “UFO incident”, “UFO analysis”, “UFO sightings” and “Requests for temperature inversion analysis”. Also, involvement by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS), and other senior–ranking officers, is apparent throughout the documents. The actual UFO incidents, or what were believed to be UFO incidents, which led to the production of these NMCC records, had occurred near Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, Wurthsmith AFB, Michigan, Loring AFB, Maine, Minot AFB, North Dakota and Falconbridge Air Force Station in Ontario, Canada. The time period involved was late October to late November, and, other military bases, including Plattsburg AFB in New York, experienced unidentified aerial activity during the same period of time, but release of documents relating to these locations were denied. I have already highlighted some of the NMCC records which relate to the events at Malmstrom AFB during November, 1975. Todd’s FOI requests, however, demanded the release of “UFO” records spanning all the way into 1979.
One of the National Military Command Center (NMCC) releases included a 20th of April, 1979, “Memorandum For The Record” with the dry subject–line “NORAD Unknown Air Activity”. Signed by the NMCC’s Deputy Director for Operations (DDO), Brig. Gen. Dan A. Brooksher, USAF, the memorandum reads:
“Subject: NORAD Unknown Air Activity
At 201602 EST April 1979 NORAD declared track H443 unknown. A single unidentified object was approximately 70 NM south of Homestead AFB, FL heading northwest at 170 knots. One USAF F–4 was scrambled from Homestead to intercept. Prior to intercept, the unknown faded from radar at 201648 EST approximately 90 NM southwest of Homestead. Heavy cloud cover in the area hampered successful intercept. This object will remain a NORAD unknown.”
While there is nothing to indicate this was anything but a stray aircraft, or, an aircraft failing to communicate with ground authorities, it is unusual that this particular event was released as a result of an FOI request specifically stipulating “unidentified flying object” and “UFO” records. NORAD picks up hundreds of uncooperative or unidentified aircraft every year. These are labelled “Unknown Tracks” until identified, and, if not identified, an unknown track will be tagged as a “NORAD Remaining Unknown”. As yet, we don’t have declassified NORAD unknown track data for 1979, so it is impossible to ascertain just how unusual the above detailed incident was. As a comparison however, a Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) historical publication, titled “History of the 11th Tactical Control Group, January – Septamber, 1986, Volume I of IV”, states that NORAD’s Alaskan Air Command (NORAD–AAC), logged twenty–seven “unknowns” during a nine month period alone. So, it is fair to say that NORAD assets, across the whole of the United States, log a very large number of aircraft detections which remain unknown or unidentified.
Why the NMCC’s 20th of April, 1979 memorandum was especially selected as a UFO–related record is somewhat uncertain. Probably, however, the record was included as responsive to Robert Todd’s FOI request simply because it contained the term “unidentified object”. Also, during 1978 and 1979, Todd submitted dozens of FOI requests to the 20th NORAD Region (20NR) for copies daily “Senior Command Directors Logs” which specifically contained the terms “UFO” and “unidentified flying object”. Based at Fort Lee Air Force Station, Virginia, the 20NR was responsible for air defence and aerospace surveillance across the south–eastern United States. Todd’s dogged FOI submissions to 20NR’s Director of Administration, Brig. Gen. F. A. Humphrey’s, did reveal numerous “UFO” cases held in 20NR Senior Command Director’s files, but the above mentioned “NORAD Unknown Air Activity” case revealed in the NMCC memorandum is not one of them. Finally, whatever the actual flying “object” was, it unquestionably represents an occasion where combat jets were scrambled to intercept something that falls into the “UFO” category. Also, various NORAD instructional regulations, including “NORAD Operational Regulation 55–7 Unknown Track / Unknown Object Reporting” and “NORAD/ADCOM Manual 55–19, Vol. VII, Aerospace Reporting System”, required that “UFO” or “unknown object” events be recorded on a “NORAD Form 61 Unknown Track Report” form. In some instances, commanders were required to submit an OPREP–3 report to NORAD’s Combat Operations Center (NCOC) in Colorado. So there is little doubt that the 20th of April, 1979 incident would have created more paperwork. Later FOI requests with NORAD, however, came up empty–handed. The NMCC memorandum is imaged below.
