Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization

First Edition

© 1975-1979, 2008 Robert A. Freitas Jr. All Rights Reserved.

Robert A. Freitas Jr., Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization, First Edition, Xenology Research Institute, Sacramento, CA, 1979; http://www.xenology.info/Xeno.htm


26.1.3  Surprise Contact

In Surprise Contact scenarios, human beings are suddenly thrust into a direct physical confrontation with sentient extraterrestrials. There is no advance warning, no opportunity for preparations for encounter. All of a sudden, They are here. Since such a mode of Contact is probably maximally unsettling (entropic) to the host race, we might predict that any ETs employing this technique are either hostile, unethical, or in trouble. However, there may exist still other perfectly reasonable motives which we cannot guess at, so it is probably best if we suspend judgment at this point until we have more information.

Nevertheless, the military response to a Surprise Contact will be swift and sure, to the limits of available human technology. Consider, for example, a scenario in which extraterrestrial lander craft approach Earth from space. What is our response?

In the United States and Canada, NORAD (North American Air Defense Command) has full military responsibility for tracking the more than 4,500 man-made objects and debris now circling the Earth. NORAD's phased array radars scan only the nearest few hundred kilometers of near-Earth space to resolutions of about 1 cm. This is sufficient to detect an incoming alien spacecraft perhaps 20 meters wide -- say, about the size of the American Skylab space station. At the orbit of Mars, Earth-based radars could theoretically detect nothing smaller than a 2-kilometer-wide asteroid-sized starship comparable to the planet destroying Death Star of Star Wars fame. Clearly we may not have much warning of the approach of the alien vessel.*

Once an object is spotted by NORAD, or by professional or amateur astronomers and reported to NORAD, both military and civilian systems would be brought into play to attempt a positive identification of the intruder. The Air Force could track it quite accurately using orbiting spy satellites, especially those equipped with heat-sensors normally used to track Russian long-range missiles. (A good time for a pre-emptive attack, while nobody is looking?) Computer analyses of the trajectory would indicate whether the object was coasting or under power, accelerating or decelerating, estimated maximum power plant energy based on observed thrust, the probable destination and the estimated time of arrival.

Recently an Air Force spokesman discussed the most probable military reaction if a UFO of alien origin entered the national airspace of the United States:

There are no plans that separate UFOs from other threats to national security. We do have plans to deal with intruders and security violations. If anything presents such a threat, we take the appropriate action. ... The Air Force watches our coasts with its Air Defense Identification Zones [ADIZs]. Every commercial airliner has a squawk box that responds to an identify-friend-or-foe-or-neutral (IFFN) signal we send out. If something does not respond and it enters the ADIZ, we declare it unknown and scramble fighters to go up and take a look. ... If something were to attack the fighters, we would send up more; if they vanished, we would use missiles. The Nike Hercules [long-range nuclear antiaircraft missles] is the next line of defense. They’re old but adequate. We’d also judge its intentions by whether or not it tried to jam our radar or send false signals. The NORAD Commander can take action without consulting the President.3545

There exists a considerable amount of evidence, much of it assembled by ufologists, that the military is inclined to shoot first and ask questions later. The author feels justified in drawing upon the ufology literature because the incidents described below illustrate the military reaction to UFOs -- regardless of whether those UFOs are balloons, geese, sundogs, or genuine extraterrestrial aerial vehicles.

Our first illustration, however, is taken from Chapter 33 of Introductory Space Sciences (1968), published by the Air Force Academy for textbook use by cadets. According to the book:

About ten o’clock one morning, a radar site near a fighter base picked up a UFO doing 700 mph. The UFO then slowed to 100 mph, and two F-86s were scrambled to intercept. Eventually one F-86 closed on the UFO at about 3000 feet altitude. The UFO began to accelerate away but the pilot still managed to get within 500 yards of the target for a short period of time. When the range reached 1000 yards, the pilot armed his guns and fired in an attempt to down the saucer. He failed, and the UFO pulled away rapidly, vanishing in the distance.705

Whatever it was the pilot saw, he fired at it.

Major Donald E. Keyhoe, an ardent ufologist who broke one of the first major news stories on UFOs back in 1949, reported that in private conversations with General Sory Smith, Deputy Director of Information, and Major Jeremiah Boggs, an Air Force intelligence officer, he had been told that the Air Force had put out a special order for its pilots to capture UFOs if possible. Quoting Boggs, Keyhoe writes: "We were naturally anxious to get hold of one of the things. We told pilots to do practically anything in reason, even if they had to grab one by the tail."1623 Keyhoe continues:

Afterward I talked with an interceptor pilot I knew, who had been in on two chases. When I quoted Boggs’ words about grabbing a UFO by the tail he looked at me grimly.

