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Article 5: Fortean Times 209 (May 2006)

by Mark Pilkington

Rumours of an ET-human exchange programme in the 1960s have set the Internet's UFO community aflame. Is it a hoax, a reality, or something in between? MARK PILKINGTON reports.

"First let me introduce myself. My name is Request Anonymous. I am a retired employee of the U.S. Government. I won't go into any great details about my past, but I was involved in a special program..."

So began the email received on 1 November 2005 by Victor Martinez, a substitute teacher on America's West Coast who runs what must be one of the most remarkable mailing lists in our Solar System. Its 200 or so members make up a veritable Who's Who of scientists, military personnel and intelligence officers known to have had an interest, or more often than not, a direct involvement in the UFO phenomenon over the past 30 years. Here you'll find one-time and current US government remote viewers, disinformation agents, employees of the CIA, DIA and NSA, 'free energy' researchers, theoretical physicists and venture capitalists, plus a healthy smattering of mystics, witches, hoaxers, contactees, abductees and, of course, representatives of the media.

Then there's Request Anonymous - henceforth to be known simply as Anonymous. According to Martinez, Anonymous had been monitoring the list for about six months before dropping his bombshell. As yet, nobody knows who Anonymous is, though several educated guesses have been mooted by the list's insiders. Martinez hasn't tried too hard to find out, remaining pragmatic on the identity issue: "If word ever got back to [Anonymous] that I was trying to ID him, he would simply have packed up his bags and found another UFO list moderator to release his incredible story through."

And incredible is the right word to describe Anonymous's account, which, between November 2005 and February 2006, currently spans 15 emails and over 20,000 words.

Anonymous claims to be drawing his information from a 3,000-page report compiled in the late 1970s. Where this hefty tome currently resides we don't know, but it's not at your local library. The salient facts are as follows:

The 1947 crash of not one but two ET spacecraft in New Mexico - the event known since the late 1970s as the Roswell incident - left six ETs dead and one survivor. The remains of their craft were taken to Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, while the surviving ET, nicknamed EBE 1, was installed at Los Alamos Laboratories in New Mexico, where he lived until 1952. During this time he made contact with his home planet and preparations were made for a controlled landing of an ET craft, which took place on 24 April 1964 in the White Sands Missile Range - an event known in UFO history as the Holloman Landing (curiously dubbed Humanoid-Organisms-Allegedly-Extraterrestrial, or HOAEX, in one 1974 report).

About 18 months before the projected landing was due to occur, President Kennedy - who, some say, was killed before he could reveal the truth about UFOs - authorised a foreign exchange of cosmic proportions. A team of 12 specially trained humans (there's some debate as to whether two of them were women) whose identities were subsequently erased, would return with the ETs to their home planet. In 1965, the Exchange Team took off while another ET, EBE 2, remained on Earth.

Named SERPO by the human visitors, the ETs' planet is 38 light years from Earth, in the Zeta Reticuli star system (famed in UFO lore since the 1962 Betty and Barney Hill alien abduction story). SERPO is a little smaller than Earth and has two suns. It is hot, flat and dry, harsh but habitable, especially in the cooler northern regions where the humans eventually made their home. The Team spent 13 years on SERPO where, despite a few misadventures, they were welcomed by the Ebens, as they are dubbed by Anonymous.

Further emails provided more details. There were about 650,000 Ebens on SERPO, living in about 100 small, autonomous communities around the planet. There was no centralised government, though there was one large, central community that served as a hub for Eben industry and resources. All Ebens worked and were, in return, supplied with what they needed to live their Spartan but happy lives. Crime was non-existent in their quasi-socialist utopia, but war was not. 3,000 years ago, the Ebens had fought a vast, 100-year interplanetary conflict with the civilisation of another planet, which they had annihilated. Since then, the Ebens had been intergalactic drifters, visiting a number of other species and civilisations, including our own, before settling on their current home planet. Curiously, while we are provided with a wealth of detail about the Ebens' culture, their living habits, even their digestive systems, we're never given a description of what they look like, perhaps because the people reading the report already knew what they looked like - there was an Eben at Los Alamos after all. The report includes a number of photographs, which Anonymous has promised to share with us, though none has yet emerged.

By the time the human team returned to Earth in 1978, two of their number had died. Two chose to remain on SERPO, and stayed in contact with the Earth until 1988. It was discovered that those team members who did return had been exposed to relatively high doses of radiation on SERPO, and it was this that ultimately killed them - the last one in Florida in 2002.

Rather than being greeted with incredulous laughter, Anonymous's first post was immediately verified by two members of Martinez's list - Paul McGovern and Gene Lakes (aka Loscowski) - who provided some significant extra background detail. McGovern has been identified as a former DIA security chief, stationed at Area 51. Lakes appears to be another DIA insider.

Their credentials sound impressive, but have yet to be verified outside the confines of the online UFO community. Others on the Martinez list who verified the SERPO story included former Air Force Office Of Special investigations special agent Richard Doty, well known for his role in spreading disinformation within the UFO community during the early 1980s, though he insists that he has no role to play in this current arena.

