A Brief History of US Military Secrecy [Trenchant Edges]

Because you can't understand UFOs without knowing something about the people allegedly covering them up.

Welcome back my friends, it’s time for another episode of, “Let’s set aside out weird topics to talk about the US Government again” newsletter.

Estimated reading time: 12 minutes, 25 seconds. Contains 2484 words

I’m Stephen Fisher, your host and researchy guy.

Before we get into this I should probably put up a disclaimer:

I’m very much an armchair expert on this subject and history. I have no formal training in the subject even at the undergrad level. Nor have I served.

What I’ve got is a decent background in US military history and the willingness to read a lot of leaked/declassified documents. My serious interest in this stuff started with the invasion of Iraq and has persisted since.

I have no insider knowledge and am *highly* suspicious of leaks claiming to be insider knowledge.

Bottom line? I’m a dubious source for this kind of thing. ;-)

The one advantage I have over better trained and more personally experienced researchers is I have no standing to protect or any loyalty to the US Military.

That said, I do have a considerable begrudging respect for the Pentagon. A lot of them are sincerely trying to run a humane and effective empire despite the absurdity of those aims. If I can borrow a sentiment from an alt-rock band, better you than me.

(We should dismantle the American empire though)

Beyond The Military-Industrial Complex

So, many discussions of the secrecy that goes into UFOs start with the military-industrial complex. For our purposes, this is fairly late in the game.

But let’s take a moment to look at the speech where the phrase was coined by President Eisenhower in his departure speech in 1961.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

I always find this speech really funny.

“Gee, guys, sure hope the last few decades of public/private collaboration doesn’t harm freedom.”

For context, Eisenhower was the first President to order the CIA to perform a coup on a foreign nation (Iran, 1953) and his administration saw plenty of growth between private military contractors and the state.

He’s as responsible for a military-industrial complex as anyone else in the 20th century except maybe FDR.

But Ike’s MIC isn’t really the important thing here. It was only named in 1961, as the CIA was preparing for yet another disaster in Cuba.

Nor does it start with ret Major General Smedley Butler’s 1930s book War Is A Racket, where the then most decorated general in US military history for his decades of colonial warfare on four continents.

No, this one goes way further back.

Armies are Kinda a Problem

So way back in ancient Sumeria, grain agriculture, writing/accounting, and city states combined to create something unprecedented: A high degree of specialization.

Prior to this human conflict was pretty limited to bands of a few hundred or maybe a thousand people at most. But surplus production and storage meant the need to protect your grain and the possibility of looting someone else’s.

Professional armies would spring up occasionally over the next few thousand years but they always came with serious baggage.

First, the resources you put into an army are just not productive. Ike would call this Guns Or Butter, but all this means is that unless your army is out there generating plunder they can’t pay for themselves or profit anyone.

We could go into countless examples of how this drove various nations and empires into disastrous expansions in the quest for loot and plunder.

Slowly, as trade developed worldwide, more nations discovered that plundering was less important than simply controlling what one might call the means of production over just taking what’s valuable right now.

Wars must be paid for and they’re paid with taxes from their own population and plunder from their victims.

And throughout history, you find the most effective plunderers not among the ranks of the soldiers or conscripts but among the patricians who financed the wars and their friends.

Let’s skip back to the United States again.

One of the most interesting arguments in the early constitutional period was over whether the USA should have a standing army. It’s often easy to miss in our world where military spending is so normalized that we’re within a decade of spending $1,000,000,000,000 a year.

Let’s put something up for scale:

No, many of the founders most notably James Madison weren’t down for this whole standing army thing.


Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

The point is, a standing army concentrates money and power into a few hands and binds everyone to pay them for the privilege.

This concentration of wealth and power always binds a military system to the productive forces which allow the outfitting of soldiers with the tools necessary or helpful for warfare.

The American Civil war provides a staggeringly good example: Largely locked into cotton production by an overwhelming chain of debts, the Confederacy didn’t have the industry to field fully equipped soldiers so they did what they could.

This lead to Gettysburg, one of the war’s main turning points, being fought over a shoe factory. The war, fought over slavery, was fittingly brutal to the soldiers fighting for that cause. Imagine marching for weeks without footwear.

But the connection is deeper than that: The very development of those industries was itself often dependent on government investment.

Eli Whitney, the credited inventor of the cotton gin, also developed early machinery for mass-producing pistols and rifles. He funded the development of this technology with a huge order of 10,000 stands of equipment for the Government.

While he didn’t perfect interchangeable parts, he developed the technology considerably, and this kind of contracting drove a great deal of early industrial development.

Now, unlike England and many other nations, the USA didn’t have a formal spy service until well into the 20th century. We relied on ad hoc spy missions and a different kind of gentleman spy from the James Bond Archetype. Rather than a super killer guy, someone in the government would go to one of their rich friends with business interests in some place and ask them to look around or pass along a message or the like.

The first, arguably, was what would become the FBI within the justice department. But they were more of a counterintelligence/law enforcement agency rather than a pure spy service, though J Edgar Hoover would always try to push for more international spying capabilities. He got and lost them in Latin America during the 30s through the end of WW2.

The Army’s Signal’s Corps in WW1 started doing the kind of message interception and collection we now use the NSA for. Along with the RIS (Radio Intelligence Section), they created an early intelligence network for the American Expeditionary Force.

Both of these were still fairly ad hoc affairs at the time, without a ton of formal control or review power.

WW2 saw the foundation of William “Dipshit” Bill Donovan’s OSS, the direct forerunner to the CIA and a competitor to J Edgar Hoover’s international expansion aims.