"That’s a lot nearer the truth than you might think, even if he did make it sound like a joke. In our squadron at least we were told to ram one and bail out, if we could do it without getting hurt. I don’t know anybody that tried it -- I certainly didn’t. After what happened to Mantell a man would be a fool to try a trick like that."1623

(Captain Mantell was killed in 1948 while pursuing a weather balloon "UFO" to extreme altitudes without benefit of an oxygen mask.).

The U.S. military is not alone in its hostility to foreign objects whizzing through its skies. According to the Air-Force Academy textbook:

On 24 July 1957 Russian anti-aircraft batteries on the Kouril Islands opened fire on UFOs. Although all Soviet anti-aircraft batteries on the Islands were in action, no hits were made. The UFOs were luminous and moved very fast.705

On 19 September 1976, another UFO-attack incident took place over the skies of Iran.4632 The story of four imperial Iranian Air Force pilots was summarized in a lengthy classified report sent to the Pentagon by the U.S. military attache in Teheran, recently released to the public under the Freedom of Information Act. According to the report, the Iranian Air Force sent up two F-4 Phantoms to chase a brilliantly glowing object near Mehrabad Airport, Tehran. The jets, which carry a pilot and radar operator, reportedly tried to get close to the object. When one tried to shoot it down with a Sidewinder air-to-air missile, "both planes temporarily lost navigation and communications but regained them when they broke away from the intercept."3548 It appears that the universal military reaction to a violation of airspace by an unknown object is to attempt to shoot it down. Unless they have adequate defenses, Surprise Contact may be extremely dangerous for alien visitors to our world.1537,3626

What if an extraterrestrial landing craft made it down to ground level without attracting any attention -- how might the authorities handle such a situation? According to one account:

If an object touches ground undetected, it’s the responsibility of the people farthest down the chain of command who can handle the situation, be it local, state or Federal forces. In 1969, for example, a Kansas farmer called the local police to report a glowing object in his cornfield. The police weren’t sure what to do and called an Air Force team, which determined that 200 pounds of Russian satellite had deorbited into the farmer’s back forty. Had aliens gotten out to greet them, however, NASA and military scientists -- most likely from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research [AFOSR], which funds highly exotic studies and is staffed with top people in all fields -- would have been called in.3545

Once again, however, there are instances on record where authorities undertook immediate and unthinking hostile action against unknown landed objects:

There seems to be little preparation or even published thought on, Earth Contact situations. Confidence that the governments of the world would nevertheless be prepared was somewhat shaken by an experiment conducted by British students, in which oval-shaped "saucers" about five feet across were planted across England after telephoned "sightings." Various official bodies were alerted, and reacted in various ways without apparent coordination. The Army seems to have blown theirs up without hesitation, thereby creating a biological as well as a military danger had the Contact been genuine.1001

A few "proper" channels of authority do exist in this country which should be applicable to Surprise Contact situations -- at least during the early phases of encounter. Let us analyze the simplest possible case of Surprise Contact: A single extraterrestrial visitor, landed in a relatively conspicuous location (park, open field, etc.) in a typical state somewhere in the U.S. How would authorities react?

First of all, unless the ET is buzzing houses or cars with his spacecraft, has a grossly nonhuman appearance, or is wreaking destruction far and wide, his presence actually may go unnoticed for quite some time. But eventually a passing motorist or pedestrian will spot the creature, who perhaps is garbed in a spacesuit or other unconventional attire. The local police station will receive a report of a strange creature roaming the streets. (See Table 26.2.)


Table 26.2 Preference of "Nonsightees" (of UFOs) for Agency to Which to Report a UFO or Contact Incident
(modified from Lee721)
Percentage of Observers Who Would Report
Local Police
No Report (friends only)
Weather Bureau
Air Force
Town or City Official
Radio Station
Local UFO Organization


Since local authorities get mountains, of crank calls, they probably won’t bother to dispatch a patrol unit until several reports have been received or until the ET inadvertently maims someone. As one policeman observer recently noted: "We're trying to downplay these sightings as they come in."3690 The police cruiser will arrive at the scene shortly thereafter. Depending upon the alienness of the extraterrestrial, the officers may suspect a prankster at first (as has happened on numerous occasions1347,695) until the creature either reveals its primary physiological differences or displays command of clearly superior technology.

