The two Air Force reports on the Roswell UFO incident, published in 1994/5 and 1997, form the basis for much of the skeptical explanation for the 1947 incident, the purported recovery of aliens and their craft from the vicinity of Roswell, New Mexico.
The first report, “The Roswell Report: Fact versus Fiction in the New Mexico Desert,” identified a secret military research program called Project Mogul as the source of the debris reported in 1947. The second report, “The Roswell Report: Case Closed” concluded that reports of alien recoveries were likely misidentified military programs or accidents.
By the mid-1990s, the Roswell UFO incident, the alleged crash and recovery of aliens and their spacecraft near Roswell, New Mexico, USA in 1947 had generated a mini-industry, with numerous books suggesting an alien cover-up and Roswell itself transformed into a popular tourist destination centered on UFO-related attractions.
Polls, like a 1997 CNN/Time poll, suggested that a strong majority of Americans believed that the government was hiding evidence of the existence of aliens, and specifically, that the Roswell incident involved the recovery of aliens.
In that context, many were demanding answers from their government on what really happened at Roswell in 1947, so in January 1994, Congressman Steven Schiff requested that the United States Congress’ investigative branch, the General Accounting Office (GAO), look into the matter. The next month, the Air Force was informed of the GAO’s planned formal audit. The Air Force was not the sole agency to be investigated, but it was the focus of the investigation as it had been consistently identified as most involved with the alleged cover-up. (The US Army Air Forces became the US Air Force in September 1947 and inherited all personnel, equipment, records etc.) The Secretary of the Air Force subsequently ordered an investigation to locate any information it had on the incident.
The result, published in 1994 and 1995 was a near-1000 page report entitled “The Roswell Report: Fact versus Fiction in the New Mexico Desert.” The report was significant for identifying for the first time a likely source of the debris found on the Foster ranch: the remnants of a balloon train from a secret military program called Project Mogul. Though several others had suggested a Mogul program balloon as a possible candidate previously, the report had specific information that had never been revealed before about the program that led many to conclude that the “incident” had been explained.
Just days before the 50th anniversary of the incident, the Air Force released a follow-up report to the 1994 one called “The Roswell Report: Case Closed.” Despite the finality suggested in the report’s title, when then asked whether this would put the controversy to rest Defense Department spokesman Kenneth Bacon said: “of course not.” While his assessment has proved to be true, the report nevertheless laid out in great detail how the Air Force felt alien accounts likely arose, and remains the final word on the subject from the Air Force’s point of view. It also forms the basis, along with the previous report, for the skeptical response to the Roswell UFO incident.
It concluded that UFO researchers had failed to establish accurate dates for their reports of aliens and had erroneously linked these reports to the Project Mogul debris recovery (which the Air Force identified previously as being the source of the Foster ranch debris). Convoluted scenarios linked the various crash sites to the events at the Foster ranch and dates were fixed so as to coincide with the reported events, thus establishing a time frame and adding credibility to the alien claims. It further concluded that alien accounts were likely descriptions of publicized military achievements and descriptions of incidents involving injured or killed military personnel.
These conclusions were greeted with incredulous responses from many, but a careful reading of the report, especially interview transcripts, revealed that in fact many of the UFO authors had ignored or omitted the prosaic explanations given by many of the witnesses themselves, as well as the witnesses’ oft-stated vagueness as to when the events they were recalling actually took place.