Beta Male

Greg Bishop. Project Beta: The Story of Paul Bennewitz, National Security and the Creation of a Modern UFO myth. Paraview/Pocket, 2005.

This is the story, or perhaps one should a say, a story of the one of the murkiest episodes in the murky world of US ufology. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Paul Bennewitz, a physicist and businessman from Albuquerque, New Mexico, became involved in some of the weirder fringes of ufology. This began when he started dealing with an alleged abductee, Myrna Hansen. In those days, before Budd Hopkins had told ufologists what the right UFO abduction scenario was, pretty much anything went, and Ms Hansen's story featured tales of cattle mutilation, human body parts and other things no longer ufologically correct.

Somewhere along the line Bennewitz got the idea that Ms Hansen was being controlled by the aliens, and that he had found a way to intercept these signals. Only, the story goes, these signals were not from mind-controlling aliens at all, but were in fact the result of accidental eavesdropping on some oh- so- secret government project. Indeed Bennewitz in his blundering about and taking photographs here and there, was in danger of exposing more than one little Cold War secret.

What to do about this? One thing would have been to approach Bennewitz and advise him that what he was uncovering had nothing to do with ETs but everything to do with more prosaic matters of national security, and to please, on his honour as a patriot, keep quiet. However, either because they reckoned that he was too far gone already to be amenable to reason, or just because, being spies, all that was just too mundane for them, they decided on another course of action. Bennewitz was teetering on the edge, half nuts already, why not just push him over the edge?

So a guy called Richard Doty is sent in to befriend him, and other agents monitor him. The secrecy guys also get ufologist William Moore on line. Heaven forbid that Moore does his part for nasty old dollars, no, he is doing this so that he can monitor what the government is up to. The spooks then set up Bennewitz with some sort of fake equipment which is primed to tell an incredible Z-movie script involving double dealing aliens and women and God and such like things. After a year or so of this the poor old chump finally went completely nuts and was sent away to the funny farm for a while, and wisely dropped ufology on his release. Meanwhile Doty and chums, who used names like Falcon and Condor, moved on to gullible TV producer Linda Moulton Howe who specialised in TV programmes featuring mutilated cattle, and seem to have had some hand in the MJ12 hoax, and the wild tales told by Lear and Cooper. All this comes to light when Moore confesses at a MUFON conference, with the result that ufologists run out in tears and nearly throw chairs at him.

That's roughly the story that Bishop tells. The problem for your humble book reviewer is that there appears to no way of knowing whether, or what part of this story is true, or whether it is just another smokescreen. It seems to depend on the testimony of self-confessed liars such as Moore and Doty, and the suspicion must remain that the grand conspiracy might have been a freelance job by these two and a couple of mates for no other reason than the fun of messing with ufologists heads, and when things get out of control saying that you were working for the secret state on some terribly important mission might be a way of salvaging your conscience.

Of course, on this occasion Moore and Doty might actually be telling the truth, in which case one can ask whether Bennewitz was the first victim of such a sting. Greg Bishop only very lightly touches on this, with a tantalising mention of Gulf Breeze and the perhaps rather convenient Mr Ed photos, endorsed by Navy physicist Bruce Macabee; of course Brucie may well have just been a gullible guy, entranced by the Eds, or a greedy one entranced by the advance, but one wonders.

One can also wonder about Betty and Barney Hill. People you just know the FBI would have been trailing (a mixed race, politically active couple in 1961, come on!). Was Betty another character they knew they could send over the edge with a gentle push? Then there was anti-nuclear activist, environmental campaigner and supporter of many a radical cause, James Macdonald, a guy who looked like a small-town bank manger and not anything like a long haired hippy, the sort of person who could perhaps have added gravitas and respectability to some pretty unpopular - to the ruling class - causes. Feeding his interest in ufology might have seemed a very convenient way to keep him out of mischief. Then there are the quite extraordinary steps taken by the British and American authorities to promote the Rendlesham UFO story.

Be it ever so dark, it happened during the Cold War. Or not. -- Peter Rogerson (First published in Magonia 89, August 2005)

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