If a large crowd has gathered, the ET may be in trouble.3565 There are cases on record of crowds mobbing and killing human pranksters acting the role of beings from space, and it is also true that the people have sometimes been ordered to shoot at UFOs by their superiors.3250 Hopefully, if the ET does nothing which might arouse strong xenophobic reactions among human beings, the officers will content themselves with cordoning off the immediate area (to prevent public contact) and in sending for local reinforcements which should arrive in ten minutes or less. The county sheriff will also be notified, as well as the State Patrol or Highway Patrol. These groups will dutifully respond within twenty minutes, but will make no further decisions.

The police will also quickly alert the local Civil Defense authorities. From there, the buck passes swiftly up through the county Civil Defense office to the state Civil Defense office, at which point the governor should be apprised of the situation. He has the authority to declare a state of emergency or invasion and call out the National Guard (state militia) to help out. The militia maintains local bases equipped with jeeps, tanks and cannons, should these be required. The Guard (e.g., about 25,000 soldiers in California) probably be mobilized and on the scene in less than an hour to assist in the apprehension and detention of the extraterrestrial, and in crowd and riot control. In the meantime, the governor or some other state official will have notified the Federal Department of Defense, and, of course, the President.

According to existing regulations, the Secretary of Defense should place the Army Area Commander in immediate charge of maintaining order. The local Air Force and Naval District authorities probably will also enter the picture in specific and relevant areas, but with clearly subordinate influence. For instance, special Air Force investigatory teams may be called in to actually handle physical and intellectual contact with the ET, because of their prior experience in dealing with UFO reports and the like. Pending direct Presidential orders to the contrary, however, the Army commander will remain in overall temporary control.

The President will undoubtedly notify Congress immediately, calling an emergency session to obtain specific legislative direction. But it is important to realize that, on his own, the President already possesses sweeping authority -- especially in times of crisis -- should he care to exercise it. A vigorous "expansionist" Chief Executive would be likely to assume far greater personal control than a more passive, wait-and-see President. The personality and mode of leadership of the person in the White House may therefore be a decisive factor in the early stages of Surprise Contact.

Until late 1978, the United States was in a legal state of national emergency and had been continuously since the early 1930s. This fact is not generally known or appreciated by the public. The Presidential proclamations of national emergency issued under Roosevelt (1933), Truman (1950), and Nixon (1970, 1971) were not terminated when the crises that spawned them had passed. In 1976, President Ford abolished these four emergency powers acts, effective September 1978. The powers returned to Congress; however, the power to declare future emergencies remains with the President.

So broad authority is available to dispose of the ET as the Chief Executive sees fit. Perhaps, in the context of first contact, another declaration of national emergency would be forthcoming at this point. But even if the President does assert full and immediate control, considerable confusion will still result.

In the typical Surprise Contact scenario, all of the problems connected with "less surprising" contacts are compounded by the need for a quick and effective response by national authorities and by the hasty and imprudent actions which may be taken as a result. Top policymakers will be inundated with conflicting intelligence reports, and the channels of local and global communication will be clogged for a variety of reasons.3552 Decisions will be made on the basis of incomplete, inaccurate, strongly biased, or otherwise inadequate information, increasing the likelihood of error.3553 The sheer magnitude of the logistics of crowd and riot control, the rapid spread of terrifying rumors throughout the civilian population and rising incidence of hysteria, and the recognized biological dangers of radiation and contamination of Earth by unknown alien microbes will add to the confusion.

Federal agencies will jockey for jurisdiction, based on intertwining statutes and overlapping authority that would put a Gordian knot to shame. The CIA and FBI, suspicious of the possibility of a foreign hoax and the dangers to national security posed thereby, may try to intervene at the holding area and assert some influence of their own. Even more important, they will be trying to protect the ET -- a potentially valuable military resource -- from foreign agents, saboteurs, kidnappers, and assassins who presumably would stop at nothing to get their hands on the extraterrestrial visitor. (The entire American defense establishment will be on full alert status by this time.) The Treasury Department, also suspecting a hoax and fearing for the President’s life, may try to get into the act by sending in Secret Service agents to verify the authenticity of the ET. Of course, Army Intelligence, Naval Intelligence, Air Force Intelligence, and the Defense Intelligence Agency will all be vying for power as well.

