John Mack and Stanton Friedman interviewed by Philip Adams

Brisbane, Australia
October 1996

Philip Adams: We were to have a very solemn and serious discussion on life on Mars but our next guest or our proposed, hypothetical guest had to dodge a Russian spacecraft which was re-entering our atmosphere so what were we to do?

Well it so happens that I have about my person a tape we recorded when I was ill a few weeks ago – iller (sic) than I am now – so we’re going to pop it in. It’s also on the night of course when the Nine Network, to their eternal discredit, are re-running or running yet again a story about Eric Von Daniken, that silly little person I thought we’d crushed like a bug 20 years ago.

So what we’re doing tonight is we’re going to look at the very popular theories in America about this alleged massive cover-up by the United States government following the crash of a quote alien spacecraft in New Mexico desert in 1947. It’s become known as the Roswell Incident, and occupies a huge amount of time on the internet.

Now, we’re going to look also at the question of “bodily abductions” that seem to happen to every second American, and I’m joined by Professor John Mack who won a Pulitzer Prize in his heyday. He’s senior lecturer in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and is now notorious as the author of Abduction, a book that tries to make sense of the phenomena of alien abduction – well, that’s what he believes it does – and he was joined in the studio by Canadian scientist Stanton T. Friedman, who’s a lecturer in the area and for forty years has been wandering around looking at UFOs, and he’s the author of Top Secret: MAJIC.

Now I begin the chat by saying to John Mack that clearly, America is besotted by round things that spin. UFOs, yo-yos, hula-hoops, Frisbees, and I wondered what it was in the American psyche that made them so susceptible to this sort of mass marketing. What is there in the American psyche that makes Americans such enthusiasts for nonsense?

[Playback of pre-recorded interview begins]

John Mack: Well you have to start by looking at what’s going on with the phenomenon itself. Now, something’s happening here. There are some objects in the sky that people call UFOs that have been recognized intensely since 1947 and may have been around for centuries before that.

PA: No, John. My question is why is it that America seems to be nexus for the phenomena?

JM: Well it’s possible that there is a certain kind of technological level of consciousness reached in America so that it can receive and be interested in this phenomenon where other cultures may not, but, the phenomenon is of great interest all over the world now. What we’ve found here in Australia is an intense interest. I’m not sure I fully accept that this is somehow an American passion different from what I’ve found in England or what I’ve found in Germany. It’s even more in…

PA: The world is interested but most of the activity seems to be US based, now for instance.

Stanton Friedman: When I was in France it was clear in dealing with a number of academics there they were afraid to say anything publicly, because they were afraid they’d lose their job. We have a different attitude in the United States, although John can say that sometimes you’re in danger of losing your job for speaking out, about…

PA: Yes, we are aware of the vicissitudes John’s had at Harvard. Stan, in terms of “bodily abductions”, surely this is largely focused in the US. I mean I know of…

SF: Well, John’s the one to ask about that. But there have been abductions all over, there have been. There’s a new book out where there were more than one group of people involved. Abduction is a world-wide phenomenon.

JM: You see, one of the reasons that my friend Dominique Callimanopulos and I have been going around the world studying this phenomenon is precisely to discover whether in fact it is somehow an American cultural anomaly or is widespread. What we’re finding is that these cases exist everywhere, you just have to ask.

PA: But there are often focused things. I mean we know that for instance prepubescent women in northern France and some areas of Spain specialized in seeing visions of the Virgin Mary. Now, they are seen elsewhere but it is culturally-specific as well.

SF: He’s got cases from Africa that sound just like American cases. I saw the tape the other night.

JM: I’ve got cases from Brazil, cases from countries in Africa, cases from Germany, all over the world.

PA: And don’t you think, John, that simply because everyone watches The X-Files, you don’t think it’s simply because the thing has now been so successfully marketed?

JM: X-Files is what, about 2 years old? And the intensity of this phenomenon has been going on at least since the Betty and Barney Hill case in the early ‘60s and probably before.

