Leslie Kean's recently released book, UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go on the Record, has been lauded as one of the best-ever presentations of the case for serious UFO research. Based on a ten-year investigation, investigative journalist Kean’s book ignores the 95 percent of sightings that can be explained as ordinary phenomena, and instead focuses on the remaining 5 percent, extracting the best cases for which investigators could find no conventional explanation. Along with her own excellent analyses and commentary, Kean brings together almost 20 highly credible military and government witnesses and investigators – including five generals, skilled military aviators, and a former U.S. governor – to give their own personal accounts of their own extraordinary encounters. Additionally, John Podesta - White House Chief of Staff to President Clinton and co-chair of President Obama’s transition team - provides the foreword.
TDG: Leslie, UFOs comes with some heavyweight backing - John Podesta wrote the foreword, and the likes of Michio Kaku have described the book as being "bound to set the gold standard for UFO research". What sets it apart from other UFO books?
Leslie Kean: Here are four things that come to mind:
1. The book contains original pieces by 18 contributors (17 pieces) – first person accounts by some of the most credentialed people in the world, including five Generals. The fact that they are writing in their own words sets this book apart – these are not mere reports on cases, or quotes from those involved, these are actual chapters written by the key players describing what they saw, what they felt, what they learned, as only they can do…and the character of each writer is preserved through his writing. Instead of transcriptions of rambling interviews, these are carefully crafted narratives that went through many drafts. Working with the contributors took a great deal of time, focus and communication…they comprise about half the book.
2. The book includes only material that is well-documented and factual, at a high journalistic standard. It’s carefully reasoned and analyzed, and there are no untoward claims made or far-fetched conclusions drawn. Therefore, people like Podesta and Kaku can stand behind it. It’s also very readable, written by a trained journalist and writer with a publishing track record, and not by a UFO researcher, “ufologist,” self-proclaimed UFO expert, or a scientist. My job has been to discern what material is valid and what isn’t, by journalistic standards, and what would be interesting and convincing to the uninitiated reader. With a subject like UFOs, one has to be extremely careful how it’s presented, and I’m trying to reach government officials, so it’s crucial here. One also cannot overload the reader with extensive detail. Most mainstream journalists stay far away from this subject because it is a minefield. I’ve separated the wheat from the chaff, and I hope other journalists will now find it easier to make headway on the subject.
My book was not written for people who already know the UFO subject, although the UFO community has been very pleased with it and written rave reviews. In my narrative, I present the information as new and exciting, because that’s how it was to me when I first discovered it. For the average person, it’s breaking news. For those who already know the subject, some of it will be familiar, and some not. I worked hard to make the writing and the flow of material compelling for any intelligent skeptic or curious newcomer to this issue.
3. With the backing of a group of officials, I propose a plan for U.S. government policy change that I think is unique, at least at this particular time. The approach is explained in the book – and I believe it could be effective, and has a good chance of bearing fruit. I hope people can understand the logic of this plan when they read the book.
4. UFOs has been released by a major publisher – an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House – which is unusual for a book on this topic. My publisher has provided great editors and a full professional team, holding the work to high standard and helping to make it the best book possible. Crown also has an outstanding publicity and marketing department, which has been working on getting the book out there for months, and is well connected to the mainstream media. Since the finished work carries a certain added stature among the political/media establishment simply by virtue of its publisher, it has a good chance of reaching a wide, mainstream audience.
TDG: As you mentioned, the book contains 17 first-person UFO accounts by witnesses with impeccable credentials. Additionally, some of their sightings are – quite simply – incredible. These aren’t “I saw a blinking light in the sky”: you’ve got fighter pilots engaging at close quarters with these things, noting they were capable of ‘impossible’ manoeuvres and able to affect their weapons and communication systems; Belgian Major General Wilfried De Brouwer pointing out the number and caliber of close-up sightings of the ‘flying triangles’ seen over his country two decades ago; and Jean-Jacques Velasco discussing his more-than-twenty years experience in charge of the French government’s UFO agency. You said above that you “separated the wheat from the chaff” - how did you choose what you were going to include in the book ? Was it more important that the case had certain levels of evidence (e.g. multiple witnesses, radar returns), or was your priority simply to feature witnesses from high levels of the military or government?
Leslie Kean: Both of these criteria were important, and others were as well. The selections involved a combination of many considerations, such as: the physical and aviation evidence in combination with how many other credible witnesses viewed the event; the stature or ranking of the person writing the chapter; the existence of bona fide government documents about the incident; whether there was a published scientific study, or a paper by a scientific investigator, on the incident; U.S. government involvement; whether I knew the writer personally. I also wanted cases as recent as possible – all of the ones in the book occurred after the close of Project Blue Book. And an officially-analyzed photograph is also a real bonus, such as the one for the Belgian case.
TDG: You come from an investigative journalism background. Do you think this gives you a unique qualification for searching for the truth about government interest in UFOs?
Leslie Kean: The facts about government interest in UFOs are pretty hard to nail down, for anyone. I explored both sides of the cover-up question in the book, but I still didn’t come up with a black-and-white answer. Probably government insiders are the most qualified…if they can be trusted. And even then, they don’t go on the record, which makes their information impossible to bring forward with any impact. Perhaps some insiders will now be willing to put their names out there. We’ll see what happens.