The Public Health Service, within the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW), will want to establish local quarantine and detention authority under 42 USC §264 et seq of the Federal Code. The Department of Agriculture may try a similar trick under 21 USC §101 et seq, if they can successfully argue that the extraterrestrial is an "animal" and not a "person" (see discussion below, in section on legal issues). The Environmental Protection Agency could try to classify the creature as an "endangered species", and the Attorney General, acting under 8 U.S.C. §1222, has the legal authority to order immigrations officers to "temporarily detain" the ET in contemplation of deportation proceedings. And, naturally, the Department of Transporation will be anxiously searching for the space traveler’s vehicle as may the Secretary of the Treasury (50 U.S.C. §191 et seq), the military and the various intelligence agencies. (NASA people may be called in as consultants or for technical assistance, but the NASA Administrator has no basis for authority unless the alien comes to Earth aboard one of our spacecraft.**691,3549)

A host of private and civilian organizations will clamor to be heard, probably within hours of first contact. The SPCA, Humane Society, International Society for the Protection of Animals, World Federation for the Protection of Animals, Fund for Animals, Inc., Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and countless other animal protection groups will demand assurances that the ET is receiving "adequate housing, ample food and water, reasonable handling, decent sanitation, sufficient ventilation, shelter from extremes of weather and temperature" and so forth, as required by the "Animal Welfare Act" (7 U.S.C. §2131 et seq, as amended to include any warm-blooded animal used for "laboratory purposes") and state animal cruelty laws. The National Science Foundation will probably have some complaints to make, along with the AAAS, the National Academy of Sciences, assorted astronomical, zoological, and ufological societies and organizations, and a number of outlandishly-named fringe and cult groups.*** Sooner or later, the United Nations will get wind of the "capture"; although the U.N. has no real authority within domestic borders, vehemently unfavorable world public opinion could easily be roused to a fever pitch.

We see that federal law provides no clear and unambiguous legal directions for handling a Surprise Contact from the stars. Without the leadership of a strong President, tremendous confusion and jurisdictional squabbles will erupt almost instantly. The potential for disastrous disorganization is high.1761 And we have assumed a rather passive, obeisant extraterrestrial. If he is in any sense more active, there could be fearful and unfortunate complications.

It is said that all war departments have plans worked out for every conceivable eventuality. Presumably, somewhere in the Pentagon are the orders for such lamentable necessities as the invasion of Mexico or the bombing of London. Indeed, in November 1975 some 50-year old plans the invasion of Canada were declassified (because they had become obsolete). If there are any preparations for the defense of Earth no one has ever mentioned them. Still, the author suspects a contingency plan lies dusty in some half-forgotten Pentagon file. But one way or another, at last the creature will be safely in military custody, under very heavy guard and probably under quarantine. What next?

One question xenologists might want to address is whether the political and military authorities would attempt to hush things up and conduct a totally secret investigation of the alien being and his craft, even in the face of widespread publicity surrounding the initial contact event. Few would argue that the government is not predisposed to classify and treat as secret all sorts of possibly sensitive information. Regardless of one’s position on the reality of UFOs, it is an intraconvertible fact that the military authorities -- for reasons known only to themselves -- have classified a number of peculiar and potentially inflammatory sighting events which have only recently been pried loose using the 1974 Freedom of Information Act. For example, from the NORAD Regional Commander’s log (24th region, Montana) in 1975:

7 Nov. Received a call from the 341st SAC CP saying that the following missile locations reported seeing a large red to orange to yellow object....
7 Nov. SAC advised that the LCF at Harlowton, Mont., observed an object which emitted a light which illuminated the site driveway.
7 Nov. L-l reports that the object to their northeast seems to be issuing a black object from it, tubular in shape.
8 Nov. A security camper team at K-4 reported UFOs with white lights, one red light 50 yards behind white light. Personnel at K-l seeing same object.
8 Nov. L-5 reported object increased in speed--high velocity, raised in altitude and now cannot tell the object from the stars.
9 Nov. SAC CP reports UFO 20 miles southeast of Lewistown {Mont.} orange white disc object.
10 Nov. UFO sighting reported by Minot Air Force station, a bright starlike object in the west, moving east, about the size of a car. The object passed over the radar station, 1000 feet to 2000 feet high, no noise heard.
12 Nov. UFO reported from K0l. They say the object is over Big Snowy {mountain} with a red light on it at high altitude.
12 Nov. Second UFO in same area reported. Appeared to be sending a beam of light to the ground intermittently.
19 Nov. SAC command post observed object traveling NE at a fast rate of speed. Object bright white light seen 45 to 50 sec following terrain 200 feet off ground. The light was two or three times brighter than landing lights on a jet....3548