PA: Now, John, in your view are we dealing with an actual phenomenon or with metaphor?

JM: Well one of the things I’ve learned in this is that the distinction between reality and metaphor is often not as sharp as we’d like to think. And in the Western world we’ve made this continental divide between image and metaphor and physical reality. This is physical, and it manifests in the physical world and it’s also metaphoric. It’s also teaching us something about ourselves about who we are. It is reaching us. It’s a phenomena that comes from we know not where, it may be some other star system…

PA: It’s a phenomenon from without, rather, not a projection from within, in your view?

JM: Again, the phenomenon is a mind-shattering phenomenon. One of the notions, the “conceits of mind” that it shatters, is the idea that there is a sharp distinction between outside and inside. It is both outside and inside. It is real, it is physical, and it is also powerfully transformative psychologically.

… [gap in transcript by request of ABC Radio National: host asks Friedman to give a précis of the Roswell case and questions the authenticity of some MJ-12 documents] …

PA: Nonetheless, you passionately believe that we are in fact living in an era of a “Cosmic Watergate” which is the biggest story of the millennium.

SF: It’s easy to prove. I do it at all my lectures. I’ll do it Friday night in Melbourne by showing the blacked-out documents from the National Security Agency and the CIA, freedom of information use. They admit they have all of these UFO documents and they’re not releasing any of them.

PA: Stanton, I wrote a satire of the JFK movie and I was trying to think of other possible theories for the assassination, and so I had the chauffeur do it. I had Jackie [Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis] do it for the insurance money, and I had it done by extraterrestrials. I was suddenly bombarded with tons and tons and tons of “top secret” documents – “top secret” splattered all over them, beautifully done I’ve got to tell you, dull facsimiles thereof suggesting that not only was this true but in fact America was already run by extraterrestrials.

SF: Well there’s a good line!

PA: In other words, I’ve seen a lot of fake documents.

SF: Of course.

PA: You must see a lot of fake documents.

SF: So have I. In my book, Top Secret: MAJIC, I identify a number of documents as fakes and give the reasons why. I have a big “grey” basket – “maybe”. Not “black”, not “white”, “maybe”. The documents that I talk about, the MJ-12 documents that I say are genuine, are the ones that have stood the test of twelve years of investigation, and visits to fifteen archives, and examination. I mean, I wrote classified documents myself.

PA: Ok, let’s look at this paradigm shift that you’re alluding to, John. What do you see? What are the yearnings that is expressed in the abductee stories? What are people getting out of it, spiritually and psychologically?

JM: Well, actually it’s the lack of yearnings that made me believe it. Though if yearnings were obvious then I would have been more doubtful of the reality of what I was hearing. It’s the fact that the people want anything else to be true that made me think there was something to this. In other words, I’ve found no case among the ones that I consider authentic, and I’ve now worked intensively with about 120 people and had interviews with many others, and they report with great concern that I’ll think they’re crazy. They want to be told that this is some kind of problem that can be fixed. And they will then, with appropriate doubt and skepticism, little by little, say, “well, I had this experience, this strange light came in, I was paralyzed, there were these funny little men around me and they took me through a wall, I know you’re going to think I’m crazy, doc, but this is what happened”. And they haven’t talked to anybody about it because they think they are going to be found mad – this at least used to be the case – and little by little this picture emerges, case after case after case, details not in the media, nothing to be gained.

PA: I was going to say, John, that you’re aware how quick it is to build up a media feedback loop where people can start to learn the ropes.

SF: Researchers hold back data and when you find, independently, the same kind of little bits of pieces of information that don’t appear anywhere, you’ve got to say they’re independent. Right, John?

JM: The media tend to follow the experiences. Allen Hynek for example was a consultant on Close Encounters of the Third Kind, not the other way around as is often gets said, that this phenomenon was somehow a product of the movie. On the contrary, the movie took its data from what was already known from the UFO community.

