Robert Hastings recently posted an article on The UFO Chronicles web site, "UK UFO Debunker Strikes Again: Will Dr. David Clarke Ever Get Anything Right?" In the midst of the article, Hastings makes the following statement:
As for James Carlson’s completely discredited claim about there being no UFO involvement in a full-flight missile shutdown at Malmstrom, on March 16, 1967, one may hear what actually happened from the lips of Carlson’s father’s deputy missile commander, retired Col. Walter Figel, by listening to the tape recorded conversations Salas and I had with Figel years ago, before he began nervously changing his story after the public spotlight fell on him. Unfortunately for the timid, now-waffling Figel, his earlier admissions are a matter of record...Hastings now believes that Figel is "timid and now-waffling", yet his "earlier admissions are a matter of record," ergo the truth. So was he telling the truth back in 1996 and 2008, but now he is lying in 2010? Perhaps James Carlson is not so "discredited " after all when the main witness is now being treated as a hostile witness. Hastings and Salas have been using Figel's statements for years in an attempt to shore up their UFO claims, yet when you read both interviews they are filled with contradictions. Both versions of the Echo incident can't be reconciled with one or the other. One version may be fabricated based upon the confabulations of the interviewee and the wishful thinking of authors leaving the other as the "correct" version. But, which one is which? Figel's statements are fundamentally different when each interview is viewed separately. With this revelation, one begs to ask the question...Who is the real Figel in any of the versions of the story? Contradictions abound and one has to wonder if both Hastings and Salas were totally oblivious to the differences in Figel's statements or were both willing to "throw caution to the wind " with the hopes that no one would notice the discrepancies. If both authors knew of the contradictions in Figel's interviews then one is led to believe that this was an attempt at deception, but who is deceiving who? The answer lies in Figel's statements made separately to Hastings and Salas, twelve years spaced between the two interviews.
In 1996, Salas interviewed Walter Figel, presumably, for the purpose of providing information on Echo Flight that would soon go into the book, Faded Giant. In this setting, Salas needs the Echo incident, UFOs and all, to form the foundation of an initial erroneous November flight shutdown and eventually the final settlement of an Oscar flight shutdown. Figel tells Salas that on 16 March 1967, all ten of Echo's sorties dropped off of alert. Figel tells Salas that two of his ten LFs had maintenance teams on site performing maintenance on the "cans" (slang for missile guidance system). One of the LFs, site not specified, dropped off alert and Figel contacts the security team via VHF radio. Figel has the security guard authenticate and asks for one of the maintenance team members. The security guard tells Figel that there is a UFO hovering over the site. Figel dispatches the SAT strike teams to both manned LFs. By then, the remaining LFs would have already dropped off of alert status. The strike teams report back to Figel that they were able to observe that each manned LF had a maintenance team and security guards on site. (Figel does not mention any observations of a UFO at this point in the interview.) Figel states that after the incident he made a special trip to Offutt AFB for the purpose of briefing CINCSAC:
WF: I remember I got a trip to Omaha to discuss [the Echo Flight shutdown] with CINCSAC (the office of the Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Air Command, Offutt AFB, Omaha , Nebraska ).
RS: Oh, you did?!
WF: Oh yeah. Someplace, if I look deep enough, I could probably find the TDY (Temporary Duty) orders to do that.
Towards the end of the interview, Figel alludes to the strike teams actually observing a UFO over one of the sites, but is unable to provide a specific LF, manned or not, nor is he able to recall names of the individuals involved:
WF: ...having a dozen [sic] missiles go down in one flight is significant. [Laughs] Let’s face it, the [average] failure rate was nowheres near—was miniscule compared to that.
RS: That’s right, and then UFO sightings at the same time.
WF: Well, I [reportedly] had them hovering over the sites, you know, and I said, “Right, I’m not a believer in that crap!” And that was reported over the secure line, and I told those guys to make no transmissions and, when the Strike Team got out there—they were on VHF back to me—and they had no idea in the world what I even told them to look for, and they reported them [too].
Walter Figel's Version According to Hastings
Per Robert Hastings, "On October 20, 2008, I called Col. Figel and asked him to elaborate on his earlier statements to Bob Salas."
