UFOs as US PsychOp
UFOs are objects in the sky that often seem to display amazing physical abilities. We have four main categories of theories to explain them. Under two kinds of theories, these abilities are illusory: (A) They could be errors, delusions, and misunderstandings, like seeing Venus or swamp gas. Or (B), they could be lies and hoaxes, intended to fool others. Under the other two kinds of theories, these abilities are real: (C) They are from aliens. Or (D) they are from Earth orgs that have been hiding their amazing abilities.
To estimate the chance of each kind of theory, one should multiply a prior chance for each type, a chance which ignores any concrete evidence of actual sightings, times a posterior chance that if each theory were true, we’d see the sort of sightings evidence that we do. (Renormalize these products to get posteriors.) A year ago I argued that the prior chance on the aliens theory wasn’t nearly as low as many seem to think; its much higher than in a typical murder trial, for example. So you have to actually look at the sightings evidence to judge its posterior chance, just as you would in a murder trial.
Today I want to consider the hoax category. In particular I want to consider the following hoax conspiracy theory: some part of the US government has, since the 1940s, had a long-term campaign to pay people to lie about seeing UFOs, and to make fake evidence to fool others into thinking they saw objects with amazing abilities. Of course once enough people heard about these events, then most reported sightings after that might be errors, delusions, and misunderstandings.
During the Second World War, the US government managed some pretty large and effective conspiracies. Such as the Manhattan project and the many ways they mislead Germany about our D-Day invasion. They seem thus to have then been roughly capable of managing a large UFO conspiracy. But, yes, the duration of this purported conspiracy would be much longer than in these prior examples.
Those prior successful conspiracies were also more closely related to military activities. Do we have evidence of a US ability or inclination regarding conspiracies more distant from military operations? Yes, in fact. The US had large and successful efforts, kept hidden for many decades, to move the fashion in art and writing away from Soviet styles, toward “modern” US styles. To make the US seem more prestigious relative to the USSR in the world’s eyes.
Okay, but what might the US government see itself as standing to gain from such a conspiracy? First, it is already known that the US government has promoted UFO groups in particular areas, and fed them false info on UFOs. They did this to “muddy the waters” regarding new tech that the US was developing and testing in the skies. Spies of foreign powers might plausibly hang near US testing facilities, and ask around around for reports of strange sightings. Such spies would get less useful info if local UFO groups are inclined to report many strange things unrelated to US tech testing.
In the Cold War, a big priority of the US military was to discourage enemies from launching a nuclear war against the US. And as an enemy is more likely to attack when then feel more confident of the consequences of their attack, one way to discourage such attacks is to muddy the waters re US military abilities, and re other possible powers who might react to such an attack. So if US could get enemy leaders to take UFO reports seriously, it could get those leaders to worry that they have underestimated US abilities, or that there are another hidden powers around.
Many UFO reports and interpretations have given the impression that the powers behind UFOs are especially interested in nuclear power and nuclear weapons, and that they fear or disapprove of such things. Enemy leaders who give credence to such reports might then fear that, if they initiated a nuclear attack, they’d suffer retaliation from such powers. Or maybe they’d just step in to take control after such a war weakened all of its participants.
I estimate roughly a one percent prior for this scenario, which is substantially higher than the prior I assigned to UFOs as aliens. Furthermore, this theory seems to quite naturally account for the key puzzles I struggled to explain regarding an aliens theory, namely that they are here while the universe looks empty, and that they stay near the limits of our vision, neither making themselves clearly visible nor completely invisible. This hoax category thus has the strongest posterior, in my view. (Yes I haven’t discussed the other two theory categories much; maybe I’ll say more on those some other day.)
Note that conditional on this UFO as US psychop theory being true, we should give more credence to other US conspiracy theories, such as that the US faked the moon landings. I thus now give more credence to this, even if I still see it as less likely than not. And conditional on believing other such theories, this UFO as US psychop theory becomes more believable.
Added 10a: As the two US WWII secrets I mentioned were kept for only a few years, some say large orgs can’t keep secrets longer than that. But the US kept secret for 41 years that it faked its excuse for the Vietnam war, and for 46 years that it spied on citizen phone calls via Project Minaret. KFC has kept its recipe secret for 70 years, and Coca-Cola has kept its secret for 130 years. Venice kept its glass-blowing methods secret for many centuries, and China kept secret its methods of making both silk and porcelain for over a thousand years.
Yes, there’s a difference between hidden and known secrets, but all else equal known secrets should be more vulnerable, as the curious can focus their efforts on revealing them. Much harder to focus efforts when searching for hidden secrets.