With the pressure of the Cold War bearing down, U.S. officials did what was best for the nation when it came to alleged UFO sightings. They lied to the American people.

According to a historian who scrutinized CIA documents, government officials were afraid the Soviets would stage mass UFO sightings to disrupt the United States and its air defense system.

Such concern prompted the Air Force and others to play down the UFO issue during the 1950s and to concoct false cover stories to explain sightings of alleged "flying saucers" that were really super-secret U.S. spy planes, according to an article last spring in a CIA journal.

The article by historian Gerald K. Haines said a CIA special study group worried in 1952 that "the Soviets could use UFO sightings to touch off mass hysteria and panic in the United States."

He said the U.S. spy agency also was concerned about the possibility that hysteria over UFO sightings might "overload the U.S. air warning system so that it could not distinguish real (military) targets from phantom UFOs" and provide the Soviets an advantage for a surprise attack.

A special panel studying the issue concluded that "potential enemies contemplating an attack on the United States might exploit the UFO phenomena and use them to disrupt U.S. air defenses," wrote Haines.

By 1956, the Air Force was able to attribute 96 percent of all UFO sightings to the high altitude U-2 and SR-71 intelligence gathering planes, Haines said. But it took care "not to reveal the true cause of the sightings to the public," linking them instead to "natural phenomena such as ice crystals and temperature inversions."

A U.S. Air Force spokesman said Sunday that he could not comment on the information without first seeing the report. As for using a cover story to conceal the existence of new aircraft, Maj. Ed Worley said he didn't know if this took place, but added, "We take extraordinary measures to protect our national resources."

But to Robert Sherkey, all of this doesn't clear up the controversy. He was a first lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force in Roswell, N. M., in the summer of 1947. That's when many people claim to have seen a UFO crash land in an empty field.

"I saw what I saw,'' says Sherkey, now 74. "The government says so many things who knows what to believe? But I know what I saw. It was a UFO.''

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This page was last updated on 05.22.2001