Three years beforehand, in 1976, the National Military Command Center (NMCC), received a report from Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico on January the 21st. Signed by the NMCC’s Deputy Director of Operations, Rear Adm. J. B. Morin, is a “Memorandum For The Record” which states:
“Subject: Report of UFO – Cannon AFB NM
Reference: AFOC Phonecon 2105 EST Jan 76
The following information was received from the Air Force Operations Center at 0555 EST:
“Two UFOs are reported near the flight line at Cannon AFB, New Mexico. Security Police observing them reported the UFOs to be 25 yards in diameter, gold or silver in color with blue light on top, hole in the middle and red light on bottom. Air Force is checking with radar. Additionally, checking weather inversion data.”.”
There isn’t enough information here to speculate on what these objects were. Taken at face value though, the security police personnel were obviously alarmed enough to report the sighting, and, the report was taken seriously enough to be logged with the USAF’s Operations Center at the Pentagon, who then forwarded it to the NMCC. In the 1970’s, Cannon AFB hosted the huge 27th Tactical Fighter Wing (27thTFW), which was assigned to the USAF’s Tactical Air Command (TAC). The fact that “two UFOs” were ostensibly active right where the 27thTFW’s five squadrons of F–111 fighter–bombers operate from is clearly of grave concern, and must have generated paperwork. Further FOI requests by Robert Todd, however, met with denials. Also, the NMCC memorandum states that the Air Force was both “checking with radar” and “checking weather inversion data”. In other words, some level of investigation was being performed. The NMCC memorandum in question is imaged below.
Just ten days later, on January 31, 1976, the NMCC handled a UFO report from Eglin AFB, Florida. Yet again, a “Memorandum For The Record” was immediately produced and signed by Fred. Brig. Gen. A. Treyz, USAF, the NMCC’s on–duty Deputy Director of Operations (DDO). It reads:
“Subject: Unidentified Flying Object Sighting
1. At 310805 received phoncon from AFOC: MG Lane, CG, Armament and Development Test Center, Eglin AFB, Florida, called and reported a UFO sighting from 0430 EST to 0600 EST. Security policemen spotted lights from what they called a UFO near an Eglin radar site.
2 Photographs of the lights were taken. The Eglin Office of Information has made a press release on the UFO.
3. The temperature inversion analysis indicated no significant temperature inversion at Eglin AFB at that time. The only inversion present was due to radiation from the surface to 2500 feet. The Eglin surface conditions were clear skies, visibility 10–14 miles, calm winds, shallow ground fog on the runway, and a surface temperature of 44 degrees F.”
While interesting at first glance, this sighting appears to have been stimulated by something far less provocative than a flying object or other unfamiliar phenomenon. An extract from the NORAD Headquarters “Command Director’s Log”, obtained by both Todd Zechel and Barry Greenwood under the FOI Act, contains further information not presented in the NMCC memorandum:
“The Command Post received a UFO report from Eglin, FL, that Duke Field personnel saw a row of lights with a central white light at 1043. The lights were about 2° above the horizon at a zenith of 350°, range unknown. A later report (1245) states that further investigation in daylight indicated that the lights were probably on a building.”
So it appears that the “UFO” may well have been nothing more than lights on a building. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that the NMCC “Memorandum for the Record” is dated several hours after NORAD was notified that “…further investigation in daylight indicated that the lights were probably on a building…”, yet makes no mention of this apparently simple solution. In all likelihood, some sort of miscommunication or bureaucratic lethargy at the NMCC was the cause of this oversight. Another issue worth noting is that the lights–on–a–building explanation isn’t entirely definitive. The NORAD extract states that daytime investigation “indicated” that the lights were “probably” on a building, and, one may ask why a row of lights on a building, unless brand new, had never been noticed before. Without more records, or detailed witness statements, one will never know. The NMCC memorandum also refers to photographs being taken of the lights, but when Robert Todd submitted FOI requests to the Air Force Office of Special Investigation, Detachment 710, which was based at Eglin AFB, as well as the Eglin Command Post, there was a total denial that any photographs even existed. The NMCC “Memorandum For The Record” is imaged below.