Further support for the SERPO exchange came from within the wider UFO community. On the Coast to Coast radio show, Communion author Whitley Strieber described meeting an old man at a UFO convention in the 1990s. The man told Strieber he had been to another planet before muttering what Strieber thought was the word 'Serpico' (the name of a 1973 thriller starring Al Pacino, who is not currently suspected of playing a part in the UFO conspiracy).

As excitement about the SERPO revelations began to spread, an English-Canadian management consultant and personal development trainer named Bill Ryan offered to set up a web site (www.serpo.org) as a clearinghouse for Anonymous's information. He also, bravely, and perhaps foolishly, took on the role of SERPO's front man. While no stranger to fringe beliefs and ideas - he admits to having dated a woman he believed to be an extraterrestrial - Ryan was a newcomer to the UFO scene. SERPO has been his trial by fire, and he has since been accused of being a hoaxer, a government agent and a Scientologist. But he continues his work unbowed and remains convinced that SERPO is worth pursuing. "I think a simple hoax or a prank can absolutely be ruled out," he says. "It's too complex for that, and there's too much circumstantial corroboration. Misinformation falls into the same category - that would mean it's all false. But it could be disinformation. That means part truth, part fiction. And the fiction part could be as little as five per cent for the entire story to be thrown off-kilter."

Indeed, even once you've got past the central plank of the story there are a number of problems with the material. Anonymous provided fairly detailed astronomical data about SERPO, allegedly assembled for the SERPO report by a reluctant Carl Sagan. Unfortunately, much of this data has been shown to be highly improbable. For example, the planet's alleged orbital period around one of its two suns contradicts Kepler's Laws for the motion of planets. SERPO's supporters say these wouldn't necessarily apply to planets in other solar systems, particularly those with two suns.

Rather than sensing a snake in the grass, Bill Ryan feels that such inconsistencies detract from the likelihood of this being a hoax for hoaxing's sake. He reasons that someone who would take the time to fashion such an elaborate tale wouldn't have to work that much harder to get their astronomical facts straight. But focusing on such fine detail distracts - perhaps as a good disinformation programme should - from the larger question. Is America in contact with an extraterrestrial race, and did it send some of its own to the ETs' planet? The answer is that we simply don't know, though the possibility of such an exchange raises a number of rather obvious questions. If the SERPO exchange did take place, what exactly did the US get out of it? Why are we wasting our time fighting wars over obsolete fossil fuel technologies and building expensive space stations and telescopes?

While it's true that the revelation of a limitless, free energy source of some kind would be likely to bring the world's economy to its knees, it's hard to imagine that the revelation of an ET contact would be particularly devastating. The US public has absorbed far more shocking incidents, like the US government's admission of its role in conducting radiation and mind-control experiments from the 1940s onwards.

It simply doesn't make sense. Instead we have to approach the SERPO material as part of an ongoing narrative - that of the UFO mythology.

When we consider the SERPO story, there's really very little there that isn't already present in UFO lore. The Roswell material needs no introduction, even if the details are slightly different from those usually touted in the literature. Likewise the Holloman AFB landing features in any good overview of the subject, though the given dates vary depending what source you read: sometimes 1964, sometimes 1971. The name given to the planet, SERPO, can be drawn from this same event. According to some sources, the large-nosed, humanoid aliens who landed on that occasion sported jumpsuits bearing insignia made up of three lines and a winged serpent. This symbol led the late conspiracy theorist William Cooper to connect them to the international think tank the Trilateral Commission; the winged serpent could also be the Mesoamerican god Quetzalcoatl, but that's another story.

Elsewhere in the SERPO material we get references to the Ebens being keen dancers - Whitley Strieber's aliens also enjoyed the occasional shuffle - and singing like Tibetan monks. This refers to the often-ridiculed statement made on an infamous 1989 US TV show, UFO Coverup Live, possibly by Richard Doty himself, that the ET living at Los Alamos enjoyed listening to recordings of Tibetan chanting. He was also partial to strawberry ice cream. There is no mention of such treats on SERPO, though the Ebens apparently ate sweet fruits, as well as numerous vegetables and something like bread.

Other details in the SERPO report previously surfaced in material from the late 1980s and early 1990s, disseminated by the likes of Bill Cooper, Richard Doty, Bob Lazar; John Lear, 'Branton', OH Krill (thought to be John Lear and an accomplice) and others. A key element is the Ebens' own involvement in developing humankind here on Earth, both through genetic seeding and 'teachers' who visited our planet, notably one who dropped by some 2,000 years ago. This extraterrestrial re-weaving of religious myth dates back to the very earliest days of ufology, but was also revived in the early 1980s. It is a key theme of 'The Yellow Book', an ET history of the Earth, contained in a holographic device allegedly seen by Richard Doty, Bob Lazar and others; it also figures prominently in the SERPO material.