PA: J. Allen Hynek, it seemed to me that over the years his views of the phenomenon – and I’m talking UFOs here, not bodily abductions – evolved, changed. He was a nuts-and-bolts man in the beginning. He was a Roswell incident man if you like. But towards the end he was talking mystically. He was talking very, very differently about the phenomenon.

[gap in transcript by request of ABC Radio National]

PA: … He did finally express that argument, that we weren’t talking about travel in the normal sense at all. We were talking about something else.

[gap in transcript by request of ABC Radio National]

SF: Allen was honest. He saw a puzzle, a phenomena that he couldn’t explain, where real people were having real experiences, but how can we explain them if you can’t get here from there? So he goes into other dimensions and stuff.

PA: I get the point. John, I know you’ve been through hell at Harvard. Are your colleagues in deep denial in your view? Are you surrounded by people who simply won’t know, don’t want to know?

[gap in transcript by request of ABC Radio National: host turns to Mack]

PA: But you also are aware of course of the great anxieties are expressed, increasingly expressed, about a parallel or a similar phenomenon in some ways: repressed memory. You’re aware of this spreading like a contagion across America.

JM: You are talking about the False Memory Syndrome argument. Now, the false memory syndrome is a mixed political and scientific matter. it arose because a lot of very nice, upstanding middle class men and women, father and mothers, were being accused by their daughters and sons of sexual abuse. And in some instances – the minority, not the majority – therapists overly zealously were encouraging them.

And that’s a far cry from a person deeply, passionately talking of a disturbing traumatic experience.

PA: John the analogy I’m trying to suggest is an obvious one. And that is that after awhile, false memory syndrome takes off in America. Now, there is a feedback loop. People learn the script. They know the ropes. They know the sort of things they have got to claim to have experienced. Could this not be happening with the people you’re talking to?

JM: Probably not. The false memory situation occurs when something is suggested to a person. There’s a well-known researcher, Elizabeth Loftus, who “plants” memories in people’s minds that they were lost in a supermarket. It’s suggested to them. And they come up with confirmatory data with no feeling, tone, just kind of going along with the hypnotist.

This isn’t like that. There’s no evidence that false memories exist in a situation where a person comes up passionately, intensely, with terror, with feeling, with emotion appropriate to an event that has happened, with nothing to gain from it. It isn’t even argued that false memory applies in those situations.

PA: But there is something to gain, isn’t there? Isn’t there something to gain from being a member of a besieged minority? I know the feeling. I was a member of the Communist Party in Australia, which is a very odd thing to be. But it actually gave you a great sense of being special. You’re under attack, you were reviled, you were treated as a nut case, but it was great to feel that you belonged to the most unpopular group.

SF: But most abductees don’t want their name used, don’t want their face shown…

PA: Communists didn’t want that either.

JM: But in a communist situation you are part of something you believe in. It may not be popular, but at least it’s something about which you have some conviction.

PA: But your people believe, your people believe.

JM: They start out quite the contrary. They start out saying, “look I have no interest in UFOs, I never saw an alien before this, but this happened to me, it doesn’t make any sense to me, I have no interest in this, why me?”

PA: John, every time Shirley MacLaine made a public statement she’d always preface it by saying “I was always a skeptic, but…”. Every time I interview a bigot they say “I’m not a racist, but…”. Ok, let’s look at, Stanton, your realm. Let’s move off from the bodily abductions to the hard evidence.

It seems to me that your whole belief system is predicated on the possibility of the biggest cover-up in human history. How can you imagine that this is possible – even if it was possible to bottle it up in the US of A, how can it not break out in France, in the UK?

SF: Well who says it isn’t? When you talk to researchers overseas you find the same thing happening. Belgium is an exception. The Belgian Defense Command, whatever their official name is, has shared data with scientists who were interested in UFOs. F-16 radar charts and this sort of thing. But they are by far the exception. There is an Official Secrets Act in England…

PA: Which is regularly ravished and ignored.