In the early hours of the morning, on the 30th of July, 1976, the Command Post (CP) at Fort Ritchie, Maryland reported a series of UFO sightings to the Alternate National Military Command Center (ANMCC) in Pennsylvania. The ANMCC called the NMCC to inform them of the situation. The events were summarised in a two–page NMCC “Memoraundum For The Record”, and signed by USMC Brig. Gen. L. J. Leblanc, the on–duty Deputy Director of Operations. It states:
“Subject: Reports of Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs)
1. At approximately 0345 EOT, the ANMCC called to indicate they had received several reports of UFOs in the vicinity of Fort Ritchie. The following events summarize the reports (times are approximate).
a. 0130 – Civilians reported a UFO sighting near Mt. Airy, Md. This information was obtained via a call from the National Aeronautics Board (?) to the Fort Ritchie Military Police.
b. 0255 – Two separate patrols from Site R reported sighting 3 oblong objects with a reddish tint, moving east to west. Personnel were located at separate locations on top of the mountain at Site R.
c. 0300 – Desk Sgt. at Site R went to the top of the Site R mountain and observed a UFO over the ammo storage area at 100–200 yards altitude.
d. 0345 – An Army Police Sgt. on the way to work at Site R reported sighting a UFO in the vicinity of Site R.
2. ANMCC was requested to have each individual write a statement on the sightings. One individual stated the object was about the size of a 2 1/2 ton truck.
3. Based on a JCS memorandum, subject: Temperature Inversion Analysis, dated 13 November 1975, the NMCC contacted the Air Force Global Weather Central. The Duty Officer, LTC OVERBY, reported that the Dulles International Airport observations showed two temperature inversions existed at the time of the alleged sightings. The first extended from the surface to 1,000 feet absolute and the second existed between 27,000 and 30,000 feet, absolute. He also said the atmosphere between 12,000 and 20,000 feet was heavily saturated with moisture. A hard copy message will follow.”
It is very difficult, on this limited information, to assess what the witnesses were seeing. For the purposes of my study here, the sightings themselves are of secondary importance. What is important, yet again, is that “unidentified flying objects” and “UFOs” were being reported and collated by a number of top–echelon commands, and, moreover, there was immediate weather analysis performed by Air Force Global Weather Central (AFGWC) for the NMCC. Furthermore, the ANMCC was asked “…to have to have each individual write a statement on the sightings…”. Requests under the FOI Act for further documentation, however, were met with suspicious denials. The fact that “…one UFO was the size of a 2 1/2 ton truck…” and three “oblong objects with a reddish tint” strongly indicates that a full collection of reports, written and signed by the many witnesses, would be rather interesting. No wonder nothing more was released. The fact that one witnesses “observed a UFO over the ammo storage area”, seemingly at close range, is especially provocative, and reminds us of the spooky events at Loring AFB, Wurthsmith AFB and Malmstrom AFB nine months earlier. As for prompt investigation, the memorandum states that two temperature inversions were reported over the area at the time. Such weather activity, however, occurs ceaselessly, and does not produce endless and specific sightings, and certainly not from various defined locations. I have imaged the two–page NMCC “Memorandum For The Record” below.
As I have highlighted, Robert Todd had the Office of the Organisation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (OJCS) release these NMCC records through the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defence. He was not the first, however. Barry Greenwood had already accessed most of them a full two years earlier. Greenwood was originally denied many of the records, especially the NMCC “DDO Talkers” and “DDO Updates” that I presented in Part 6 of this series. With persistence, Greenwood used the FOI Act Appeals process to gain access to most of the previously withheld records. It is possible, of course, that other sensitive record were found, but not admitted to at all. Considering what had been released up until the beginning of 1980, Robert Todd attempted to take matters one final step further. In the two years of furious FOI requesting, researchers had not yet asked the OJCS for UFO records dated before 1975. Also, Todd wondered, for reasons unknown, if the NMCC’s file searching for the period of January, 1976, to June ,1977, had been adequate. So, on the 13th of February, 1980, Todd submitted an FOI request to the OJCS asking that another series of searches be conducted. Rather than asking for the entire OJCS file archive to be searched, Todd stipulated that only NMCC and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) files be examined. Todd could have asked that all Joint Cheifs of Staff (JCS) files be checked, but for some reason he chose to have just CJCS searches performed. His most bold requirement, however, was that a search of all records, no matter what the date, created before February, 1976 be examined. This meant, firstly, that 1975 files would be searched again, and, secondly, that files dating to as far back as the NMCC and CJCS actually store files before custody is relinquished to permanent archives.