In Walter Figel's statements to Hastings, Echo had three to four sites with maintenance teams performing routine maintenance. When pressed by Hastings, Figel narrows in on four LFs being manned. At least two of the sites were running on diesel generators. Figel was unable to recall what type of maintenance was actually being performed but reiterated that it was "routine." Figel then tells of the incident:
WF: [When] the missiles dropped off alert, I started calling the maintenance people out there on the radio to talk to them. I had the security guard authenticate so I know I’m talking to a security guard and, you know, [I asked] “What’s going on? Is maintenance trying to get into the silo?” [The guard said,] “No, they’re still in the camper.” [So, I said,] “Get ‘em up, I want to talk to them.” Then I tried to tell them what I had was a Channel 9 No-Go.
WF: Uh, we did that with the sites that were there, that [had maintenance teams and their guards on site] and I sent Strike Teams to two other sites. There’s no sense sending them where I [already] have a guard and a gun and an authenticate.
RH: So far in this narrative, you haven’t mentioned UFOs.
WF: [Laughs] That’s correct. Um, somewhere along the way, um, one of the maintenance people—cause he didn’t know what was going on any place else either, they have no capability of talking to each other [at different launch sites], in other words, they can talk to the [launch] capsule but they can’t talk to each other—
WF: —unless they were on the radio and no one was using the radio except the security police. And the guy says, “We got a Channel 9 No-Go. It must be a UFO hovering over the site. I think I see one here.” [I said,] “Yeah, right, whatever. What were you drinking?” And he tried to convince me of something and I said, well, I basically, you know, didn’t believe him. [Laughs] I said, you know, we have to get somebody to look at this [No-Go]. [A short time later] one of the Strike Teams that went out, one of the two, claimed that they saw something over the site.
Based upon the above narrative, Figel tells Hastings that it was the maintenance team that reports the UFO and the strike teams are sent out only to two unmanned sites. Most importantly, the maintenance team that makes the UFO claim is completely underground in the LF/silo reporting to Figel on the SIN line (Secure Intersite Network) and as discussed in a previous article, the top side security guards do not make any reports via radio that they have seen anything unusual. One of the strike teams report that they see an object over one of the sites, but no site location is specified as to whether it is one of the two manned LFs or one of the remaining eight unmanned LFs. (Tim Hebert's "Off Alert, Echo...Parts 1 and 2.)
Contradictions, Deceptions, or Lies
As can be seen, we now have two versions of the same incident for consideration. Both are filled with contradictions and cannot be reconciled with one another:
1. The number of manned LFs and the actual maintenance that was being performed. Was it two LFs or three to four LFs? Were the maintenance teams working on the Missile Guidance Systems, the "cans", or were they doing normal routine work?
2. Who made the first report of a UFO over one of the sites...the maintenance team or the topside security guard?
3. The manner in which the SAT strike teams were dispatched...to two unmanned LFs or to the manned LFs.
4. Figel states to Salas that he made a TDY trip to Offutt to brief CINSAC, but this information is omitted in Hastings' interview. Eric Carlson, the Echo crew commander, states that he did receive a call from a general officer from SAC HQ, presumably from the SAC Command Post, asking about the launch capabilities of Echo ten missile sorties. He makes no mentioning of having to personally go to Offutt AFB to brief anyone.
Only one of the two versions can be considered "correct" with the other being either a fabrication or the confabulations of the interviewee. Both cannot exist together. Hastings and Salas have spent a decade researching the Echo incident and both have relied heavily on Walter Figel's statements. Both authors were in contact with each other and would have compared notes. It seems illogical that both could not have seen the remarkable differences in content and context with both interviews. Perhaps Figel only told them what they wanted to hear and both ran with the story regardless of the facts. Figel always believed the UFO report to be a joke and maybe led both interviewers on a "wild goose chase" as a continuation of the original joke. But one issue stands out, both versions contradict each other, either Hastings and Salas were blinded by their "quest", or they and/or Figel deceptively misled the public, or they foolishly and unknowingly propagated the continuation of a confabulation. There lies Hastings' and Salas' "hard problem."