SF: Because some things leak out doesn’t mean everything does. With an annual black budget in the United States of 35 billion dollars according to Tim Weiner, who’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, a New York Times correspondent in Washington. With that much money being spent in secret without congressional approval – except for two guys who know what’s going on, supposedly – then it’s easy to understand. Call it a conspiracy, I don’t use the term conspiracy. I worked on classified programs [and] I don’t consider those programs conspiracies.

PA: And if someone blew a whistle what would happen to them?

SF: I don’t know what you mean?

PA: If someone broke the code, if someone came out and said, “look this is happening, here’s evidence”, what would happen?

SF: Well the likelihood of that happening seems to be small. There was one – Daniel Ellsberg.

There are billions of pages of classified documents. You don’t get a clearance without being vetted very, very carefully. I don’t know people who’ve broken security.

PA: How about a scientist like Sagan – Carl Sagan, who’s running SETI? Surely it’s in his interest to agree with you guys rather than to ridicule?

SF: I don’t think so at all. I was in Carl’s home a couple of years ago, before he got sick, we were classmates for three years. His statements over the years have clearly reflected total prejudice and a total lack of awareness of the facts. Look at his new book, Demon Haunted World. I deal with this in one of the chapters of Top Secret: MAJIC. His most commonly referenced source of data, he’s got a long reference list, but about UFOs its Weekly World News, a third-rate tabloid. There’s no mention of the two large-scale scientific conferences that he was a contributor to. He even edited the proceedings to one of those, published by Cornell University, his school. Ignore the data!

JM: Can I say something about this? Take the SETI program itself. Can you imagine anything sillier. Here you have a potentially advanced race of beings with technologies perhaps tens of thousands of years ahead of us but we think that if we send some radio waves up there, little blips, they’re going to say “oh, that’s nice” and come back to us in our technology? Someone once quipped, “that’s about as culture-bound as taking a huge searchlight and looking into the heavens trying to find a good Italian restaurant.”

PA: What I’m suggesting is that Sagan would be one of the political and financial beneficiaries of…

SF: He’d lose all his funding for SETI. He would have to admit that he had been mistaken for thirty years, and it influenced many other people, and that he had blindly accepted Phil Klass’s UFO attacks. Carl doesn’t do any investigation himself, he refers to Klass.

PA: My final question is to you, John Mack. Do you think that the phenomena you’re examining are being censored, shut up? Are they subject to some sort of top-level conspiracy to stop them being debated?

JM: The subject of abductions? I’ve had, if I understand the question, I’ve had no contact from the government, from any officials, any indication anybody’s trying to stop this work. My sense is that the awareness that this is a real phenomenon is growing. More and more clinicians are seeing cases, are reporting the cases increasingly, even mainstream foundations that are now supporting our research, which is practically unheard of in this field. It’s becoming something that is of interest. Even my Harvard group you referred to has encouraged my research to continue after a fourteen-month, rather arduous go to it with them. And they say, bring in more colleagues, have a working group, study it from all angles. Fine. I welcome it. It was very hard to find colleagues a couple of years ago who were willing to look at it.

PA [outro]: Now that was Stanton T. Friedman and Professor Mack, John Mack. And that without question, was my worst-ever interview. Gladys, now to punish myself I’m going to be taken aboard a UFO and colonically irrigated by little blokes that look like Bill McMahon.

  • Philip Adams began writing columns in The Australian in the 1960s, using gentle, mocking humour to discuss the once-taboo subjects of death, atheism and sex. A half a century later, he was still writing a weekly column and hosting a radio current affairs show on ABC Radio National. Adams won a Walkley for radio journalism, two honors in the Order of Australia and honorary doctorates from five Australian universities.

© 1996 Philip Adams
Originally broadcast on ABC Radio National, Australia
This transcript is courtesy of G. Simpson and was originally published in Australian UFO Bulletin, September 1998, pp. 11-14, by kind permission of ABC Radio National.