On the 25th of February, 1980, Charles W. Hinkle, the Director, Freedom of Information and Security Review at the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defence, replied to Todd’s request in a two page letter. The letter states, in part:
“a. As stated in the response to 79–DFOI–1071, the OJCS searched NMCC records for the period 1 January 1976 to 30 November 1979, and all documents pertaining to UFOs and aircraft scrambles against unknown air aircraft were identified and released. Repetition of a search of NMCC records dated between January 1976 and June 1977 to identify records on aircraft scrambles is therefore unnecessary.
b. There are 23 linear feet (roughly 80,000 pages) of NMCC records dated prior to February 1976. To identify documents relevant to the request would require a page–by–page review and would consume at least 400 hours. The costs would probably be between $2200.00–$4400.00, depending on the actual time taken and the pay grade of the individuals available to conduct the search.
c. A search of the approximately 542 linear feet of CJCS records (1.8 million pages) for references to UFO’s could take as much as 10,000 hours, and would cost over $50,000.00.”
Understandably, the OJCS did not want to search records already looked at previously. More importantly, it was identified that the NMCC held 80,000 pages of records dating back to an undisclosed time, and the CJCS held 1.8 million pages. In his reply, Charles W. Hinkle didn’t elaborate on just how long either the NMCC or the CJCS retained records for, but chances are, from experience with other government organisations, it would have been many years. If Robert Todd could have afforded the cost of such a lengthy examination of such files, who knows what would have been found. Page 1 of the Charles W. Hinkle’s reply is imaged below.
In summary, I have highlight, both here and in Part 6 of this series, myriad records of Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and National Military Command Center (NMCC) origin, which incontrovertibly demonstrate an on–going and high–level concern over “UFO” and “unidentified flying object” incidents in the vicinity of sensitive military installations. These are terms they used, and they used them explicitly and frequently, to put it mildly. It is amazing many of these records were revealed at all. Through 1977 and 1978, internal OJCS memoranda recurrently reveal that a trio of officials wanted as little documentation released as possible. Thomas B. Ross, the Assistant Secretary of Defence for Public Affairs, as well as USMC Lt. Gen. Philip D. Shutler and USAF Gen. James E. Dalton, who both held the role of Vice Director of the Joint Staff at various times, personally dealt with the mounting FOI requests, and subsequent appeals, slung at the OJCS by Barry Greenwood, Todd Zechel and Robert Todd. The provisions of document declassification and public release, outlined in the FOI Act, were enough to force the OJCS to surrender a very significant quantity of material, as we have seen.
As for the actual UFO’s, there is rarely enough information in these brief records to establish what, if anything, was actually flying around. Certainly, though, those on the bases, and up the chain of command, thought that intrusive, unpredictable craft were actually active over some of America’s most strategically vital military installations. Moreover, not a single released document has even remotely pointed to a solution. If helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft, bright stars and the like were somehow responsible for every single UFO report, then those whose job it is to solve the matter and out it to rest, failed profoundly. The resources of the Strategic Air Command (SAC), the Air Force Office of Special Investigation (AFOSI), the 8th Air Force (8thAF), the Air Force Intelligence Service (AFIS), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and a not–insignificant number of other alarmed government entities, were obviously no match for whatever was apparently making somewhat of a mockery of the most sophisticated armed forces in human history.
This has been, and will continue to be, the main focus of my research for some time. The often repeated statement that the US government, especially the military, was not handling and investigating serious UFO cases after the closure of Project Blue Book in 1970 is, in the face of the documents I continue to present, is puerile and embarrassing. In Part 8 of this series, I will move on to how the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) and Aerospace Defence Command (ADCOM) handled the weird “over flights” of 1975 and 1976.