But the clearest precedent for the story is Steven Spielberg's 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which climaxes with a number of military personnel entering the ET craft, along with the Richard Dreyfuss character, at a secret landing site. Leaving aside the Jesus-like pose Dreyfuss takes on as he is carried, arms outstretched, into the giant disco ball spacecraft, SERPO-watchers have wondered aloud whether the timing of the film's release, just one year before the Exchange Team returned from the Eben planet, was more than coincidence. Since its release, the film has been surrounded by rumours that it was based on real events and, like the Day the Earth Stood Still in 1951, was part of an ongoing programme to acclimatise us to the reality of extraterrestrial contact.

So is the SERPO story the bigger picture that all these previous insider releases of information have been leading towards, or is it just a cunning weave of pre-existing lore into an alluring new package? One can argue the finer points until the Ebens come home, and people have done so on various online message boards.

Is the story a straightforward hoax? An online marketing campaign that grew out of control? Was it concocted by a cabal of ufologists to inject new life into a field that has suffered badly since the glory days of the mid 1990s? Every few years, a new 'insider' story emerges from the UFO underground: we've had J-Rod, the ET living at Los Alamos Labs; the alleged Area 51 microbiologist Dab Burisch and his somewhat dismal, sub-X-Files tales of alien genetic tampering; and further releases of MJ12 papers detailing the activities of the US government's ET liaison wing. All these tales incorporate elements from earlier UFO folklore, but none has caught the ufological imagination like SERPO, perhaps because all ufologists secretly harbour dreams of one day travelling to an alien planet.

That SERPO is part of a disinformation campaign is another tempting proposition. It certainly wouldn't be the first time that ETs and UFOs have served as a handy cover for secretive military projects: in his impressive recent book Body Snatchers in the Desert, Nick Redfern suggests that the Roswell incident actually involved test flights of experimental aircraft using mentally and physically handicapped human beings. It's as plausible an explanation as any we've yet heard from the US Air Force - or, for that matter, the ufologists.

It's interesting to consider how the Internet has changed the way that sensitive information - whether genuine or bogus - might be released into the underground. Back in the early 1980s, the MJ12 papers were delivered on a roll of film through TV producer Jamie Shandera's letterbox. They were later published by Timothy Good in his groundbreaking book Above Top Secret and made their way out into the world. The process of properly examining them took years, by which time the suggestion that they were either a hoax or disinformation made little impact. The trenches of belief had been dug, and the documents are still accepted as real by much of the UFO community. These days, things are very different - the Internet allows the material to get to its targets instantaneously, and spread, virus-like, to thousands, if not millions, of interested parties. But releasing the material into the UFO world doesn't guarantee that it will break out into the mainstream media, as happened with MJ12. Instead of taking years for the sceptics to dissect the SERPO story, it happened almost instantaneously as the material appeared. Discrepancies and problems were highlighted, suspicions aired and the red flag was raised within weeks of its appearance.

We can speculate further, without the need for UFOs or ETs, that this could be a sociological or psychological research project being carried out by one or other intelligence agency, or a university, perhaps by a member of Martinez's list. Think of it as memetic tracking: tracing the paths that information follows might be a very useful exercise in our data-saturated age. Like attaching a transmitter to a whale, or following barium radio-isotopes through a hospital patient's digestive system, it can teach us a lot about both the object being followed and the territory it's travelling through. Certainly with all the intelligence and military personnel monitoring Martinez's list, it's easy to imagine it as a vivarium for living information.

One interesting idea raised online, then swiftly shot down, was that Anonymous had actually stumbled Upon genuine government documents, but ones that had originally been created in order to fool somebody else - perhaps the Russians, or even the ufologists. One could see the Ebens' blissful communal existence appearing to the Russian political machine of the 1960s or '70s as a utopian version of their own world. One contributor to the Above Top Secret UFO forum suggested that the SERPO material was the work of Alice Bradley Sheldon. Sheldon worked for US Air Force Intelligence in the 1940s and as a CIA operative in the 1950s, before being celebrated as a New Wave science fiction writer under the pseudonym James Tiptree Jr. Curiously, this same poster then claimed to have been feeding false SERPO information to the Martinez list as part of a university sociology project, before vanishing forever into the digital void.

At the time of writing, the SERPO story is ongoing, though Anonymous himself (or themselves) has been less forthcoming with information of late. A much-promised series of photographs from SERPO, including one of the Ebens playing football, has failed to materialise. One plan diagram of an Eben spacecraft turned out, suspiciously, to be composed of drawing templates for toilet and bathroom equipment.

What the purpose of such a campaign might be - whether to bamboozle Russian agents, prepare us for the shocking truth about our ET contacts or, more simply, to make a mockery of the Internet UFO community, we can't know. What we do know is that SERPO has struck ufological gold, pushing the grand narrative a step forward for the first time in a decade. Whether the material will enter the UFO Hall of Fame, or end up alongside other nonstarters on the Wall of Shame remains to be seen.

For now however, the excitement has died down. Bill Ryan soldiers on, having weathered his ufological trial by fire with grace and good humour. Victor Martinez's email list continues, and somewhere out there, Anonymous is watching...