TDG: Your qualification there about government sources – “if they can be trusted” – is interesting. Another recently released book on the UFO topic (Mirage Men) discusses the involvement of intelligence agencies in propagating a ‘UFO myth’ , perhaps to act as a cover for testing of advanced technologies by the military. Were you concerned that any of the contributors or cases featured in UFOs could likewise have been telling a false story to further their own agendas?
Leslie Kean: No, I wasn’t, or I wouldn’t have included them in the book. I don’t doubt the integrity or honesty of any of the writers for UFOs. These men want the same thing all of us do: an answer to the puzzle of what these objects are and where they come from.
TDG: I make that point because the quality of these accounts seemingly removes any middle ground in explanations – either all these witnesses are telling a huge lie (or confabulating minor experiences to an incredible degree), or there are technologically advanced craft defying the laws of physics flying around in our skies. Do you think there are other options? And how do you think UFO skeptics will react to the book?
Leslie Kean: No, I don’t think there are other options, and the option of all of them lying just isn’t possible, so that really isn’t an option. There is too much corroboration; this is not just about one person reporting on each case. And did the U.S. government lie in its documentation – say, for example, in its 3 page report on the Iranian case of 1976? A more rational middle ground is the possibility that each case can be explained somehow, each one being different. But it seems to me that people like Major General De Brouwer, Brigadier General Pereira and UK MoD official Nick Pope, who did everything they could to find out what the objects were in very strong cases, would have been able to find explanations if there were any. And you see this happening consistently and independently around the world. I’m afraid we’re stuck with a problem here, and our options are limited. When you say “UFO skeptic” I assume you mean debunker – the hard core ones will probably not be budged by anything, and I think many will refuse to read the book. (If they do read it, they’ll be in trouble!) The genuine open-minded skeptics will hopefully be given something to think about, and will likely become convinced that there is evidence here worthy of consideration.
TDG: As I mentioned, Michio Kaku described your book as the "gold standard" for UFO books. Does any one UFO case stand out for you as the ‘gold standard’ that should be first on the table when arguing for the validity of UFO research?
Leslie Kean: There are many cases that stand out. I would argue especially for the Rendlesham Forest Incident of 1980, the Belgian UFO wave 1989/90, the Japan Airlines case over Alaska of 1986, and the Iranian Air Force case of 1976. The principle players in these 4 cases have all written detailed accounts of their experiences for the book. But these are simply the best known ones, for which we have much data, and which have been scrutinized over the years. I’m sure there are many others that we don’t know as much as about, but are equally extraordinary. Imagine the many events that must have occurred in countries around the world, which were well-documented locally but have never been brought forward.
TDG: You came to prominence in the UFO community with a long-running pursuit of NASA files on the Kecksburg Incident. What did that experience teach you about the involvement of government agencies in investigating and reporting UFO sightings?
Leslie Kean: We didn’t learn much that was new about the government’s role in the Kecksburg event. We did learn that the information is still classified (which it shouldn’t be after over 40 years), or it’s stored somewhere other than where were looking. But importantly, the NASA lawsuit illustrated what we’re up against as citizens using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and how hard it is to acquire documents that are rightfully ours under the law. Much of our history is not available to public researchers. When we sent our first FOIA request to NASA with a list of five specific search items, the agency replied that it had no documents responsive to our request. This simply wasn’t true, as was shown later. But it required a formal appeal and then a federal lawsuit to bring about the release of hundreds of documents, responsive to our initial request and therefore rightfully ours under the law. For more information about this, see my final report on the lawsuit at www.freedomofinfo.org
TDG: You've previously noted that to affect public policy on this controversial issue, we need to tread more carefully and not scare off policy makers with outlandish claims. How does ufology achieve that though, when most of the serious researchers are drowned out by the publicity-seekers?
Leslie Kean: This is a tough problem for which there is no simple answer. There is no central body which regulates or oversees what goes out to the media – it’s a free-for-all circus out there. Many serious researchers are working too hard to bother with media or publicity in the first place. The only answer is to find a way for the legitimate material to speak louder than the frivolous, and to be recognized by policy-makers as something standing apart from the noise. Though policy makers don’t pay attention to the silly stuff, the media likes to use it for the ridicule mill. As a journalist reporting within the mainstream and also as one making news through the Kecksburg initiative and NASA lawsuit, it has been my primary goal to bring forward the most serious, credible information we have, and not to overstate anything. I’ve had great guidance from many people along the way. I’m hoping the book – the culmination of my ten years of work with the UFO subject - will now do that in a bigger way than anything I’ve done before.
TDG: Has researching and writing this book changed your opinion about what UFOs might be?
Leslie Kean: It has given me more conviction that UFOs can not be explained as something familiar or conventional, something man made. We have to remember that we’re only talking about 5% of all sightings reported…but there are enough well-documented, officially-investigated cases within that 5% to establish the existence of the unexplained objects without question. And reading the firsthand accounts of those involved can make your hair stand on end have tremendous power and credibility. Writing the book, which forced me to think more deeply about many aspects of the UFO mystery, also increased my sense of urgency that we find out what they are, through an organized, proactive scientific investigation. The US government must participate for this to work. We can, and we will, learn a lot more about UFOs, and I believe the mystery can be solved to the satisfaction of the world community.
TDG: Thanks for taking time to talk to The Daily Grail Leslie, and all the best for the success of this book.