Donovan’s OSS was moderately effective at sabotage but bad enough at counter-intelligence that Hoover had spies up and down the OSS. Needless to say, Donovan didn’t say in FDR’s good graces and the OSS was disbanded after the war.

The Birth of A Secret Nation

But none of these agencies are really where the modern national security state got its start. That was the US Government’s original Moonshot: The Manhattan Project.

Running from 1939 to 1946 (where it passed into the Atomic Energy Commission, now the Department of Energy), The Manhattan Project employed over 130,000 people and cost about $23,000,000,000 in 2019 dollars.

Working to build bombs that could level whole cities got the FDR administration paranoid enough to get serious about security in a way never before implemented systematically at this scale in the US state.

The core principle is compartmentalization: Nobody knows more than what they needed to. This included vice president Harry Truman who only found out on April 24th, 1945, almost two weeks after he became president. on the 12th.

This included a censorship regime for scientific works that might be helpful to the development of atomic weapons also starting in 1939.

Most of the work on the bombs was conducted in a variety of isolated cities: Oak Ridge Tennessee and Los Alamos New Mexico, as well as a variety of smaller secondary sites.

Of the 130,000 workers, it’s estimated that perhaps 1000 knew the project had something to do with atoms, and under 50 had full knowledge of what the project was about.

Manhattan Project sites were fenced off with armed guards and barbed wire. Each had multiple checkpoints of entry and a complex system of security clearances to make sure nobody learned more than they should.

It’s a total paranoiafest.

And, uh, yeah it kinda should have been. For a decent chunk of the 1940s, the project’s scientists were worried that a nuclear detonation might be so powerful that it could literally set the earth's atmosphere on fire.

The whole thing was, to put it one way: Nontrivial

So, I want you to put yourself in that mindset for the next section.

Pax Americana, 1947, Roswell, and the USSR

It’s easy to forget what the world looked like within the US Government at the end of WW2.

Some numbers may help.

Shortly after Pearl Harbor, FDR nationalized most of American Industry to turn the entire country into a giant factory. In 1945, The US Military had 12,209,238 personnel at its peak. By Japan’s surrender in mid 1946, the US was the only world power not devastated by this war holding fully half of the world’s wealth.

We’d successfully won a war on two fronts and produced so much shit that it kept both the British Empire and USSR in the war. We’d just detonated two nuclear bombs demonstrating both our military and scientific dominance over the rest of the world.

There were several schools of thought about what to do next. A minority opinion figured we’d rightfully conquered most of the world and we should keep it. They were right that nobody would have really been able to stop us.

A more sizable wing, who won a considerable number of victories, thought the USA had no business being an empire and even successfully pushed to return some of our colonies to home rule.

The last wing and the one who won long term was the anti-soviet wing, who believed we should do whatever necessary to prevent the expansion of the USSR at any cost.

And they would certainly be the most influential group long-term.

Won’t really go into the details on how the alliance between the US and USSR soured because it’s a complex topic all its own.

It was the latter group, exemplified by former wall street spies like Alan and John Foster Dulles (who would later run the CIA and state department under Eisenhower), who facilitated Project Paperclip, which gave Nazi war criminals who had useful skills a free pass to the United States.

Time for another unrelated musical interlude.

So, it’s with all that muddy bloody history that I want you to have in mind for the next step.

Let us say for a moment that there was a crash in Roswell in July 1947. That the initial investigators, as alleged, did indeed just… fucking tell people about it.

Imagine you’re their superior often, 2,0000 miles away in Washington.

How do you react?

Probably not great. You probably didn’t want that story out there until you’ve at least had a look around and understand what happened.

No need for excessive panic.

So you send in the clean-up team and the whole thing just kinda passes over after your guys call it a weather balloon. It’d pop up again in 1978, but by then it’s not your problem.

Does that seem unreasonable? I get why someone would do that, regardless of what the crashed craft was.

Those were dicey days and nobody know what might spark something crazy, let alone something crazy.

Now I want you to imagine you’re the same guy, slightly promoted, two years later when the Soviets test their first nuke years ahead of when the eggheads and spies said they could possibly do it.

Do you get more paranoid or less paranoid?

That’s what I thought.

Hell, Joseph Stalin knew about the Manhattan Project before Truman did. We didn’t tell him. Truman lied to his face about it.

Now, once you’ve made something a secret it takes serious work to make it less secret.

‘Cause people hate the coverup as much as the crime.

Understandably so.

What does all this have to do with UFOs?

The usual line in the UFO community is that for the secret to be protected so much for so long, with multiple presidents being locked out from finding out the real details about UFOs (most notably Nixon and Clinton), that it’s gotta be the biggest possible secret.

That is, some UFO sightings are from alien intelligence with whom we’ve had at least some kind of contact.

But keeping secrets is what the national security apparatus does. It’s likely lying to itself at several levels on the subject because that makes compartmentalization stronger.

All that Manhattan Project security didn’t keep the Soviets from spying on us.

So the solution is to get better at it.

A ton of 1950s anticommunism in the state was driven by this fear of the USSR getting our best info from under our own noses.

So institutional inertia set in. And quickly keeping the secret that you’re keeping a secret is another secret to keep.

It’s all confusing and exhausting and the suspicion of this secret and lie machine is a big part of why UFO-belief persists.

Teach people you’re a liar and they zag when you say zig.

Anyway, I’m fucking sick of this topic.

We’ll be back on Monday with more Terence Mckenna. shit.

Hope y’all have a good weekend.