Even assuming all of the above are simply sightings of weather balloons and other everyday objects, it must be admitted that these secret reports strongly suggest that the government may try to keep from public view any object or event that the military does not fully comprehend.3602 As Mr. Arthur Sylvester, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, admitted at a press conference in New York on 7 December 1962:

When a nation’s security is threatened, as that of the United States was during the recent Cuban crisis, the nation’s leaders are justified in telling lies to its people.757

But adopting a course of secrecy after a well-publicized encounter may be highly dangerous. Strategic and international political issues are brought most clearly into focus in the Surprise Contact scenario. From the point of view of the host nation, the ET represents a possibly valuable military resource. But from the vantage of others, the mere presence of the alien, his knowledge and his hardware in a neighboring (unfriendly) country constitutes a serious military threat. A landing in the territory of either of the two major superpowers may cause strategic destablization and raise the specter of a preemptive nuclear counterforce/countervalue strike. The concepts of anticipatory defense and anticipatory retaliation are not new and might be used to justify wanton military aggression.

Unless the investigation of’ the extraterrestrial is "internationalized," world tensions may increase dramatically. The Russian, Chinese, and others’ intelligence agencies might stop at nothing to retrieve the alien from the U.S. in order to interrogate him for military secrets and other technologies that might provide some advantage. If the tables were turned, the American government might well engage in similar sordid practices.

What if military authorities order government scientists to perform brutal experiments on the ET, perhaps torturing it to force it to divulge its secrets, or to dissect it to gain physiological knowledge to enable us to design effective weapons? Would they do it? According to the now-classic work of Stanley Milgram, the answer may be a horrifying "yes."

In studies that ultimately included more than a thousand participants, Milgram demonstrated that obedience to authority is basic to human nature. In the experiment, a person comes to a psychological laboratory and is told to carry out a series of acts that come increasingly into conflict with conscience. Typically, the subject is required to test the ability of a "learner" (one of Milgram’s confederates) to recall word pairs; wrong answers are punished by the application of increasingly "higher voltages" to the "learner" by the subject using an "electrical generator." Although no shock is actually applied, the subject is made to think it is real by the convincing grunts, protests, and screams of the "learner." Milgram found that most people will continue to apply shocks, even though they know they are inflicting pain, at the behest of the experimenter, and many will continue until, the "learner" apparently is rendered unconscious with pain.745 This does not leave the author very hopeful about the possible treatment of extraterrestrial visitors having "military value."

Milgram comments upon the ominous significance of his findings:

The behavior revealed in the experiments is normal human behavior: the capacity for man to abandon his humanity, indeed, the inevitability that he does so, as he merges his unique personality into larger institutional structures. ... Each individual possesses a conscience which to a greater or lesser degree serves to restrain the unimpeded flow of impulses destructive to others. But when he merges his person into an organizational structure, a new creature replaces autonomous man, unhindered by the limitations of individual morality, freed of humane inhibition, mindful only of the sanctions of authority.

The results, as seen and felt in the laboratory, are to this author disturbing. They raise the possibility that human nature, or more specifically the kind of character produced in American democratic society, cannot be counted on to insulate its citizens from brutality and inhumane treatment at the direction of malevolent authority. A substantial proportion of people do what they are told to do, irrespective of the content of the act and without limitations of conscience, so long as they perceive that the command comes from a legitimate authority. If, in this study, an anonymous experimenter could successfully command adults to subdue a 50-year-old man and force on him painful electric shocks against his protests, one can only wonder what government, with its vastly greater authority and prestige, can command of its citizenry.744


* NORAD's phased array system ignores all targets following nonballistic paths. Incoming meteorites are rejected automatically. NORAD's Electro-Optical Surveillance Tracking System takes pictures of manmade objects in space to provide high-accuracy tracking and identification data, but can only look for objects it has been preprogrammed observe. If an alien vessel were to approach Earth, chances are good that neither system would report it.

** See 14 C.F.R. §1204.509 and §1211.100 et seq, entitled "Extraterrestrial Exposure"

*** The Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and representatives from vegetarian groups may clamor for assurances that the ETs neither imbibe intoxicants nor consume animal flesh.


Last updated on 6 December 2008